Monthly Archives: September 2015

Going digital

Digitalis 'Candy Mountain' - © Mark Bolton/GAP Photos

Digitalis ‘Candy Mountain’ – © Mark Bolton/GAP Photos

Do you get to June each year and kick yourself that you didn’t sow enough foxgloves? These prolific self-seeders often give an all or nothing display – all if you already have an established clump in your garden and nothing if you don’t. The nodding tubular flowers are a trademark of this springtime stalwart. The classic pink of Digitalis purpurea can, if you break away from tradition, be joined by pure white of D. p. ‘Alba’, the pale terracotta of ‘Sutton’s Apricot’, the pure lemon yellow of D. grandiflora and the rusty brown tones of D. parviflora, to name just a few.

Digitalis 'Pam's Choice'  - © Sue Heath/GAP Photos

Digitalis ‘Pam’s Choice’ – © Sue Heath/GAP Photos

If a neighbour has obligingly sown some of these horticultural gems, you might be lucky enough to discover a few self-sown seedlings in your garden which can be transplanted into a better position. Otherwise take comfort in knowing it’s not too late to sow some now. The dust-like seeds can be sprinkled on top of a tray of seed compost in a greenhouse (don’t cover them over, just water them in) or sown where you would like them to flower outside. Specialist suppliers boast an impressive selection of species and varieties – tempt yourself with the ranges offered by www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk, www.thebotanicnursery.co.uk and www.plant-world-seeds.com.

Digitalis 'Goldcrest', a sterile hybrid of Digitalis obscura and Digitalis grandiflora - © Nicola Stocken/GAP Photos

Digitalis ‘Goldcrest’, a sterile hybrid of Digitalis obscura and Digitalis grandiflora – © Nicola Stocken/GAP Photos

The power of the sward


Three decades ago, it would have been assumed that most grasses in flower borders were weed seeds from the lawn. A pampas grass plonked, in solitude, on the front lawn was as experimental as gardeners got. Thankfully attitudes have changes, and ornamental grasses are now considered an essential component of any design. Specialist and general garden centres would be considered remiss if they didn’t stock at least twenty varieties of grass. So which ones get our vote?

Pennisetums underwent a revival around two decades ago, when show garden started to use the silky, tail-like panicles of P. alopecuroides ‘Hameln’. Arching tussocks of foliage were partnered with the silvery plump plumes of this and similar varieties in a winning partnership. P. villosum is another popular choice, and let’s not forget the purple millet, P. glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’ which, thanks to its wine red flowers and foliage can be forgiven for being rather tender.

Stipa gigantea, the golden oat, is another garden essential, or, if you lack the space for it, S. calamagrostis or S. tenuissima instead. All three produce showy cream flowerheads above arching foliage. Molinias offer more delicate, almost transparent flowers above foliage which can express the most vivid autumn colouring. M. caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Edith Dudszus’ and ‘Moorhexe’ are two favourites. And let’s not forget that the foliage of grasses can be equally as vivid as the flower spikes. Two great example of variegated selections, the giant Arundo donax versicolor and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, will work twice as hard for attention.

A blessing or a curse?

Verbascum - Common yellow verbascum self seeded in gravel - © Janet Johnson/GAP Photos

Verbascum – Common yellow verbascum self seeded in gravel – © Janet Johnson/GAP Photos

This question will divide horticulturists up and down the land: what do you think of self-seeding plants? We’re not talking bittercress or chickweed here (our opinion of these two is firmly negative), but those garden plants that are described as ‘once bought, never without.’ Verbascums, foxgloves, nigella, onopordum, calendulas, eschscholzias – the list of promiscuous plants is not short. Essentially, many annuals and biennials exhibit this trait as their main survival strategy, and a few perennials, too (aquilegias and lychnis come to mind).

Of course, there is one way around the issue (if you want to get round it, that is) and that’s to deadhead your plants. Becoming the gardening Queen of Hearts and decapitating blooms as soon as they fade can be therapeutic and it’s a sure fire way of encouraging extra flowers, too. But it takes time, dexterity – and yoga-like stretches if said blooms are right at the back of the border. So perhaps a little savvy management of the self-seeding species is in order? A diplomatic answer if ever there was one, but by carefully positioning and cutting back this propagator’s dream team, you and they can thrive harmoniously.