14 Aug 2022

Gardening: Learn to love bold colour and summer smells

In the Garden with Jo McGarry

Gardening: Learn to love bold colour and summer smells

Oranges and blues in your garden

I was discussing with a client today why we plant as we do. Why, when choosing what goes where in the garden, and how many of a certain plant to put down, do we not plant in twos? Why, when picking a border, do we choose what we do?

When it comes to choosing plants, we need to learn to love colour, because the days of the pastel English country garden that looks like a watercolour painting have largely gone. Try to avoid planting only one of each thing, as this will resemble a pincushion of dots. It is far better to plant in threes, fives or sevens - always odd numbers - and avoid forming cloud-like blobs. Make a triangular shape, or a narrow ribbon that looks like it's waving in the wind. This is much more pleasing to the eye.

Embrace orange and lime shades, because they make blues and purples more vibrant, especially in evening light. Salvias and delphiniums add splashes of blue/purple and if contrasted with geums, crocosmia or even the lime greens of euphorbia or alchemilla mollis, create a pleasing riot of summer colour.

Grasses always add movement and some give a year-long presence. They also unify a scheme when woven through a mixed border. One of my current favourites is Pennisetum Red Ponytails, a lovely grass with mounds of bright green foliage, topped with large bottlebrush-like flowers which open distinctly red, fading through purple shades to beige. It looks stunning teamed with alliums. The clean, minimalist style of this grass makes it a good choice for formal courtyards or in minimalist urban planters.

At this time of year the peony is the highlight of the garden. I have both pink and creamy white flowers threatening to progress from their tight balls of buds into the most magnificent of flowers. Like any of the most magnificent blooms, they catch us off guard when they burst into flower as they are fleeting, but so worth it.

My favourite climber is the wonderful evergreen jasmine which has the most stunning fragrance from its tiny but abundant star-like flowers. It is such a dreamy plant with a big impact. For me, it brings back memories of holidaying in a little Italian seaside town down near Rome, where I walked past garden after garden that had used this plant to look like a front hedge, and the smell still stays with me. I have planted this stunner close to where I park the car, so that its smell hits me when I get out, especially when the sun is like it has been recently.

Another favourite is the geranium Johnsons Blue. It has handsome, weed-smothering foliage, but it is its large, blue, saucer-shaped flowers, which put on a profuse and prolonged summer display, that steal the show. It mingles easily with its neighbours without becoming too boisterous or floppy, and it is resistant to pests and diseases.

I’m also newly converted to the sea holly plant and have had my head turned by Eryngium Blue Glitter.

This award-winning (well-earned!) variety has most of the features one could hope for in a garden plant for amateurs. A true perennial, it has strong, erect stems that are an ornamentally attractive silver-blue in colour. These divide and divide again more than once to give innumerable small, shimmering blue pincushions, all in a ready made flower arrangement. This is a plant to add strength and colour to your border.

So now that I’ve given you some ideas for the garden, there is no excuse for you not to get out. This weather has been just the best - but let’s hope we get a bit of night time rain to keep the gardens happy!

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