Sunday 23 November 2014

Bold and bright: a real impact in summer gardens

Soft and subtle pinks and whites work well earlier in the year, but bold and bright combinations make a real impact in summer

Marie Staunton

Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30

Marie Staunton
Marie Staunton
Lady Stratheden

I bought a copy of a book called 'Helen Dillon on Gardening' the other day and I have to say I roared with laughter at some of her anecdotes.

No doubt, the other passengers on the Dart thought I was for the birds but it's a great read, full of funny stories and really good tips and advice.

Except for the cover, there are no photographs, but you don't need photos when the writing is this good. If you are flicking through the book in a shop or the library, go to page 176, entitled 'The Plastic Bucket', and I bet you will end up buying a copy.

Have you noticed how the garden starts to change at this time of the year? Fresh new growth and soft subtle colours predominated in April into June but now it's time for the hot colours to take their stand. Oranges and reds, deep yellows and wines are all vying for your attention.

I used to prefer the more romantic colour combinations of pinks, whites and mauve until I started to do a friend's garden by the sea and quickly realised soft colours didn't work as well as the strong colour combinations, which make a much bigger impact when the light levels are so bright.

I particularly love rock roses and came across one called helianthemum 'Henfield Brilliant', which has a more silvery coloured leaf that shows off the fiery orange flowers to great effect.

Then you have the fantastic geums, in particular the bright yellow or orange varieties. They flower all through the summer with minimal fuss, as does the calceolaria. But this is the time the helianthemums and crocosmia make a major impact on flower borders – swathes of this type of planting can be seen in public gardens all around the country.

If, like me, you appreciate a bit of everything in your borders, then gaps will be starting to appear where the lupins and the foxgloves have died back and unless the penstemon and campanula have filled out you could have a few bald patches appearing.

This is when those architectural type plants with their big leaves come into play. Globe artichokes, ricinus and melianthus major disguise obvious holes in the planting and cover a multitude of sins.

There is a very different feel to cottage garden planting and if you are like me and your mind isn't that tidy, then this could be the way to go. Cottage gardening is all about self-seeding plants like foxgloves and verbena with little in the way of rules and regulations, which suits my temperament perfectly.

I like order, but have never achieved it, so I just sit back and enjoy the quiet chaos. And it doesn't look too bad from the comfort of my deckchair, let me tell you.

I put lots of lovely herbs in the borders this year. It's a cheap way of bulking it out and I love the dill with its delicate leaves and those lime green flower heads. Lime green and orange work well together and the Californian poppies look particularly good growing next to the dill. I never sowed them there but it was a fortuitous little accident that I'm happy to take the credit for.

As usual I am on the hunt for another plant that has taken my fancy – the tree lupin is a shrub at home in coastal areas with nice yellow fragrant flower spikes. It can get to 1m x 1m which is grand for a small garden and a nice addition even if you don't live near the coast.

I never got around to getting a couple of kniphofia 'Percy's Pride' this year, but they are still on the list. It's the yellow version of the red hot poker with a fantastic bit of height, getting to around 1m.

I invested in a number of achillea last year to add a bit of interest coming into winter. The flower heads of the achillea 'Gold Plate' turn from yellow to brown in winter, the seed heads remain and look fantastic through late autumn and winter. I can't believe I'm even using the word 'winter' in this article, but I have to think ahead otherwise there will be little or nothing to look at come November.

If you want to be inspired by plants that look good now but hugely impressive in autumn and winter, then take a trip to the Botanic Gardens in Dublin and have a look at all those incredibly beautiful grasses to the left of the herbaceous borders. You won't be disappointed.

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