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Tall annuals are the perfect way to bring some creative structure to your garden

Same old, same old? Don't let your garden bore you, writes Gerry Daly - add some ephemeral plants

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EYE-CATCHING: Mullein is a wild flower that brings a splash of colour for a few weeks and delivers a feeling of freshness to any garden

EYE-CATCHING: Mullein is a wild flower that brings a splash of colour for a few weeks and delivers a feeling of freshness to any garden

EYE-CATCHING: Mullein is a wild flower that brings a splash of colour for a few weeks and delivers a feeling of freshness to any garden

Does a garden become a little predictable, and therefore boring, if it is the same year after year? At the outer reaches of garden design these days, there is a lot of interest in temporary effects.

In some cases, the special effects last for hours, not even weeks or months. Some of the things are a little bizarre. For example, cutting patterns into a grass lawn and allowing them to disappear when the grass grows out, or, even more temporary, marking patterns in the dew on a grass lawn at the crack of dawn, and photographing them before the sun dries the dew, or adding trails of daisies or buttercup flowers.

Bedding plants are one way to add an element of change from one year to the next. If they are used for containers, or for filling in at the front of beds, a change of variety can make a big difference. For example, using a pale pastel colour one year but swapping in plants with bold colour the next would markedly change the look.

One of the reasons that perennial flowers have become so popular is that unlike bedding plants, they do not have to be planted each year. But will a garden of perennial flowers become monotonous?

You can get around this by building in a bit of impermanence and planting tall annuals is the ideal way to do so. Think of plants such as cosmos, lavatera, nicotiana, cleome, sunflowers, mullein, teasel and echium, although the last three are biennials, taking two years to grow and flower. Even so, these biennials have the same quality of being ephemeral - or having a short lifecycle - and are hardy like the foxglove, which means they can all be grown outdoors. A popular echium is the native Irish viper's-bugloss, and the Canary Island borage is a favourite too. But the most dramatic change of all has happened this year because of the unaided efforts of a wild plant - namely mullein. This wildflower appears often of its own accord and there are some show species available with yellow flowers. It is pretty and the effect is eye-catching. But again, mullein offers a temporary change, the flower spikes were not there a few weeks ago and they will be gone by autumn.

The most popular and effective of the tall annuals is cosmos. It is related to dahlia and is not hardy but comes easily and rapidly from seeds sown indoors in spring like the other annuals mentioned. Cosmos comes into flower as a relatively small plant in summer and flowers well into autumn. It has mostly deep-pink, pink or white flowers, although there is an orange and yellow species but it is not quite as vigorous.

Lavatera is mostly seen in pink or white with a profusion of big funnel-shaped flowers.

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Lavatera/Tree mallow

Lavatera/Tree mallow

Lavatera/Tree mallow

Sunflowers are usually found in a vegetable garden, but could be grown anywhere and have such a strong look that they greatly emphasise the temporary nature of the seasons.

Cleome is often called spider flower because of its slender, spidery flower parts. It can make 2m with large heads of pink or white flowers. It does best in a warm summer.

Nicotiana, or tobacco flower, is the lowest grower at about 60cm, but that is still taller than most bedding plants. It comes in the same scented flowers of dusky shades of red, green, pink and white. There is a bigger species, Nicotiana sylvestris, that thrives at woodland edges and self-sows in suitable conditions.

It is not too late to plant many of these flowers, notably cosmos, or you can content yourself with sowing biennials soon.

WHAT TO DO NOW

  • Gooseberries are an ideal garden fruit and work well cooked - or eaten straight from the bush. If you've planted one, start picking now. If you haven't, beg, borrow or steal one as they can be picked over a long time from small tart berries to large sweet fruit.
  • Potato weather has been evident with humidity and heat. Although most early potatoes are lifted before they are affected, blight seems to appear earlier each year. Use resistant varieties, such as 'Colleen'.
  • Roses are flowering ahead of the season and should get a shake of rose fertiliser or similar product, to encourage strong growth and repeat flowering.

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