Friday 5th February 2021

Fffffebruary. And it’s ffffrreeeeezzzing. Snow and everything. Time to keep warm and stay indoors like these Hellebores.

Plant ident.

This week: Tender perennials. Bless.

Tender perennials are plants like this Salvia ‘Amistad’, which can survive from year to year, provided they are protected from frost. If the frost gets them, they are likely to be ex-perennials, so best to take cuttings. Cuttings taken in late summer or autumn should now be doing well in greenhouses or sunny windowsills. They will probably need potting on.

The five examples below are all excellent fillers and spillers for summer containers. Now is just the right moment to start thinking about these so that later on, your pots, troughs and baskets will present a dazzling sight to your less horticulturally-gifted friends and neighbours.

Plectranthus argentatus

This shimmery, silvery sensation grows quite large, with racemes of bluey-white flowers in the summer. Alongside other plants in a pot, generally just one of these will suffice, unless you are going for the full stately home look. From the Lamiaceae (Mint) family, it has the square stems typical of the group. Looks amazing in a white/silver-themed container. Has presence.

Plectranthus ciliatus

Fab in a pot. Fab as ground cover. Fab when planted with orange and purple plants – the underside of the P. ciliatus is a gorgeous purple, contrasting with the vivid green obverse. Easy from cuttings – which will even root in water. Can’t abide the cold though. This really is a tender tender perennial.

Pelargonium tomentosum

Let’s just recap one more time. Pelargoniums are NOT Geraniums. Repeat. Geraniums are hardy perennial plants which remain in the garden all year round. Pelargoniums, on the other hand, are tender perennials, and need to be taken indoors, or into a greenhouse, to overwinter.

However, P. tomentosum is quite a toughie, and has actually been known to survive outside in Brighton, provided it is kept in a warm, dry, sheltered location. Best not to take risks though, so always take cuttings. A lovely Pelly, it has large, soft, furry leaves which emit a peppermint scent when rubbed. Small white flowers appear in the summer. Excellent in a pot; it soon bulks up and is a great filler.

Helichrysum petiolare

A silvery, ever-grey trailer, shown here growing away happily in a metal trough, each emphasising the other’s colour. Small, ovate leaves on white stems act as an attractive foil to many other plants in a wide range of colours, particularly blues and mauves. Can be grown in a border, but is best of all in a container or hanging basket, where its trailing habit can be fully displayed and appreciated. There is a lovely lime coloured cultivar called H. petiolare ‘Limelight’ which is equally desirable.

Argyranthemum frutescens

These gorgeous Marguerites make a stunning show in the summer garden. Great in the border or in pots. This one is ‘Jamaica Primrose’, but they come in many beautiful colours from whites and soft yellows through to deep pinks and purples. Will flower virtually the whole year round in a greenhouse. Take cuttings (about 5 cms long) in the spring – they will grow quickly to become quite large plants. Eventually they will become rather woody, so replace every few years.

Planning summer containers

In Break-Out groups, (so-called, because we all break out in a sweat when asked to report back), we discussed various options for our own gardens. Things to be borne in mind quite apart from the plants themselves were: choice of pot (size, material, shape), soil, aspect and how it might be viewed. Probably best to keep to a maximum of five types of plant, or fewer, per pot to ensure total tastefulness.

There should be thrillers, fillers and spillers – as advocated by Sarah Raven, and hard decisions need to be taken about plant heights, textures and colours. They might be evergreens, perennials, tender perennials, hardy or half-hardy annuals. Additionally, sourcing the plants requires consideration. Will they be raised from seed (when? how?), grown on from plugs or maybe bought as fully grown plants? Seed catalogues are a useful resource, along with gardening film clips.

Delicious plant recipes were offered in the feedback session. Monotone and multi-coloured. Inventive, traditional, contemporary and bizarre. Room for all.

Can’t wait to see the results in reality!

Jobs for the week

Sow seeds

Leave ‘easy’ seeds like Cosmos until much later. Concentrate on those which need a long growing period.

When sowing very tiny seeds, such as Antirrhinum majus ‘Chantilly’ series, it’s a good idea to mix them with a little silver sand (playground sand). Then sow thinly across the surface of a well-filled seed tray of compost; the sand lets you to see where the seeds have fallen. Sprinkle a little vermiculite over the top – this covers the seeds but permits light through for germination to take place. Placing the tray gently in a water bath allows the compost to take up water by capillary action and doesn’t disturb the seeds. Label – and make a note of the colour of the flowers. A covering of cling film aids germination.

Watch some gardening clips

on the topic of summer containers. See websites and Youtube. E.g.:

Sarah Raven: Creating beautiful summer flower containers

Keep on top of weeds

Speedwell (and it does), Hairy Bittercress and Sticky Willy are lying in wait to take over your plot. Remove now, before there are tears.

Watch the weather

and plan work accordingly. Some shrubs, like Cornus, can be moved now, especially if there has recently been rain. Once safely re-planted, take out any dead, diseased and damaged wood, remove old woody stems and cut new growth back by about one third. They look fantastic with Snowdrops and Daphne. Very cold snaps can damage your plants and your gardening confidence. Very cold schnapps, taken liberally, will restore your nerve.

On stage now: Snowdrops and Crocuses

If you don’t have any, buy some and plant them! Snowdrops are best established when bought ‘in the green’.

Seek out the intoxicating scent of Daphnes


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