A true blue that’s top of my chart because it makes you smile

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·■ Beautiful blue: Anagallis in close-up (above) and (below) the complete plant that’s sharing a container with a red zonal pelargonium.

TRUE BLUE flowers have always been conspicuous by their scarcity in the garden for as long as I can remember.
By true blue I mean just that, with no hint of purple, plum or lilac from the pretenders. Yes, the Himalayan poppy – Meconopsis and its varieties – and some delphiniums are as perfect a blue as you can get, while cornflowers and forget-me-nots run them close, as do love-in-a mist and lobelia.
Yet there is something about Anagallis – the bewitching blue pimpernel – that sends it to the top of my Blue League table, even nudging ahead of the glorious meconopsis.
Now anagallis is not too well known and, I have to confess, I always reckoned it to be an annual.
In fact, it is a half-hardy perennial and will dazzle a hanging basket or container as few others are capable of doing.
What bowls me over most is the sheer intensity of its deep Mediterranean blue, half-inch wide petals.
A few hybrids, like the one called Skylover I’ve recently bought, bear deep pink or wine red centres and golden anthers all summer.
The combination is stunning.

Anagallis2
Anagallis monellii will spread or trail without too much persuasion and won’t exceed 8in-10in high.
In one of my books, I read that anagallis were once thought to dispel sadness, perhaps because its name means to laugh in Greek.
Well, I can’t argue with that. Already my plant is expanding rapidly in a tub alongside our front door. And that prompts a smile or two from me.
Those five-petalled blooms politely close in the evening, even though the sun may still be shining. By mid-morning next day they are fully awake, adding to their numbers daily.
Among its 20 species is a colour variant, including Anagallis tenella Studland in a deep pink and a sweet scent to boot.
Blue or pink, anagallis relish a home in full sun and soil that’s on the sandy side. Plant in a rock garden, edge of border or off the ground in container or basket.
As perennials, it should be possible to take cuttings later in the summer. I’ve not tried this, but I shall be trusting my green fingers won’t let me down around mid-August.

Meanwhile, go search out garden centre or store for these gems from the Med. They are sure to bring you a sunny smile!

June is bustin’ out all over with daffs and tulips . . . if you browse this colourful catalogue

Broadleigh bulbs en masse

Above: Colour cascade of spring flowering bulbs listed by Broadleigh; below left – Narcissus Silver Chimes and (right) tulip Mariss Jansons; bottom, from left – allium Globemaster, two-tone muscari Mountain Lady and anemone Robinsonia. Pictures courtesy of Broadleigh Gardens.
JUST occasionally I’ll use the expression “As rare as a daffodil in June” to describe an extra-special plant that’s anything but common-or-garden.
Well, the clock’s now ticked into the sixth month and the daffs are back. So are the tulips, crocuses, muscari and hyacinths . . . OK, not in real life but across the pages of Broadleigh Gardens’ latest mail order catalogue.
Yes, the handbook is labelled Autumn 2022, so owner Christine Skelmersdale is plainly keen to spread the word early that spring 2023 is well worth planning . . . in June 2022.
Christine, one of the UK’s most respected plantswomen, writes in her welcoming notes: ” . . . nothing shouts spring louder than a collection of pots overflowing with bulbs, whether it is a single variety crammed into a pot or a glorious mix of different varieties for a long-lasting display.”

Broadleigh, based in Somerset, has been leading the field in the propagation and mail order retail of small bulbs for more than 40 years. It’s a family-run business and lists a full range of irises, snowdrops, South African bulbs, woodlanders and holds the National Collection of Alec Gray miniature daffodil hybrids – as well as a historic collection of rare daffodil species and varieties.

As if this isn’t enough, Broadleigh also offers a wide range of complementary herbaceous plants – hellebores, species irises and a stunning assortment of exotic Pacific Coast irises.

As for the latest new arrivals, do check out short-stemmed tulips Mariss Jansons, Quebec and The First, compact daffodils Silver Chimes, Yellow Sailboat and Toto, the pale lilac Anemone nemorosa Robinsonia and the spectacular and handsome allium Globemaster.

http://www.broadleighbulbs.co.uk / 01622 845990.

This pearl from the Pyrenees erodes its appeal because it doesn’t hit the headlines

Erodium&marigolds

MY INTRODUCTION to this gem with fabulous foliage is not, perhaps, a moment I should shout too loudly about. But I’ve started so I’ll finish.
Some years ago, near the end of a short coach holiday – it was our first and will probably be our last! – we stopped for an hour at the pretty Welsh border town of Chepstow.
During the customary aimless meanderings of window gazing and dodging traffic, I spied some delightful flower displays installed by the local council.

In one planter I was entranced by a profusion of saucer-shaped, magenta-purple blooms which – I thought – were those of a hardy geranium.

Now here’s the naughty bit. I noticed a couple of ripe seeds at the base of a seed pod, so I surreptitiously thumbed it off and slipped it into my pocket, hoping the local Heddlu hadn’t noticed and frogmarched me away! Guilt pangs? Not a lot as chances are many of the seeds would have “pinged” off when fully ripe and vanished into the wind.

As a result of my sowings in the greenhouse, two plants duly emerged and flowered the following summer. Interestingly, one set of foliage was noticeably darker than its companion.

Erodium manescavii

I snapped a photo, emailed it to hardy geranium specialist Gary Carroll, who runs the excellent Cranesbill Nursery in Walsall, and asked for an identification.

His response was the moment I learned that my illicitly obtained seeds were those of erodium, not its close cousin the geranium.

And here’s the thing. Much as I like geraniums – Gary stocks around 200 varieties – it puzzles me that a beauty like Erodium manescavii is seldom seen and that’s because it doesn’t hit the headlines, as do geraniums regularly, and, as a result, its fan club is tiny – rather like Manchester City’s against Boreham Wood’s in football speak!

Geraniums can boast more than 300 species and countless varieties. Erodiums have just 60 species and barely a handful of hybrids, the best-known being the alpine sorts such as the cushion-forming Ken Aslet, Roseum and Bishop’s Form, all in pink shades and all low in stature.

Here I am touching on just two hardy species – manescavii and pelargonifolium from, respectively, the Pyrenees and Turkey.

Manescavii bears deep lilac-pink flowers with darker markings over a cascading clump of gorgeous intricate, feathery foliage, while pelargonifolium delivers exotic-looking white blooms with purple veins above fragrant, crinkly leaves. The latter’s bloom-span often lasts from winter’s end to mid-summer and there aren’t many plants that can equal that achievement.

Seed pods resemble a stork’s bill – hence the genus’s popular name – and, when ripe, the seed springs off and can often land some distance away, so be prepared to discover one or two unexpected seedlings putting their roots down in unexpected corners.

·■ Erodium advice: Plant in any well-drained soil and in a sunny spot. Propagate by division, root cuttings or basal shoots in autumn or sow seed in spring . . . but best not do what I did!

·■ You can buy both erodium species mentioned here from Plant World Seeds, of Newton Abbot, Devon (www.plant-world-seeds.com / 01803 872939).

Erodium manescavii foliage

·■ Enchanting erodiums: From top – A clump of my Erodium manescavii shares the camera with the golden calendula; the same erodium up-close; left – Erodium pelargoniflorum, right – Geranium Claridge Druce from Cranesbill Nursery; above – the lovely ferny foliage of Erodium manescavii alongside a few aubretia.

Star of the Himalayas will become one of the joys of June – so grow it!

thumbnail_Deutzia longifolia Veitchii

FIRSTLY, there’s the riddle of how to pronounce deutzia. Is it “dootsia,” “dyootsia” or “doytsia”?
The clever little American voice on my phone specifies a conclusive “dootsia,” so there you are. English lesson over!
Let me say from the outset that deutzias have never had the buying public queuing up eagerly for these Himalayan and East Asian hardy shrubs.
Now this is regrettable. Of all shrubs at their zenith in June, it could be argued that none can compete with deutzias for sheer flower-laden spectacle.
It’s true that the deutzia colour span is quite narrow – white, pale pink or pale mauve in most of the 60 species and numerous hybrids.

Yet the yellow centres in many of them earn a few bonus points for enhancing impact. The flowers are always star-shaped and five-petalled, occasionally fragrant and the bark often attractively peeling that compensates for the somewhat so-so deciduous foliage.

In her book 100 Flowers & How They Got Their Name, Diana Wells writes poetically of deutzia: “It’s reliable, handsome and a pleasure to have around, like many respectable lawyers with whom we are acquainted and who make good neighbours.”

It was a lawyer, in fact, that deutzia was named after – Johann van der Deutz, of Amsterdam, a town councillor and alderman and, with two others, put up cash for eminent Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828) to investigate the natural history of South Africa, Java and Japan – a phenominal feat of global travel for his era . . . and even today.

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I don’t spot too many deutzias in garden centres, apart from the popular varieties such as the lilac-pink Mont Rose and Strawberry Fields with deep pink buds opening paler – both have earned the Award of Garden Merit – Deutzia scabra in white with a honey scent and its double form Plena, and the compact Deutzia rosea which barely hits 3ft and is covered in white stars tinged pink.

Bearing larger flowers than most is Deutzia longifolia Veitchii in a lovely shade of mauve – perhaps the deepest of them all.

A couple of others to get your tongue around – Deutzia ningpoensis with clusters of white blooms which hang from the branches and – take a deep breath – Deutzia setchuensis corymbiflora which boasts a profusion of small white stars at their best in July and August – much later than most – and is, arguably, the most beautiful of all the species, complete with unusually large, greyish leaves.

As for cultivation, nothing could be easier. Deutzias will flourish in full sun, though some shade is tolerated; they love soil that veers towards alkalinity, they are best pruned soon after flowering, cutting out old, unattractive branches and trimming newer growths according to your needs, and – the best news – they appear to be trouble-free, hale and hearty and, at around 4ft-6ft, won’t soar skywards and almost out of sight.

Actually, there was a bit of good news for me as I wandered around a local store’s plant centre. For the appetising price of £3.99 I grabbed a young deutzia Mont Rose just 12in high and with no fewer than 12 dinky growths studded with buds. It now seems happily settled next to a fence and with a pretty abelia called Kaleidoscope as neighbour.

So my message is: Don’t discount deutzias. They are true stars that will leave June busting out all over!

Deutzia Mont Rose G

·■ Delightful deutzias: Top – Deutzia longifolia Veitchii; centre – the pure white Deutzia scabra; above – from little acorns . . . my newly-planted Deutzia Mont Rose replendent in emerging buds.

Golden glories from this Oriental charmer . . . but do you know its name?

Hylomecon japonica

O

NLY geniuses and the unsurpassable botanical boffin will manage to memorise every plant species on Planet Earth.

And I’m not one of them!

But what I am good at is working up lots of enthusiasm whenever I “discover” a plant I’d never heard of.

Like Hylomecon japonica.

It is often described as the forest poppy.  And that – bizarrely – equates to being a member of the sun-loving poppy – papaver – family that bucks the trend and relishes the shade, cool roots and soil enriched with any of nature’s natural goodies.

It was while I was poring over the plants in the sales area of the gorgeous National Trust garden at Hidcote, on the Gloucestershire-Warwickshire border last week, that I spied this stunner with petals in the most glistening gold I’d ever seen.

The four-petalled flowers which reach around 12in high are single and cup-shaped, two inches across, and the foliage is cut into dainty leaflets, creating a most alluring combination.

Hylomecon japonica2

Hylo-what? Top – The Oriental poppy is safely installed in my garden and is quickly into bloom. Above – Up-close to show off the glowing golden flowers.

According to the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, there is just one species, the aforementioned Hylomecon japonica, from Eastern China, Korea and Japan, a fully hardy perennial which spreads by rhizomes.

But in her book, Gardening with Woodland Plants, Karan Junker also lists Hylomecon hylomecoides, which she describes as a rare Korean species that’s also smothered in golden saucers.

The pair seem similar, apart from japonica blooming from mid-spring to early summer and its cousin enjoying an extended season of golden glory. No doubt, though, much will depend on weather conditions and their geographical whereabouts.

Both species will light up the shady woodland floor with a succession of cheery poppy-shaped flowers where the sun doesn’t beat down – quite the reverse of all the traditional poppies that simply rejoice in all-day sunbeams, often on soils deemed too poor for many plants.

Well, having stopped dead in my tracks at the plants on display at Hidcote, how could I resist forking out eight quid for this Oriental cracker?

And, of course, I didn’t resist! So far my little gold nuggets are doing just fine, a little corner of the Far East flourishing in Devon, a world away from their homeland.

It’s a tough old warrior that rings its pretty bells no matter what you throw at it

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TOUGH and trouble-free, undemanding and with bounteous blooms, survives on neglect and should feature in every garden. It’s the good old weigela, for sure!
The bell-shaped blooms of this hardy deciduous shrub from eastern Asia ring out from late spring to early summer. In other words, right now.

Most weigelas won’t win prizes for elegance, though my shrub does deliver semi-cascading branches which raises its profile somewhat. Most importantly though, it’s a great performer.

There are only 12 species, plus a healthy number of hybrids in petal colours ranging from shades of pink to red, sometimes white and occasionally yellow. The bushes seldom top 6ft-8ft.

Some varieties have the bonus of golden yellow leaves, while others bear white or gold-margined foliage or a handsome bronze-green.

My shrub, which has been part of our garden scenery for many years, bears ordinary deep green, ribbed and toothed foliage, yet the flowers are a lovely shade of palest pink.

Now it’s confession time . . .  I’m not certain of the shrub’s name and the identity tag has long since disappeared.

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Wonderful weigela: Top – The bell-shaped blossom up-close; above – my weigela looking its best next to our garden fence.

I do know what it’s not. Bristol Ruby, for instance, with dark red bells, has been a popular choice for years. Bristol Snowflake, as the name implies, is pure white, Minuet is compact with bronzy leaves and dark pink blooms with yellow throats, Carnaval looks impressive in a coat of pale pink, white and deep pink flowers, and two weigela species, florida and praecox, will display leaf margins in, respectively, white and cream if they bear the suffix Variegata.

Then there is Weigela middendorffiana – where do they get these names from? – an upright shrub that’s dramatically different from the rest. The stunning flowers are creamy-yellow, each with a distinctly mottled orange-pink throat. Mango is the variety to look out for.

Weigelas will flourish practically anywhere and in any soil, in sun or part-shade. Pruning is best done soon after flowering, taking out one or two older stems and any untidy crisscross growths and shortening others by about one-third.

Sophistication may not be the weigela’s watchword, according to some commentators, yet for sheer impact this doughty warrior takes some beating as it oversees those fading daffodils and tulips.

✴ For a daintier, more refined version of weigela, try its close Chinese relative, Kolkwitzia amabilis, known as the Beauty Bush. Its flowers are always in baby pink, borne in dense quantities and with yellow throats, leaves that turn reddish in autumn and with attractive peeling bark. But, as a possible downside, it can top 10ft. Choose Pink Cloud, with slightly deeper blooms.

There are watering cans and super cans – and here’s one that’ll keep your plants perky

Burgon&Ball can

WATERING CANS don’t exactly fill me with bounteous excitement. As long as they are sturdy, comfortable to hold and pour with conviction I shall be happy. Oh, and sufficent space at the top to allow Connie our cat to dip her paw into the water and lick it off!
But even some of these indispensable aids for plant survival can be right up there among the elite of cans – among them those launched by Burgon & Ball.

Surely the Rolls-Royce of watering cans is their new nine-litre capacity model with a recommended price ticket of £49.99.

Building on the popularity of the firm’s five-litre Waterfall cans, this season sees the launch of this in-demand design in a full size nine-litre capacity.

Created for the serious gardener who wants to invest in a long-lasting, high performance and stylish full-size can, this ergonomically-designed model has a slimline oval shape to avoid painful bumps against knees while walking.

It features a single-handed hold to eliminate twisting the back, instead using gravity to help the handle slide gently through the fingers as it’s used – the emptier the can gets the more it tips. The comfortable roll-edged handle is simple to hold and doesn’t cut into the hand.

The new can is available in a choice of slate grey and British racing green, the two most wanted colours in the five-litre range.

The steel of the can is galvanised and then gets a tough powder coating to ensure rust resistance and long life.  And there’s a five-year guarantee.

To check out two new colour options in Burgon & Ball’s range of indoor watering cans, including those with stylish and designer beech wood handles, go to http://www.burgonandball.com or call 01202 026004 for inquiries.

✴ Founded in Sheffield in 1730, Burgon & Ball is the UK’s oldest manufacturer of garden tools and accessories, with hundreds of years of expertise in all things steel. Notable product ranges are its RHS-endorsed garden tools and the popular range of hand tools and giftware.

Fancy branching out for tree ferns? Just make sure you’ve got the space – and the cash!

tree_fern_dicksonia_antarctica

YOU CAN, if your bank balance is unflinching, fork out a chunky £950 for a tree fern.
No ordinary tree fern, this one, more a massive beast scaling 9ft high with an official horticultural handle of Dicksonia antarctica.
It’s one of the giants offered by Devon-based Bowdens, famously linked to hostas, though in more recent years extending their scope to include agapanthus, bamboos and ferns large and small.
The extraordinary tree ferns, which hail from Australia, get a spot near the final pages of the firm’s 2022 catalogue.

Bowden’s owner Tim Penrose reminds us that these wizards from Oz have been enjoying rising popularity in recent years, with Dicksonia antarctica the hardiest of the clan.

While £50 shy of a grand may be somewhat “ouchy” to many, there’s a sliding scale of statures and prices right down to £350 for a more modest three-footer.

Ultimately, tree ferns will top 16ft, with fronds – their “leaves” – up to 8ft across. And they need plenty of water for the longest fronds to develop.

To this end, Bowdens willl throw in two bottles of tree fern feed, as well as fleece for winter protection and pay for delivery.

On to more modest things – and Bowdens are pleased to offer 20 new hostas and ten new agapanthus, plus an expanded range of ferns and tree ferns.

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Hostas, with their fabulous foliage in shades of green, blue-green or cream or some fascinating mixtures and patterns both subtle and splashy and with flowers in lavender or white, range from the cute and compact Baby Booties and enchanting Teeny-weeny Bikini to the massively leaved Viking Ship and Wunderbar.

As for agapanthus, which bloom from July to late September, they can be evergreen or deciduous, dressed in blue, white, lilac, lavender, near-grey and various shades in between . . . and close to black such as the aptly-named Black Magic.

Ferns? Their names may be a puzzle to hold in your memory bank – adiantum, asplenium, athyrium, dryopteris, polypodium, polystichum and pteris, along with rarities christella, diplazium, hypolepis, microsorum, nephrolepis and several more.

Would you like a couple of minutes to recite them by rote? Assuming you are declining this invitation, be sure you appreciate the value of ferns in giving the garden a  unique architectural appeal in shady areas, as well as being easy to establish and look after.

As they say – look after your fronds and the fronds will look after you.

And be sure to check out gunnera and the Bowdens bamboos.

For the record, Bowdens have won 126 RHS gold medals, including 36 Chelsea golds. They trade from Sticklepath, near Okehampton, which lies at Dartmoor’s northern edge and inside the moor’s glorious National Park.

Beauties from Bowdens: From top – the giant Dicksonia antarctica, the ostentatious hosta White Bikini, new hostas Smoke Signals (left) and Autumn Frost, inky-purple deciduous agapanthus Black Magic and the lovely lavender evergreen Glen Avon.  Pictures courtesy of Bowdens.

http://www.bowdensnursery.com / 01837 849367.

Happiness is plant-shaped but only if that all-important location suits them

Dianthus Kisses

PLANTS are like property. It’s all about Location Location Location.
At the risk of stating the downright obvious, plants have never been blessed with the power of speech.
If they had, it is quite possible many would scream a rebuke at their new-found charges for choosing a spot that’s totally alien to them in their brand new home.
Imagine, for instance, what a young beech tree would holler if it were planted in the middle of a modest suburban lawn. “Not here, stupid, your garden is far too small for me” could well be its riposte.”
Or what about a rhododendron or a heather that’s dug into limey soil? It would surely shed tears of sap as its new home would become an inevitable death sentence.
If you’d opted for a shady home for your box of dianthus or mesembryanthemums they would wail in protest: “We need loads of sunshine to bloom all summer.”

Or if you’d offered your dog’s tooth violets, botanically eythroniums, or pulmonarias what you imagined was a perfect place in all-day sun, their cryptic response would be something like: “Thanks a million, mate. Make the most of us because soon we shall frizzle, fry and die.”

Erythronium Pagoda

Light and shade: Top – Sun-loving rockery favourite dianthus Kisses; above – erythronium Pagoda is happier in a shady spot.

My message is clear: If you are unsure about a plant’s shangri-la, check its label thoroughly and, if that’s missing or unclear, ask the nearest horticultural expert for advice on your choice’s likes and dislikes. Don’t let pride get in the way – there’s no harm in seeking help to ensure your plants flourish and reward you!

You’ll then enjoy whatever perennial shrub, climber or tree is on your wanted list for many years to come.

After all, if you are scanning the property pages or websites for a place that’s off the beaten track, secluded and with eye-watering views, you’d hardly be dancing a jig when the estate agent escorted you to a fine-looking house on a busy road, close to a line of wind turbines, overlooking a business park full of warehouses and round-the-clock vehicle noise and standing in that oh-so-familiar sought-after location.