In sea­son

Neil Ross has tips on how to keep your flow­er­ing plants bloom­ing longer, plus some that re­ally do of­fer blooms all sum­mer long.

NZ Gardener - - Contents -

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.

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