Red makes a remarkable impact in the garden. It is a colour that signals “Stop!” – and this is exactly what it does to visitors.
Forget green! Gardens look best in red, says Alan Trott.
Red makes one stand and think, it stirs the brain and blood, and gives the garden a wow factor. A red garden can be made in a warm or cool climate, and there are many exciting plants which can be used to extend the season. Spring can bring joy with its flowering bulbs but I think it’s summer that brings the best out, and one can extend the season to almost winter.
Planning is essential and choosing the right red is always a challenge. I tend to like the blood reds and darker reds but one has to be careful not to use pinky reds or orange-y reds.
Of course it’s not just the flowers that highlight the garden – foliage also plays an important part. There are some wonderful dark-, almost black-leaved, shrubs and perennials which can bring a different dimension to the garden.
And why not use a red sculpture in the garden, like a red obelisk or perhaps a large urn and paint it to the red of your liking?
In a dark or shady garden, red can be lost, so one must plant where the garden gets sun almost all of the day. Even the early morning light can be a highlight, but it’s the evening light filtering through the plants that truly brings out their beauty.
Let’s look at some plants you must use.
Cannas are a standout and can be used in a cooler climate. I don’t cut the foliage off until after frosts have gone as this gives them protection from rain and freezing temperatures. You could even dig them out in early winter to store in a warm shed. My favourite canna is ‘America’ which has dark purple foliage but fantastic big red flowers all summer. Do keep cutting
off the old flowers – this helps them flower well into late autumn.
Dahlias are a mainstay in the border and there are some wonderful ones with dark foliage and blood red flowers. Dr Keith Hammett from Auckland has bred some amazing cultivars worth seeking out. Try planting some of the single ones such as the dwarf called ‘Mystic Wonder’.
Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ has strappy flax-like leaves followed by small, red, trumpet-like flowers which dance in the breeze. It thrives and needs to be controlled every few years.
Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’ is a great performer at the back of the border and flowers for many weeks.
Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ makes a very bold statement with its dark shiny purple foliage all season, but don’t let it flower as the blooms are yellow. Deadhead as soon as the buds appear.
Liliums always make a show in late summer, especially the Oriental cultivars. There are some almost black Asiatic liliums worth trying as they flower in early summer and are great in front of the border. Try Lilium ‘Landini’.
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’ always flowers well over a long period and can be used midway back in the border.
Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’ is a must. This shrub makes a statement which everyone comments on, but keep it tied tight with clear fishing line to keep it pillar-like. Plant a group of three or five midway in the border.
For a background, plant some small purple-leaved trees and shrubs.
The Acer family certainly are a must, especially the small-leaved, named Japanese cultivars. It’s not just in spring that they look good but it’s the dark purple leaves all summer that give that dark effect which one needs.
Cercis canadensis ‘Merlot’ is a new cultivar of the Judas tree. It has large, heart-like dark purple leaves and an upright habit, which is great if you have a smaller space.
Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’ is the dark purple-leaved hazelnut which is upright in growth and beautiful in early spring with its drooping catkins, but its dark glossy leaves are the star of the show.
If you have the time, plant a few annuals in the gaps.
This helps cover the bare spots where bulbs once thrived in spring.
I also find perennials give the best value for colour and impact, and of course they come up every spring with little or no work. Although one still needs to stake some plants and this needs to be done early in the season.
The above are just a few plants that are favourites of mine but naturally there are many, many more. So put your pen to paper and go through some books and magazines, and sort out what thrives in your area and get planting. The list can be mind boggling but be selective and you will reap the rewards.
The red border at Trotts Garden in Ashburton.
Dahlia ‘Barbarry Americano’.
Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’.
Red Swiss chard.