Friday, 28 November 2008

Species tulips for every garden - plant some today!

Species tulips may be smaller than hybrids, but they are also tougher - and create a stunning show year after year. There is a species tulip that will be happy in every garden - even clay! so there is no excuse not to add these lovely bulbs to your planting scheme...

Tulips are often considered ephemeral in the garden, and it's true that many hybrid tulips decline in vigour after the first year. Species tulips, however, are reliable year upon year, often naturalising and setting seed to produce drifts of flowers that actually improve over the years.

Species tulips tend to be smaller and less showy than their hybrid counterparts but they are equally heart stopping. The flowering season begins on early March just as the garden is waking up from winter, but there are varieties that bloom in succession all the way through until the end of May. From the creamy drifts to Tulipa turkestaica to be the lipstick-red of Tulipa fosteriana, it really is worth making room form these little beauties in your garden.

As a general rule, good drainage is essential for all tulips. Although they love to be watered during their growing season, most species tulips prefer dry soil over the summer months. Rock gardens have typically been the best place to grow species tulips because they emulate their natural habitat in the wild, but they are not the only situation in which these diminutive gems will flourish.

Pots and containers
Tulipa greigii starts flowering in March. The dwarf flowering habit and large decorative leaves make for stunning displays in window boxes and containers. Try combining Tulipa greigii 'Red Riding Hood' with winter pansies and trailing ivy for a late-winter show stopper. Try also T. humilis 'Persian Pearl' and T. kauffmanniana 'Heart's Delight'

Clay soil
Tulipa acuminta is an usual and exotic-looking tulip with needle like pointed petals of red and yellow. It is a surpise hit in clay soil, flowering in May, and is excellent for cut-flower arrangements.
Low-growing and early-flowering, Tulipa humilis is equally happy in a rock garden, a raised bed, sunny border or a pot. It has delicate, blade-like leaves, and is available in a wide range of colours.
Tulipa turkestanica is one of the easiest species tulips to grow, and deserving of a place in almost every garden. The elegant creamy-white flowers have a rich yello centre, and really brighten up the winter garden. These tulips will spread gradually and reliably to form dense patches of small starry flowers.

Woodland edge/semi-shade
Tulipa sprengeri is the exception to the rule: flowering in late May and early June, it actually prefers slightly moist soil - and even a bit of shade. try including it in woodland-edge planting schemes, or use it to underplant deciduous trees and shrubs. Don't be put off by its price: Tulipa sprengeri sets seed widely and will soon become an established accent in the garden.

All rounders
With its sturdy stems, broad leaves and huge bright red flower which can be 15cm across when fully open - Tulipa fosteriana is one of the most popular species tulips. it adapts to a wide variety of soils and situation, relishes neglect and reliable each year.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Clever with clematis

Stunning on its own, this climber works even better teamed up with trees and shrubs for a dramatic second burst of colour.

We are used to pairing clematis with roses, but there are hundreds of other combinations to be explored. Many plants offer limited interest for long periods of the year, so why not extend the season by partnering established trees and shrubs with a clematis?

Buddleias are great with the lavender-blue Clematis ‘Arabella’ or the dramatic dark-purple ‘Miranda’. Both cultivars flower non-stop from spring to late summer and will actually benefit from any hard pruning your buddleia requires to keep it in check. Other silver-leaved shrubs such as Garrya elliptica gain from an association with Clematis viticella ‘Palette’, which has delicate purple-veined flowers fading to white at the centre.

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' is a daring choice with Ceanothus
The purple foliage of Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’ or Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ provides a dashing contrast for Clematis ‘Wisley’ or the late-flowering white Clematis ‘John Huxtable’, but can also marry beautifully with the soft pink of ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’. In fact, the list of possible combinations is almost endless. The golden rule to remember is that the most successful partnerships have the same pruning requirements.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The line of beauty

The main borders combine traditional herbaceous perennials with swaths of ornamental grasses and plenty of roses. I have inherited my mother’s love of old-fashioned roses, so I squeeze in as many as I can. I am particularly interested in designing planting with the relaxed painterly look of a traditional herbaceous border without the intensive maintenance – and this is where I try out my ideas to see what really works.....

Photo by Jenny Lewis

This year, we have been attacked by slugs in their thousands and I have taken the opportunity to experiment with aromatic substitutes for some of my favourite border perennials. As a result, I have discovered a new favourite in Teucrium hircanicum, which has, this year, replaced Salvia nemorosa ‘Schwellenburg’ in the Nottingham borders. I am becoming almost evangelical in my promotion of Agastache. But my best discovery this year is a waste product from the rooibos tea industry, called Fine Naturals, that is brilliant at deterring slugs.