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Hemerocallis Indian Paintbrush is softened by the pale cream and lemon Anthemis Sauce HollandaiseJuly 1st: Perfect Partners

Indian Paintbrush is a really vivid orange Hemerocallis that flowers for a long period and copes well with a dry, poor soil. Whilst I love it for its intense colour its good to frame and soften its impact with paler tones. I've chosen Anthemis Sauce Hollandaise as the pale cream and lemon centres echo the vibrant daylily and harmonises well. A lot of books will tell you to use white to cool and separate hot colours. In my view white is much too harsh in association with vivid colours in full sun, attracting the eye and overpowering the composition. Cream, pale lemon or powder blue are far more relaxing.

 

July 2nd: A New Perspective

During the winter we made some new paths through our back garden changing the shape of the beds. Its really refreshing and gives you the opportunity to see the garden from new angles and perspectives. I captured this view across three beds from one of the new paths this morning. 

Gaillardia Torchlight has proved hardy, upright and with increadible flower power.July 3rd: Flower Power

Sometimes I just need a plant with incredible flower power to fill a prime position in the garden. In my view there are very few plants with more sustained impact than Gaillardia. Here is Torchlight (Fackelshein) planted alongside our front driveway which holds itself upright and flowers from May to November if deadheaded once in a while.

Helenium Moerheim Beauty planted as a drift glinting with July sunshineJuly 4th: Oldies but goodies

It's easy as a nurseryman, gardener and collector to become obsessed with the latest varieties. I'm always looking for new varieties of Helenium to add to our collection and grow in the garden but sometimes old varieties are just as good if not better and they shouldn't be overlooked in favour of the new for newness sake. 

Helenium Moerheim Beauty was introduced from Holland in the 1930's and is still one of the best to plant in drifts. Here in our garden it's ruby-red flowers glint in the July  evening sunshine. It flowers from late June through to late autumn and the deep red flowers are often flecked with gold and fade to warm russet-brown with time. The down-swept petals are quite "old fashioned" now but still effective and lovely. Its only drawback is that the stems need some support - a few pea sticks (twiggy branches) are ideal.

Definitely an oldie but goodie.

Phlox Blue Paradise has flowers that a bluer in the eveningJuly 5th: Flower colour

Describing flower colours is really difficult for the nurseryman and perhaps more involved for the gardener than might first appear to be the case. Whilst some people try to be specific by using tools like the RHS Colour Chart to define the colours exactly. This is fine for exhibition blooms like Dahlias and Chrysanthemums but not so useful for the gardener. 

Many flowers change colour from opening to fading - Heleniums like Moerheim Beauty (July 4th above) are a good example. Some will be slightly different colours in different light conditions, e.g. Hemerocallis are deeper in colour in strong sun. Some flower colours are affected by soil acidity (e.g. Hydrangeas). Soil dryness / wetness can influence depth of colour, for example red Heleniums often have a far deeper colour when the plants are dry. Some, like Phlox paniculata Blue Paradise (right) change colour during the day. In the morning it is more blue but by evening the the colour is more lilac blue or even mauve. 

Its really useful to walk around your own garden and other peoples' gardens at different times of day to observe the effect of time and light on colours and combinations. For example blues and whites are the last colours to disappear in the dusk. Warm colours tend to appear grey as the light fades but blues and lilacs seem to intensify and shimmer in the low light, so placing these colours near where you will sit or look out in the evening is a great idea.

 

July 10th: Perfect Partners

This lovely blue-green combination look my eye this afternoon. The unusual Eryngium serbicum with its blue flowers and bracts is great against the silvery blue of the grass Elymus magellanicus. Both like the sunny, open aspect and the leaf mound of the grass is a great height to associate well with the Eryngium.

Phlox Miss Kelly and Hydrangea AnnabelleJuly 11th: Perfect Partners

These two lovely girls caught my eye today - Phlox Miss Kelly with her Parma violet and white flowers is lifted by the fresh green-white of Hydrangea Annabelle. Both grow well in a lightly shaded spot with a good moist soil.  Annabelle can be allowed to grow tall or as I do you can cut it back to a low framework each early spring. 

Hemerocallis Edge AheadJuly 14th: The Winning Edge At Last!

Day Lilies (Hemerocallis) come in so many colours and patterns the choice can be bewildering. Its easy to be swayed by glossy catalogues. I always caution that many of these catalogues use photos from sunnier and warmer climes than ours and the full patterns may not develop in the UK. I also warn people that cheap plants may be micro-propagated or at least over propagated resulting in a loss of vigour and intensity and it may take 2 or 3 years to produce top quality flowers on plants like this. Patience is always a virtue in gardening, but it was something we had lost with "Edge Ahead": we had resigned ourselves to a nice flower but one with no edge pattern at all - a bit sad for a plant with that name. However this year (3 years after original planting) the flowers are beginning to show a partial edge pattern.

All our photos are original, from our Cheshire garden and completely undoctored, showing it as it is.

Colour clashes are often invigorating rather than irritatingJuly 15th: Perfect Partners

I don't really aspire to the level of taste that dictates which colours you can combine and which should not ever been seen. The colour wheel is a useful guide but not an arbiter of taste in my garden. This morning the jangling combination of Helenium Wesergold and Phlox Uspekh caught my eye. 

I'd wanted to include an Helenium at the top of our back garden where most of the colours are pinks, violets, blues, whites etc and as "preparation" for the hot colours that lay in wait further down the garden. I could have chosen the softer yellow "Die Blonde", but this is slightly taller. Although gold and mauve is a bold, Christopher Lloyd-esque combination I'm quite happy with it. 

For me this combination works on a number of levels: the plants both like moist soil and sun; they flower together (although the Helenium will go on long after the phlox has faded away); the Phlox is slightly taller than its partner but not too tall as to lose the association between the plants and the flower shapes contrast well.

Some varieties of Bee Balm (Monarda) have resistance to mildewJuly 18th: Bee Balm

Bee Balm (Monarda) is great plant for the summer border. As the name suggests it is loved by bees. Its one drawback is the tendency to get powdery mildew; a fungus causes the leaves and stems to be covered in a white coating. This can be avoided by planting in moist, humusy soil and allowing good air circulation around the plants.

Some varieties claim "mildew resistance". As with all advertising claims you need to focus on what is not said as much as what is said, i.e. they don't claim to be mildew free. Mildew resistance means they don't get it so bad and tend to grow through it. 

We grow a lot of varieties in our garden and in my experience many will get mildew in the first year of planting but then be healthy in future years once they have got their roots down into the moist soil.

My longer term experience is:

Mildew Free: Squaw - we've had it growing in fairly dry soil under a crab apple tree for about 8 years and never had mildew.

Ususally mildew Free in good conditions - Gewitterwolke, Gardenview Scarlet, Jacob Cline)

May get slight mildew in dry periods but usually recover well: The Zodiac Series (Balance, Fishes etc).

Still testing, but looking promising: Prairie Night, Raspberry Wine, Duddiscombe.

I've seen the species Monarda fistulosa (Horse Mint) growing in very conditions in other people's gardens and not showing any mildew.

July 19th: Perfect Partners

This is one of my favourite planting partnerships; lemon yellow Kniphofia Brimstone, the tiny-leafed shrubLonicera Baggesen's Gold and the pale orange of Achillea Terracotta. 

All do well in hot, dry, sunny conditions.

 

Heleniums as part of Plant Heritage display Tatton Silver 2009July 22nd: RHS Tatton Flower Show

This is our first time at a big flower show and having spent Monday and Tuesday preparing our part of the Plant Heritage (National Collections) display we are really pleased to arrive this morning and find that the whole display has been awarded a Silver Medal. 

Creating a display like this accentuates the challenges of growing the normally easy Heleniums. Firstly light levels. In the dim marquee the reds and oranges don't really get their true colour - all turning to yellow with time. In garden this is only a problem with flowers badly shaded by foliage or neighbours. We occasionally get calls from customers querying why the first red flowers aren't red - lack of light is always the issue as the first few flowers open within the foliage. Secondly watering. Thankfully the display was covered with a hefty mulch of bark and this is a good idea in the garden. 

July 25th Hemerocallis Flowering

A surprising number of people at the Tatton show asked me "why haven't my Hemerocallis flowered this year?". There's no simple answer as there is really no reason why a good plant won't flower each year. But here are some things to try if yours didn't flower, None are guaranteed to work but they often do the trick.

1. Feeding.  Some balanced feed in spring and again after flowering.

2. Sun. Not us important as some books make out. We grow in dappled light and part sun just as effectively as full sun. But don't allow other plants to flop right over the clumps. Hemerocallis Twiggy - Great Flower Power

3. Maturity. We've found that some (but not most) newly planted specimens take a while to settle in. Some flower at strange times (extra earlies in Autumn for example) and then skip a year. So it might be worth waiting.

4. Dividing: Dividing plants into too small pieces can stop them flowering for one or even two years. If flowering is deteriorating then its probably wise to dig up and divide and refresh the soil with some garden compost (not manure!), You can do this any time in the growing season.

5. Source. In my experience this is the most important factor in flower power. If you buy your plants from the DIY shop, Supermarket or discount store go and ask them why they are aren't flowering - I don't have a clue how they force them on. These bargain plants are almost certainly "micro-propagated" (grown in a test tube) and often take a long time to produce reasonable plants. Sometimes plants of the species get handled around. These often flower very sparsely if at all. Sometimes its just a bad plant - if all else fails put it on the compost heap.

Commelina tuberosaJuly 30th Sleeping Beauty

True blue flowers are always coveted in the garden. One of the best in my opinion is Commelina tuberosa, for which a well-known seedsman has coined the tradename "Sleeping Beauty".  The flowers unfurl during the night and close up during the late afternoon. It is a relative of Tradescantia and is easy to grow in full sun. Despite its exotic looks it has been hardy for us for many years but it is one of those plants that doesn't come back though the soil until well into May leading many gardeners to believe they've lost it over winter. 

Other plants that are often very late to come through include Chocolate Cosmos (often well into June), Pineapple Sage (ditto), and Salvia patens (late May).

Now is a good time to take cuttings from the Commelina - they are easy root in water. I'd recommend potting up the cuttings and keeping frost-free for the first winter before planting out in late May.

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