Diarmuid Gavin: Add some vibrant colour to your garden with bold bedding
This week let's inject a riot of colour into our plots using summer bedding. Although there's plenty of flowering in June with peonies, iris and roses at their peak, gardens can start to flag a bit as the summer matures. If you plant out summer bedding plants now, they will lift your spirits and bring flamboyance and perkiness to your garden in July, August and September.
Irish gardens have long relied on bedding plants for summer colour so there's great local knowledge available on how to grow them. A garden folk art tradition emerged with gardeners growing rows of alternative blue lobelia and white alysum plants in narrow beds which often framed the lawn.
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Bolder schemes consisted of red salvias and orange and yellow marigolds and these arrangements of plants are still popular with traditional gardeners. They enabled the use of blocks of colour, brightening suburban plots and delighting rural hamlets.
Many of these plants keep flowering until the first frosts and then they should be dug up and put on the compost heap. Their disposable nature allows you to experiment with your planting, giving you the freedom to change your colour scheme year on year.
They will dry out easily in their trays so the trick is to have your pots, containers and the ground prepared, so they can go straight in. Like all plants they will perform better in well prepared soil, so dig out stones and weeds and add a loam-based John Innes compost if your soil is poor. Water the plug or small plants before and after planting them, and maintain regular watering. These plants are all about blossoms so feed regularly with a liquid food that is high in potash, for example tomato feed, to encourage flower production, and avoid high nitrogen feeds as these will encourage leafy growth at the expense of flowers.
If you'd like to be a little more adventurous than the traditional rows of blue and white, try nicotiana sylvestris (flowering tobacco). These South American beauties can grow as tall as 5 feet and they do well in moist soils and are handy for filling areas with partial shade.
Cosmos is a good idea if you have a border that needs filling and you're not sure what to do with it, and antirrhinum, better known as snapdragons, are a great way of providing instant colour and filling gaps in borders.
Finally, impatiens or Busy Lizzies suffered a downturn in popularity due to their propensity for downy mildew. However, breeders have been busy developing mildew-resistant New Guinea varieties to replace these much-loved plants.