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Image: Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ planted with Kniphofia ‘Tawny King’
We will be discussing new plants much more on our website, but the adage that ‘new is not necessarily better’ is certainly borne out by one of Adrian Bloom’s Best selections, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’; discovered in the 1700s, yet only now becoming known and appreciated for the great garden plant it is.
Stephen Anderton, garden writer who has been to Bressingham Gardens many times, wrote an article in the Times on the 12th August –
‘Hydrangeas are this season’s must have…’
‘…and your garden needs an Annabelle’.
Thanks Stephen – the only thing we would slightly disagree with is that at Bressingham we treat Annabelle like a perennial and in late March, just as shoots start to show, we cut all old wood to the ground.
The hardiest and arguably most spectacular of crocosmias, C. ‘Lucifer’ is worth a place in all but the smallest of gardens.
The seven or so Crocosmia species all originate from South Africa, and since the 19th century considerable hybridizing has given us some wonderful selections for adding colour to the summer garden. Strictly speaking they should be classed as bulbs or corms, but the hardier types in particular are looked upon as perennials. Selecting for hardiness was one of my father Alan Bloom’s intentions, and while working with Percy Piper in 1963 they crossed the hardiest two species: C. masoniorum and C. paniculata.
Several hundred seedlings arose from this cross, and over the next three years they were assessed and reduced to a final six that were named and introduced in 1966 and then sold in 1970.
All six cultivars have stood the test of time, but ‘Lucifer’ has become the gardening world’s favourite Crocosmia. From large clusters of corm-like roots, bright green spear-shaped shoots emerge in spring, quickly forming broad, rich, green, ribbed leaves to 120 cm (4 ft.). It is the earliest Crocosmia to flower, arching heads of vermillion flame flowers on wiry black-green stems, creating an eye-catching display for several weeks. The combination of foliage, flower and attractive seedheads gives ‘Lucifer’ great garden value, especially in plant combinations where the flowers are luminescent against the purple foliage of Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ or Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’.
‘Lucifer’ and other crocosmias need full sun, and even there, given warmth and moisture, the heavy leaves of ‘Lucifer’ can flop later in summer, so may need some maintenance. In hot summer regions, rust can be a problem, and in both cases discretion should be used in cutting away unsightly foliage. ‘Lucifer’ and other crocosmias will grow well enough in any garden soil that is neither too wet nor too dry, but all resent poor drainage in winter. If root growth becomes congested with age, lift in early spring and divide, discard the oldest woody corms, compost the soil and replant.
Protect for winter by mulching corms with 10 cm (4 in.) of leaf mould, or alternatively in very cold areas you can also lift the corms in late autumn, cut off foliage and dry the corms in a frost-free building, and then plant out the next spring. ‘Lucifer’ cuts such a dash that all this effort is rewarded.
120–150 cm (4–5 ft.) ﾁ~ 60–75 cm (2–2. ft.)
Period of interest: Early to late Summer and Autumn
With bright blue forget-me-not flowers in spring and silver marbled leaves all summer, B. ‘Jack Frost’ is a joy. The species Brunnera macrophylla is a native to north eastern Turkey, the Caucasus and Georgia to western Siberia in forests and open grassy slopes, forming a compact clump with bright blue forget-me-not flowers on wispy branchlets in early spring, followed by coarse heart shaped leaves that remain to make good ground cover all summer. The species and some cultivars will grow in full sun in cooler summer regions. B. ‘Jack Frost’ is a relatively new introduction that arose as a mutation or sport in the micropropagation unit at Walters Gardens in Michigan, and has already found a place as one of my favourite gardenworthy plants: hardy, reliable and undeniably showy. ‘Jack Frost’ makes a fine and long spring display of light twinkling blue flowers, but it is the silver-veined and marbled leaves that follow that make it a valuable plant for garden and container.
As its origins suggest, ‘Jack Frost’ is very hardy; however, leaves can be easily scorched in hotter climates in full sun or where dry root conditions exist, so if in any doubt plant in full or part shade where roots are moist. Old flowers are best removed as soon as flowering is finished, and if the foliage becomes damaged during summer cut back, water and mulch for another show of brighter, cleaner leaves, although these may be smaller. This plant offers so many opportunities for plant combinations throughout its season from spring to autumn: try it with the black-leaved Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. Propagation is by division, but damaged roots may regrow with green leaves so care should be taken. ‘Jack Frost’ and other selections will seed freely on moist soils if flowers are not removed, but will vary from the parent. 45–60 cm (1½–2 ft.) × 60 cm (2 ft.) F spring, Z 3–8
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Hadspen Cream’ was raised by English plantsman Eric Smith and is a robust alternative to B. ‘Jack Frost’, with mid-green heart-shaped leaves edged irregularly with creamy yellow. It is free flowering and makes good, dense ground cover once established in part shade. 30–45 cm (1–1½ ft.) × 45–60cm (1½–2 ft.), F spring, Z 3–8.
Few plants can have such a dramatic effect in winter than the dogwood Cornus Midwinter Fire, a shrub that without pruning would grow to 3-4 metres.
Given a sunny situation where not too dry, and pruned annually in early spring, Midwinter Fire will make a striking show from November until the end of March, once its leaves have dropped.
The slender stems are orange at the base, suffusing to deep crimson at the tips creating from a distance a blazing fire, equally as showy on dull winter days as in sun.
Pictured here with Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ and Snowdrops, it makes a stunning display.
For impact, versatility and flowering performance, there are few hardy perennials to match the remarkable Geranium ‘Rozanne’ cranesbill.
This remarkable plant was named the RHS Chelsea Flower Show’s Plant of the Centenary in 2013, having been chosen by a panel of leading horticultural experts as one of the show’s top ten and then voted for by the public as their favourite plant.
It arose in 1989 as a seedling in the garden of the late Donald and Rozanne Waterer in the village of Kilve, Somerset, England, the parents being the early-flowering G. himalayense and the later- and freely-flowering G. wallichianum ‘Buxton’s Variety’, both species native to the Himalayas. The Waterers, being keen gardeners, knew this new hybrid was special and contacted me in 1991 to see if Blooms would trial and introduce it. The rest is history, but over the years G. ‘Rozanne’ has exceeded expectations, proving itself hardy, heat-tolerant and extremely long-blooming. In New Zealand’s Auckland Botanic Garden it flowers all year long.
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ has a clumpy but rather scrawny root system and in spring new mid-green lobed and divided leaves soon make a mound of foliage before flowers open in early summer. Flowers are large, 5 cm (2 in.) across and, depending on age and sunlight, blue to violet-blue, each of the 5 petals veined with purple into a white-suffused purple centre. Flowers continue to appear with abundance until autumn frosts, particularly in regions with cooler summers, for although tolerant of heat and drought, flowers will diminish in size and quantity in these conditions, fully recovering for a further burst in autumn.
G. ‘Rozanne’ will make a 90-cm (3-ft.) mound when established, so allowance must be made when planting. Later in summer new growth emerges from the centre and old or untidy foliage can then be tidied up if required; otherwise, cut back all foliage when it has died back in winter.
G. ‘Rozanne’ grows well on a variety of soils in sun or part shade where not too dry. Its long flowering performance allows it to be displayed in patio containers, hanging baskets and even window-boxes. Try it as a ‘river’ or flowering ground cover, perhaps in association with roses. 60–90 cm (2–3 ft.) × 90–120 cm (3–4 ft.) F from early summer to late autumn Z 5–9.
For large mound-forming cultivars consider G. ‘Brookside’, whose smaller-leaved foliage has a more airy appearance than G. ‘Rozanne’ and a succession of white-centred, dark violet- blue flowers, freely intermingling with nearby plants throughout summer. Sun or shade, 60–75 cm (2–2½ ft.) × 90–120 cm (3–4 ft.), Z 5–8.
G. ‘Patricia’, raised by Orkney breeder Alan Bremner, is also robust and somewhat brazen, with broadlobed hairy leaves and bright magenta dish-shaped flowers, stained purple in the centre. It is a hot summer colour to use against blue and white flowers or grey or silver foliage, in sun or part shade. 75–90 cm (2½–3 ft.) × 90–120 cm (3–4 ft.), F summer with occasional re-bloom, Z 5–8.
Although slow to establish and needing shade in hotter climates, G. ‘Blue Sunrise’ has golden, red-tinged early growth and later, according to sun exposure, yellow-green to yellow leaves, the yellow holding up well in autumn even in shade, making a pleasing contrast to lavender fading to light blue flowers which continue from early summer to autumn. In hotter climates shade is recommended. Suitable for any soil where not too dry. 60 cm (2 ft.) ×90–120 cm (3–4 ft.) once established, F summer to autumn, Z 6–8.
Finally, despite being brief in flower, the early woodland species, European native G. sylvaticum, the wood cranesbill, and its North American counterpart G. maculatum, the spotted cranesbill, are worth garden space. Both G. s. ‘Mayflower’, with deep lavender- blue, white-centred flowers, and G. s. ‘Album’ are first class. G. sylvaticum seeds particularly freely, and G. maculatum has a slowly spreading semi-woody rootstock, light green leaves and lilac-to-pink flowers. Both species will be happy in sun in colder climates; otherwise shade where not too dry is preferred. Both 60–75 cm (2–2½ ft.) × 45–60 cm (1½–2 ft.), F spring to early summer, Z 4–8.
It would be difficult to overpraise this ornamental grass for the effect it brings to the year-round garden.
The only species in the genus, H. macra comes from Honshu, the main island of Japan, where it grows in moist, mountainous areas, on cliffs and hillsides, including Mount Hakone after which it was named.
Growing from 45 cm (1½ ft.) to 90 cm (3 ft.) depending on its situation, the species deserves attention for its narrow, graceful, arching rich green leaves that make billowy mounds of foliage.
The golden variegated hakone grass, H. m. ‘Alboaurea’, which no doubt arose as a sport or mutation in Japan many years ago, may have a difficult name, but it is generally an easy, eye-catching and trouble-free plant to add drama to any garden. It forms a dense, slowly spreading clump of congested wiry roots, new deep yellow-and-green- striped shoots quickly emerging to make gently arching hummocks of bright golden ground-covering foliage.
There is no end to the uses and plant combinations possible with H. m. ‘Alboaurea’, as pathway edging, as ground cover beneath trees or shrubs where not too dry, combined with a blue hosta or black-leaved Ophiopogon, or grown in a container with foliage cascading down on all sides.
Wispy flowers occur in late summer among the sometimes-red-tinted foliage, and even when this dies back, the thin brown-beige winter leaves remain attractive well into winter, continuously moved by wind and breeze. These are adaptable plants, but it is worth finding them a spot where not too hot and dry, in sun or shade according to climate. They can take heat but not extreme heat, sun and drought, requiring some moisture at the roots (when leaves curl, you know they need water). Open up heavier soils with leaf mould, composted bark or humus to allow roots to run freely.
Divide plants in early spring before leaves have opened, not allowing them to dry out, and replant, firming in wiry roots, watering and lightly mulching. Cut back old foliage when it begins to break down in late winter.
30–45 cm (1–1½ ft.) × 45–60 cm
F late summer
H. m. ‘Alboaurea’, which has white splashed on its gold-and-green leaves, is often confused with H. m.
‘Aureola’ which does not, but the two are mixed in the trade and equally worthy. H. m. ‘Allgold’, with purely golden-yellow leaves, is slightly prone to sun scorch so does best in some shade. Attractive though less dramatic is H. m. ‘Albovariegata’, with light green and creamy white striped leaves. All are of similar stature and hardiness to H. m. ‘Alboaurea’.