Neil Ross has tips on how to keep your flowering plants blooming longer, plus some that really do offer blooms all summer long.
Neil Ross picks the plants that will give you non-stop flowers this summer.
Arguably, the best sort of flowers simply flower, and flower selflessly, and don’t ask you to do anything more.
for all his bluster and bravado, Donald Trump may have a point about the fake news the world is increasingly full of, and things have to change. When, in the 1980s, I came home from the garden centre with a cluster of conifers for my rockery, the label clearly promised me they were “dwarf”. So why are those same midgets now swaying, mocking me outside the upstairs windows every morning when I brush my teeth and look out? In the same way, my “anti-kink” hose lies in a terrible tagliatelle tangle at the back of the shed and the compost heap has been the destination of countless so-called “easycare” specimens which seemed to develop a death wish within minutes of being unloaded from the boot.
The more kind-hearted might pass off the sales spin as a bit of gardeners’ natural optimism. I will concede that the spinach sold as “perpetual” has never let me down but the descriptions are, more often than not, way off the mark and the one you see most often which is likely to be more fairytale than fact is the phrase “flowers all summer”. If this fantasy had been penned by Siberian growers where summer lasts for but a week or two, I might forgive, but here where the good weather can stretch from Christmas until May, we really deserve to be pointed toward plants that really do perform for months – not weeks.
Decent innings for the average flower is three to four weeks in my book. Those highlighted here will go on much longer.
You don’t want to fill your plot with the Scrooges of the flowering world – miserly types like tulips and fleeting Oriental poppies which will dance for but a fortnight at most then run out on you. Wisterias are mean – they flirt for a tantalising week or two of froth then demand that you be up a ladder hacking off their tentacles for the rest of summer. They are not worth it in a small garden owned by anyone short on time or afraid of heights.
Brief flowerers in my book are only worth the space
if they deliver other charms – flowering cherries and paeonies for example, which at least deliver a blazing show of autumn tints making them value for money.
Unfortunately, there is only a narrow range of plants that truly pump out the flowers over several months.
Many of the bedding plants which, being naturally shortlived annuals, make the most of their brief hour upon the stage by pumping out the colour. The secret to assisting any plant like this in giving you a longer show is to pay weekly attention to watering, deadheading and feeding with a high potash fertiliser. The deadheading prevents it from thinking its reproductive job is done, that it can kick back and enjoy an early retirement. Deadheading is like anti-ageing cream for plants and it’s fun to do – just invest in some wickedly sharp scissors.
With annual bedding, the removal of spent flowers keeps a continual froth of bloom coming but other plants tend to flower in waves once deadheaded. Roses such as ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ behave like this; take away the spent flowers and after a few weeks’ lull you will be treated to a second, third, even a fourth encore in a good year.
Alstroemerias make a great cut bloom but they flower in peaks and troughs.
Other plants require a bit of more severe grooming to keep the show going – a severe haircut after their first flush (leaves, stems everything) may elicit a welcome repeat performance. The likes of catmint, delphinium and geraniums are like this while other perennials – once cut back – make fresh leaves but refuse to give you another bloom in the same year. Classics such as Alchemilla
mollis and aquilegias are like this – you just have to learn which ones repeat and which don’t.
A good trick to avoid the work of deadheading is to go for sterile plants which shed their own flowers and so stay young and constantly blooming – the likes of fuchsias and abutilons behave in this way and look better for it.
Another trick is to choose plants where each individual bloom lasts for a long time. The showy bracts of flowering dogwoods (Cornus), bougainvillea and hydrangeas are not true petals and tend to keep their colour longer. Double flowers last longer than singles too.
But arguably the best sort of flowers simply flower, and flower selflessly, and don’t ask for you to do anything. Here I would include shrubby salvias and potentillas, wide-mouthed mats of gazania, wafting veils of bee-humming
Verbena bonariensis, and exotic kangaroo paws and crucifix orchids. These are the rarest of treasures sent to delight while I salute them by tipping my hat from the comfort of a sunlounger.