PICK OF THE VERY BEST: DI­AS­CIAS

Sun-lov­ing favourites that are equally good in con­tain­ers

Amateur Gardening - - Content - Gra­ham Rice

FIFTY years ago, hardly any­one grew di­as­cias. But when the nurs­ery­man and Gar­den­ers’

World pre­sen­ter John Kelly in­tro­duced ‘Ruby Field’ in the early 1970s, gar­den­ers started to take no­tice.

Di­as­cias are dwarf, often trail­ing or sprawl­ing, sun-lov­ing an­nual and peren­nial plants from south-east Africa. Re­sem­bling a more del­i­cate-look­ing snap­dragon or neme­sia, they have a very long sum­mer flow­er­ing season.

Spikes of small, open-mouthed flow­ers are car­ried on slim (but often wiry) stems, and come in a huge range of red, pink and some­times pur­plish shades, as well as white. There are also a num­ber of fine va­ri­eties in or­ange and apri­cot shades that are rel­a­tively hard to come by in sum­mer flow­ers, and the blooms are set against small heartshaped or lin­ear leaves.

One of the rea­sons that di­as­cias have such a long flow­er­ing season is that the flow­ers are specif­i­cally adapted for pol­li­na­tion by a par­tic­u­lar species of South African bee – other bees just can’t do the job. And be­cause we do not have that kind of bee here in Bri­tain, the flow­ers are never pol­li­nated so the plants just keep on bloom­ing.

Di­as­cias range from hardy – al­beit often short-lived – plants for sunny and well-drained sum­mer bor­ders, to more ten­der va­ri­eties that are best treated as sum­mer pa­tio plants. It’s as pa­tio plants that most re­cent de­vel­op­ments have taken place. New va­ri­eties of these have

come thick and fast, with the re­sult that the RHS has not yet had the chance to as­sess them for awards.

Here we’re fo­cus­ing in­stead on the AGM-win­ning va­ri­eties among the hardier types – there are 17 in to­tal. Lovely at the front of a well-drained sunny bor­der (or tum­bling over the edge of a raised bed, per­haps), these hardy types can also be grown in con­tain­ers as long as the drainage is good.

Some, in­clud­ing D. rigescens, spread steadily at the roots to fill in around bushier, more sub­stan­tial plants. They’re a dod­dle to prop­a­gate: simply split and re­plant as they start to grow in spring; don’t leave it too late or di­vi­sions may fail to es­tab­lish. All will root eas­ily from short new shoots in spring and sum­mer.

Di­as­cias are lovely with dwarf, sunlov­ing shrubs such as laven­ders and per­ovskias, fill­ing in around their woody stems. Mean­while, their loose growth al­lows au­tumn flow­ers like colchicums and shorter Michael­mas daisies to peek through. If you have a sunny corner in your gar­den, give them a try.

Di­as­cias com­bine a long flow­er­ing season with blooms in shades of pink, red, pur­ple, white and or­ange – per­fect for a sun-drenched spot

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