Discover autumn colour


Fire and ice, parchment and pastels, earth metals – the autumn garden is rich in colour combinations just waiting to be discovered, says Val Bourne

The November garden is fired by vibrant contrasts. From the muted hues of plants retreating underground or losing their leaves to prepare for winter sleep, to the saturated colours of fiery autumn foliage, hips, stems and late flowers that linger into November.
Brown, beige and khaki dominate now, but low autumn sunlight picks up every detail and enhances the smouldering accent hues and makes them glow.
Aromatic silver plants will provide a steely backdrop for any of these colourful treasures and their foliage will give your seven-spot ladybirds and spiders a place to shelter, too. Leave these ‘ever-grey’ plants intact and cut them back in April when spring breaks through.
It’s a good time to make full use of colourful grasses in reds, browns, parchments and frosted greens. Use them to ring an ornamental acer or small tree, or weave them through an autumn border like a series of fibre-optic lamps. Fine-fronded grasses move and sway when it’s wet and windy, but will freeze-frame in frost to provide elegant ice sculptures. Use taller grasses as punctuation marks among billowing asters and make good use of all those earthy oranges, bronzes and golds. They’ll lift your spirits – even on a dreary November day.


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Discover the drama of seedheads

  Eryngium giganteum

Eryngium giganteum

These autumn treasures  hold the secret to next year’s new plants. Val Bourne explores this exciting wonderland

As autumn mists roll in and fruit ripens on the branch, the garden’s colour palette shifts from the floral fantasia of high summer into something altogether more mellow. Shades of russet, warm-red and khaki fatigues come to the fore, giving the garden an earthy, rosy look.
Seedheads play an enormous role in the garden now and, as the sun sinks lower in the sky, they provide texture and form and add a decadent note to the border. Their presence also helps wildlife, because seed-eating birds, such as goldfinches, descend along with busy little wrens who frisk the plants for insects and grubs.
I adore the shiny brown seedheads of acanthus ‘Rue Ledan’. Each pod, reminiscent of a conker, has a jagged grey bract wrapped round like a scarf, and the complete spike turns almost black in winter. And I can’t resist dieramas, or angels’ fishing rods, once the papery seed capsules form and begin to scatter their perfectly round, mid-brown seeds. The extra weight from the seeds makes them tremble and quake in the slightest wind, like conductors of an orchestra.
In any case, it’s fashionable for a garden to fade as the year wanes and Piet Oudolf, the Dutch landscape architect, has perfected the technique in gardens such as Trentham Long Borders in Staffordshire and Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire. German landscape architects were the first to plant up public parks and roundabouts with naturalistic planting that made an impact right through the year until they were cut down in early spring.
Admittedly not everything endures. Persicarias, for instance, disintegrate to mush at the first sign of frost so it’s stiff-stemmed plants that shine now. If they’re tall, so much the better because winter sun can spotlight them as effectively as any theatre designer.

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Make a living wall from guttering

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Plastic guttering makes a cheap but cheerful planter for small succulents, sedums and echeverias, says Max McMurdo

When you have limited outdoor space it’s great to create as many planting opportunities as you can. Vertical planting, intended to produce the effect of a ‘living’ wall, has been used in a lot of stylish garden designs for urban yards and patios. This design uses basic plastic guttering, which is really easy to source from any hardware store. It works beautifully for plants that don’t require too much soil, such as succulents.
Here I’ve opted for four lengths of guttering, but you can use as many as you wish, cut to length to suit your space. You could paint the guttering in bright colours; I was after a sleek contemporary look; grey is also a nice neutral tone to allow the plants to stand out.


1. You will need

YOU WILL NEED: Plastic gutter pipe • End caps • Rope • Hacksaw • Tape measure • Drill to make draiange holes • Compost • Plants

1. CUT GUTTERING Lay out the guttering, measure, mark and cut to the length you want using a hacksaw. Hold each piece steady as you saw. File the sawn ends smooth with a half-moon file or sandpaper.

2. Cut the guttering.jpg

2. FIT CAPS To make drainage holes, drill through the base of each length in several places. Attach end caps to each length of guttering.

3. MEASURE AND KNOT ROPES Measure and cut the rope into two equal lengths. Tie a knot at the halfway point in each length and fold the ropes at this central knot. Measure and mark every 25cm (10 inches) and knot the rope at each marked point. Repeat for both ropes.

4. Measure and knot ropes.jpg

4. CHECK KNOTS ARE ALIGNED Check that the knots align on both ropes (so the guttering will sit level). Adjust the position of the knots if necessary. Heat the cut ends of the rope with a lighter to prevent fraying.

5. POSITION GUTTERING Slot the guttering through each knotted section, pushing the rope snugly against the end caps. Plant up.


READER OFFER This project is taken from Upcycling Outdoors by Max McMurdo with photogrpahs by Brent Darby (£20, Jacqui Small). Readers can buy the book at the special price of £15 with free UK p&p. To order please call 01903 828503 quoting ref QPG500

Celebrate dahlias

 Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey

Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey

There are few sights more captivating than a colour-themed dahlia border in full throttle. And what better way to view them in all their myriad shapes and hues than at a dahlia festival? From village shows to open gardens, stately homes to nursery fields, there are dahlias blooming everywhere this month. The National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire has a particularly memorable dahlia border that begs a panoramic photo when you visit; similarly, Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire has a dahlia collection to die for; and the National Dahlia Society is holding its own dahlia show at RHS Garden Wisley in September, complete with judging and demonstrations. Dave Gillam, Chair of the Society, has plenty of good advice on how to keep dahlias looking fabulous.

“Generally the only thing dahlias don’t like is shade,” says Dave. “So, start by picking a sunny, open site. In winter, they can cope with cold and they can cope with wet, but not at the same time. So, if you have heavy soil but don’t want to lift them in autumn, the best bet is to create a slight mound at the bottom of their planting hole, so you’re raising the tuber above the natural water level. Add grit and plenty of organic matter when you plant, then in winter, simply cover the crown with straw as an organic mulch.

“In garden situations, it’s worth trying to leave them in the ground over winter. If they survive that first year, when the plants are at their smallest, you’ll have them for life. It’ll save an awful lot of time and effort lifting and storing them. Besides, many dahlias are lost through improper winter storage – for instance, don’t put them in plastic bags or leave them in wet compost.

“If you do decide to lift your tubers over winter,  wake them up slowly in spring. Don’t plant them out until they’re showing actual signs of growth. Instead, plant the tubers in a pot on a warm windowsill and wait for them to show signs of life. Plant them out after the last frost and they’ll be in flower as early as June.”

Dave has being growing dahlias since he was 10 and regularly competes in the National Championships against around 200 other serious exhibition growers. “My secret is to give the plants what they need before they need it,” he says. “If they’re showing signs of stress it’s too late. You have to keep the soil constantly moist, control the number of flowers and keep their stems well supported: I use three canes in an inverted pyramid to give the flowers plenty of room.

“The hardest thing is getting them to flower at exactly the right time for exhibition. It’s a very concentrated effort – I grow about 460 dahlias on my allotment and I’m not allowed a hosepipe, so all the watering, as well as the weekly feeding, is done by watering can. But then, this is a Mexican plant that stores moisture in its tubers, so it can take pretty hot, dry conditions.”

Dave Gillam's Top Tips for better blooms

• STOPPING/TOPPING This is the act of removing the growing tip when the plant has 3-4 pairs of leaves (left). This makes for a stronger, bushier plant, triggering the next 6-8 shoots lower down the stem to start into growth.

• SIDESHOOTING This is when you remove the sideshoots lower down the stem to strengthen those that remain, so each stem only carries one main bud and flower.

• DISBUDDING This technique involves removing the ‘wingbuds’ on either side of the central flowerbud to make more space for the main flower, allowing it to reach its fullest potential size. 

 The dahlia marquee at Aylett Nurseries

The dahlia marquee at Aylett Nurseries


ANGLESEY ABBEY Quy Road, Lode, Cambridgeshire CB25 9EJ l Dahlia displays from end Aug to mid-Sept. Adults £15; NT members free. 01223 810080;

THE SALUTATION Knightrider Street, Sandwich, Kent CT13 9EW l Displays, talks and demos. 15-16 September, 10am-4pm. Adults free. 01304 619919;

CHENIES MANOR Chenies, Rickmansworth, WD3 6ER Rare and unusual cultivars to buy. 27 August, 2-5pm. Adults £6. 01494 762888;

KELMARSH HALL Kelmarsh, Northampton NN6 9LY Tours, demos and dahlia clinic.
2 and 16 September, 11am-5pm. Adults £10. 01604 686543;

AYLETT NURSERIES North Orbital Road, St Albans AL2 1DH l Field trials and exhibition. 8-16 Sept, 10.30am-4.30pm. Adults free. 01727 822255;

NATIONAL DAHLIA SOCIETY SHOW RHS Wisley, GU23 6QB Exhibits and competitions. 4-7 Sept, 9am-5pm. Adults £14.50; RHS free. 01483 224234;

Create drama with grasses

Ornamental grasses are enjoying a hey-day in modern garden design, adding romance, movement and special colour effects. Louise Curley nominates her top 10



1. Best for colour: Imperata cylindrica
For striking colour it’s hard to beat Japanese blood grass, with its narrow upright leaf blades that are green at the base becoming blood red and deep burgundy towards the tip. The leaves glow like flickering flames when backlit. It’s not completely hardy, so plant it in a sunny spot in well-drained soil and mulch in autumn. Or, grow in a container and bring under cover in winter. Plant with heleniums and rudbeckia or for a dramatic contrast alongside the blue-flowered hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbago). H40cm (16in) S30cm (12in)

2. Best for height: Stipa gigantea
This  statuesque grass has a delicate, transparent quality. Clumps of slender leaves grow to about 60cm (2ft) tall, then produce towering stems topped with delicate oat-like flowers from midsummer. Once the seeds have been shed the seed heads continue to look good well into winter. Plant so it can catch the sun; its golden seedheads will shimmer like gold. Clumps are hardy but need full sun and a light, well-drained soil. The leaves have sharp edges so wear gloves and long sleeves when handling. Comb through the plant in spring to remove dead foliage. H2.5m (8ft) S1.2m (4ft)

3. Best for seedheads: Chasmanthium latifoilum
A rarely grown grass that originates from North America where it’s also known as northern sea oats. Its loose clumps of broad leaves resemble bamboo, accompanied by masses of unusual flat flower heads that look as though they’re been pressed by an iron. The whole plant dries to a lovely rich russet brown colour in autumn. Cut back stems to ground level in early spring. It needs fertile soil that’s moist but well-drained in full sun. H1m (39in) S60cm (24in)

 4. Best for screening: Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’
A stiff grass with an erect habit, which makes it perfect for use as a screening plant. Plant it in rows to create an unusual hedge. It’s one of the earliest grasses to start into growth in spring when slender green leaves and stems emerge followed by wispy, buff-coloured flowers. Will happily grow in full sun or light shade in most soils as long as they’re well-drained. The slender columns of bleached, straw-like stems stand well throughout winter. H1.8m (6ft) S60cm (24in)

5. Best for groundcover: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’
This wonderful low-growing ornamental grass forms tumbling cascades of striped yellow and green leaves. It looks fabulous when planted in large drifts at the edge of a path or underneath trees and shrubs where it creates a soft floaty feel. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun or part shade - the leaves can develop red tints when grown in full sun. Cut back to the base in spring. H35cm (15in) S40cm (16in)

 6. Best for fluffy flowers: Pennisetum villosum
A graceful plant with fine slender leaves and large, fluffy, caterpillar-like flowers. These whitish-green plumes take on purple tints as they mature. It’s a tender perennial that’s often grown as an annual. It may survive the winter in a mild area; plant in a sunny, well-drained location and add a mulch to protect its roots from the cold. It works well edging borders, but also makes a good container plant, which means it can be brought under cover in late autumn to protect from the worst of the winter cold and wet. H and S60cm (24in)

7. Best for stripes: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’
An upright grass with a fountain shape thanks to its elegant arching stems and foliage. Its ‘zebra’ name comes from the cream horizontal stripes across its green leaves. This variegation is temperature dependent and usually appears in midsummer but the leaves can scorch in full sun, so plant in light shade. In hot summers silky, finger-like, coppery-pink flower spikes can appear. The foliage turns a tan colour in autumn. Cut down in late winter to allow new growth to appear. H1.2m (4ft) S45cm (18in)

8. Best for container growing: Festuca glauca
A compact grass that forms low-growing hummocks of grey-blue, needle-thin leaves that’s perfect for growing in containers. The evergreen foliage provides structure for container displays all year round. Flower spikes appear in summer and fade to brown. Comb through the plant in late winter to remove any dead foliage. Plant in spring with dainty white violas and dwarf white narcissus, then replace them with white or purple summer bedding and perennials such as salvias, Cosmos sonata and Bacopa ‘Snowflake. H30cm (12in) S25cm (10in)

9. Best for winter structure: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’
A majestic plant that has fine arching green leaves with a white stripe down the centre and spectacular purplish-brown silky flowers that glisten in summer. Foliage turns a lovely russet brown in autumn and holds its shape into late winter when it can be cut down to the ground. Plant in blocks or drifts to form natural screens or as specimen plants in a border to add strong vertical shapes. Needs a sunny, open position and well-drained soil. H2m (7ft) S1.2m (4ft)

10. Best for movement: Hordeum jubatum
Foxtail barley is a short-lived perennial, but it can be treated as an annual and is easy to grow from seed. It will self-sow in free-draining soil in a warm, sunny position and produces delicate pale pink, silvery, barley-like flowers. Plant in drifts and the flowers will sway in the breeze creating attractive waves. Plants thrive in gravel gardens or at the front of a border where it can be interplanted among dainty plants that have an airy quality, such as Shirley poppies, love-in-a-mist or verbena ‘Lollipop’ – the shorter version of Verbena bonariensis. H60cm (24in) S30 (12in)


Learn to love pink and orange!

 Echinacea purpurea with helenium

Echinacea purpurea with helenium

Sock it to the neighbours with an outrageous clashing border, says Louise Curley. Go on, we dare you!

Orange and pink flowers offer the ultimate colour clash. They’re perfect if you long to break free from the tasteful pastels and bland monochromatic schemes that have come to dominate suburbia.
Bold colours have the ability to excite and stimulate, but for many of us the strength of these hues scares us. We’re unsure how to use them and worry that they seem a little brash. What will the neighbours think?
Frankly, our winters are long enough and grey enough for us to celebrate summer with vibrant colour. Take inspiration from the late Christopher Lloyd and his garden at Great Dixter in East Sussex where he experimented with colour to bold effect. He disregarded the ‘rules’ that he felt governed the use of colour and what he thought constituted ‘good taste’ in favour of a more adventurous approach to planting. In his book Cuttings: a year in the garden (2008) he wrote: “Are there colours that we must use together? I think not. Well-handled… any two colours can be pleasingly juxtaposed.” You don’t need to be Christopher Lloyd to have fun with colour and to partner plants that sizzle together. And if you’d rather take a few tentative steps, then try out these colours in container displays first to build your confidence.

Our favourite two-tone plants

Lonicera ‘Serotina’
Cottage garden fragrant climber. Happy in light shade in fertile, moist but well-drained soil. Fully hardy. Flowers July to October. H7m (22ft) S1m (39in)

Rose ‘Rosemary Harkness’
A hybrid tea rose with a bushy habit and strongly scented flowers. Blooms June to November. Thrives in full sun in fertile, moist soil that’s well-drained. H1m (39in) S70cm (27in)

Fuchsia denticulata
Half-hardy shrub with exotic tubular flowers in fruit cocktail colours. Plant in sun or part shade. Grow in a container in John Innes No 3 compost. Move under cover in autumn. H1m (39in) S1.5m (5ft)

Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’
A fabulous showy anemone-flowered dahlia. Happy in most soils as long as well-drained. Needs full sun. H90cm (36in) S75cm (30in)

Zinnia ‘Zinderella Peach’
For a subtle mix try these salmon pink and peachy orange flowers. Sow direct in May into well-drained soil in full sun. H60cm (24in) S45cm (18in)

Antirrhinum ‘Orange Wonder’
Soft tones of rose-pink and orange. Needs sun and moist but well-drained soil. H90cm (36in) S45cm (18in)

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Plan the perfect spring border


Get a head-start on April by filling borders with zingy-green perennials, tulips, flowering shrubs and leafy foliage plants. Val Bourne has some recommendations

April is a high-energy month, but its an unpredictable month as well. Its a bit of a rollercoaster and flowers can be thin on the ground once the early daffodils, hellebores and crocuses have faded into distant memory. With summer-flowering perennials just about stirring, its important to plug the gaps with some April flowers. If youre not sure what to plant, head to garden centres for inspiration, and read on...
Early April sees two of my favourite tulips looking their best. ‘Orange Emperor’ (a Fosteriana with languid soft-orange petals, shaded in pistachio-green) is lovely in pots or in the ground. Its perennial, returning year after year, so an economical one to plant. Cut back to one leaf after flowering. ‘Daydream’ (a Darwin Hybrid) is a chameleon that opens to soft-yellow and then colours up to sunset shades. In the second half of April, Triumph tulips begin to open their thick-petalled, egg-shaped flowers. The purpleNegrita’, woven among the soft-mauveShirley’, is almost a garden cliche, but it works well round roses with a splash of copper-orange to pick up new rose foliage. The lily-floweredBallerina’, although a little later, overlaps and all three return year on year.
The pink and white forms of lamprocapnos (dicentra) is wonderful with pink tulips such asBarcelona’. The white form, which is a weaker grower, could be used in shadier places with a green and white tulip such asSpring Green’.

Create a woodland glade
The sun can still reach the ground under deciduous shrubs and trees in April, so woodland and shady plantings can keep going. In shadier areas the handsome hardy male fernDryopteris filix-mas, will unfurl its impressive fiddle-back crosiers even in dry shadeTheir fronds stretch upwards just as our native English bluebells begin to turn blue. These natives hang their flowers on one side only, unlike upright Spanish bluebells, and the colour is far more intense. You can acquire Hyacinthoides non-scripta in the green from Peter Nyssen nurseries. Young ferns in smaller pots are easier to establish.

Add zingy acid greens
an electrifying touch of spring zing to your garden with Euphorbia epithymoides (formerly E. polychroma). It dies away in winter then revives in spring and produces a foot-high pouffe of acid-yellow thats perfect with all blues including scillas and blue muscari.
persist for many weeks, because their so-called flowers are tough bracts. Keep them vigorous by cutting them back to the base after flowering and, if you can, take cuttings from the young basal growth. There are evergreen euphorbias for shade and they include Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’. This has beetroot-coloured foliage and lime-green flowers. Both these plants are clump-forming but some roam and Mrs Robb's Bonnet (Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae) has a tendency to move on.
Youll also get a bolt of golden light from a biennial called Smyrnium perfoliatum, which is an umbellifer (it has flat topped flowers). If you want to establish any biennial in your garden, plant some in three consecutive years and then leave it to self seed

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Plant a chocolate feast for Easter. We pick our top 10 dramatic plants with delicious names. By Louise Midgley

Few can resist the lure of chocolate. It’s a heavenly edible that’s a feast for all the senses, with its distinctive aroma, velvety texture and addictive flavour. This spring, indulge your sweet tooth by creating a whole border full of plants infused with the sweet scent of cocoa or bestowed with deep, richly coloured foliage and flowers. After all, a garden would be extraordinarily bland if all the foliage was the same shade of green. It’s far better to plant an appealing mix of dark and light foliage and flower colours to create some definition and contrast between plants. A spectrum of mahogany, burgundy and dark chocolate tones provides a wonderful foil against which paler coloured flowers can radiate.
Here we’ve provided a delicious mixed assortment of rich, chocolatey plants to choose from, some with perfumes reminiscent of chocolate. Position them close to your favourite seating area and sit back and indulge in their delicious scent and beauty.  

 1. Cosmos atrosanguineus Chocolate cosmos unites the colour and heady fragrance of chocolate in one delectable plant. The deep maroon, long-stemmed flowers unleash a vanilla/chocolate aroma in the heat of the day. Plant in full sun for best effect. They prefer moist, well-drained soil and perform especially well in pots and containers with good compost. The tuberous plants are only half hardy and should be lifted at the end of the season and stored in a frost-free environment. H70cm (2ft 3in) S45cm (1ft 5in)

2. Akebia quinata Make use of a vertical space – perhaps a pergola or fence beside the patio – by growing this delicious chocolate vine. Sit out in the spring sunshine and savour the exotic spicy-chocolate aroma wafting from racemes of delicate plum coloured flowers. While this climber enjoys a small footprint on the ground, it will need space to climb, although some judicious pruning of mature plants in late spring will keep it in check. An easy plant, happy to establish in most soil types and in sun or shade. H10m (33ft) S2m (6ft 6in)

3. Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ Now available in a veritable rainbow of colours, Heucheras have fast become indispensable groundcover plants for many gardeners. ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ forms a mound of heavily crimped burgundy leaves that reveal a silky, deep-purple underside. Creamy white, miniature bell flowers appear on purple stems in summer. More drought tolerant than other cultivars, this accommodating variety is happy in sun or part shade and robust enough to thrive in some degree of dry shade. H and S30cm (12in)  

4. Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’ This unique, dwarf columbine differs from its lofty cousins, not just in height but in its rare yet elegant colour combination. Its two-tone, chocolate brown nodding flowers are encased in green petals and topped with long graceful spurs, which emit a sweet fragrance from late spring to early summer. As with all aquilegias, it prefers deep rich, free-draining soil in full sun or dappled shade. Give this coveted little beauty a prime spot to be seen and appreciated while in flower. H30cm (12in) S25cm (10in)

5. Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’ Find space in sun or shade for this scrumptious perennial foxglove. It’s delightfully quirky but unlikely to be sold in your local garden centre. Seek it out from good plant sales or specialist nurseries online. Tiny, densely packed, chocolate-bronze trumpet-shaped blooms encircle a rigid spire that rises above glossy foliage and lasts from summer well into autumn. A real winner for pollinators, bees and butterflies and contented to grow in any garden soil. H60cm (24in) S30cm (12in)

6. Iris ‘Dutch Chocolate’ Luxuriate in the beauty of a flag iris in full flower. This exclusive variety flowers for longer than average and may re-flower if conditions are favourable. It boasts voluptuous blooms of ruffled petals in hues of chestnut and deep tan and is richly scented. Plant with the rhizomes slightly exposed in well-drained soil in full sun. The rhizomes need to be baked under the sun’s warmth to promote future flowers. H80cm (31in) S25cm (10in)

7. Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’ Breathe in the deliciously intense, chocolate fragrance of these summer-flowering dahlias as it floats far and wide in the breeze. Buds of these decorative dahlias open to reveal velvety flowers with deep crimson petals and an almost ebony centre. Dahlias are greedy feeders, need plenty of water and a position in full sun to continually produce new blooms from July until the first frosts. A good plant for attracting wildlife to your garden. H90cm (3ft) S45cm (18in)

8. Coleus ‘Chocolate Mint’ Coleus in their many flamboyant, colour combinations make great bedding plants or specimens for the conservatory in winter. The name of this little gem perfectly befits its cocoa-coloured foliage with mint green scalloped edges. As an ornamental member of the mint family, it will grow well in a shady or sunny, sheltered spot. Coleus grow into uniformly shaped plants, which make them ideal for edging a border or growing as stand-alone plants in containers. H35cm 14in S35cm 14in

9. Aquilegia ‘Roundway Chocolate’ Double blooms in tones of milk chocolate with a hint of ginger are highlighted above a froth of delicate grey/green ferny foliage. Flowering in late spring/early summer, aquilegias combine well with other cottage-garden plants and late-flowering spring bulbs. They relish dappled shade and nutritious soil, although will pop up in most garden environments. Remove faded flowers if you want to avoid a profusion of seedlings (which don’t always come true from seed). H60cm (24in) S30cm (12in)

10. Physocarpus ‘Diabolo Chocolate’ A striking, deciduous, ornamental shrub that thrives in the poorest of soils in sun, shade or even a tricky north-facing aspect. Its warm, mahogany foliage is greatly enhanced by a profusion of pretty white-blushed pink flowers in June and July, followed by equally attractive reddish-brown seeds. One of the easiest shrubs to grow, yet most rewarding in appearance. Should it outgrow its space, lightly prune immediately after flowering. Fully grown H2m (6ft) 6in S1.5m (5ft)

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Make a colour statement

Annuals are a cheap and easy source of glorious summer colour. Louise Midgley picks her top 10 to sow now, outdoors or undercover

 Cleome hassleriana

Cleome hassleriana

Annuals are the most accommodating of plants, completing their life cycle within a year and hard-wired to flower prolifically in order to produce an abundance of seed and perpetuate their species.
A select few, taller than average varieties, have great presence in the garden and make striking stand-alone plants both in the border or in their own container. Grown in drifts or blocks of single or mixed colours, these statement annuals will provide a dramatic, long-lived display and a ready supply of cut flowers for the home.
Often hard to find in garden centres or online, most are easy to grow from seed, either sown in situ or started off in the greenhouse. Seed bought this year will last until next if stored correctly, so don’t be tempted to sow the whole packet in one go if it contains more than you need. All these lovely plnats have in common a need for a sunny position or light shade and free-draining soil.


1. Nicotiana sylvestris An elegant, flowering tobacco plant, destined to steal the limelight. Its bold architectural form would grace a traditional cottage garden as much as any modern design. A majestic tower of highly scented, white trumpet-shaped blooms emerges above plate-sized aromatic leaves. In order to attract pollinating moths, the flowers’ fragrance becomes more pronounced at dusk, so position plants somewhere they’ll be appreciated. Although officially a short-lived perennial, Nicotiana sylvestris is better treated as an annual in colder climates. H1.5m (5ft) S60cm (2ft)

2. Nicotiana mutabilis ‘Marshmallow’ One of the more unusual tobacco plants, which displays a wonderful array of tri-coloured flowers simultaneously. This exquisite variety produces its long, dainty stems in an open, light and airy formation. All are adorned with small blooms that range in colour from deep magenta to pale pink and white. The graceful movement of the almost weightless wands of flowers, as they catch the breeze, is compelling to watch. For this reason, it combines well with other plants that add a touch of lightness to the border, such as grasses and Gaura lindheimeri. H1.2m (4ft) S60cm (2ft)

3. Cleome hassleriana Also known as the spider flower plant, thanks its extraordinarily long stamens that protrude from orb-shaped blooms. The exotic-looking flowers in tones of pink, lavender, white and purple rise to the top of strong, thorny stems like giant sparklers erupting and need little support despite their lofty dimensions. A position in full sun will intensify their spicy fragrance, especially in the evening, and will prolong flowering until the first frosts. Happy in an average garden soil and fairly drought tolerant once established. H90-120cm (3-4ft) S30-60cm (1-2ft)

4. Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ Create a tropical vibe in your garden with towering castor oil plants. These fast-growing annuals develop sizeable, palmately lobed leaves in hues of purplish bronze and spikes of small yellowish flowers followed by unusual spiky, scarlet seedpods. It’s grown as a shrub in tropical regions where it reaches in excess of 8m (26ft) but ‘Impala’ is more compact and makes an attractive feature annual when grown at the back of a border or as a centrepiece in an island bed. All parts of the plant are poisonous. H1.5m (5ft) S1m (39in)

5. Tithonia rotundifolia Mexican sunflowers are invaluable annuals for injecting late summer colour and a strong vertical dimension into a planting scheme. Branching stems, which may need staking, bear vivid tangerine-coloured flowers, reminiscent of single-flowered dahlias or pot marigolds. The fact they hail from South America tells us this plant needs plenty of heat to give of its best. Partner with other lofty, late-summer flowering plants such as salvias, penstemons and Verbena bonariensis for a vibrant, jewel box of colour. H1.5-2m (5ft-6ft 6in) S30-60cm (1ft-2ft)

6. Helianthus ‘Harlequin’ F1 Hybrid As an alternative to traditional single-flowered sunflowers, multi-branching varieties provide a more floriferous display with their abundance of happy, daisy-shaped flowers in sunny hues. Harlequin sunflowers produce 15cm (6in) bi-coloured blooms in warm shades of bronze, rose pink, burnt orange and gold. Position them at the back of the border and give them enough space to spread their wings. They associate well with other architecturally striking annuals or perennials. H1.5m (5ft) S50cm (20in)

7. Papaver somniferum Grow opium poppies not just for their attractive single or double flowers but also their ornamental seed pods. These orb-shaped receptacles contain hundreds of seeds that will disperse around the garden and provide a constant source of new plants in future years. Seedlings may not always spring up where needed but are easily recognisable and can be removed. The flowers are predominantly but not exclusively in the pink, purple and red spectrum of shades and all have appealing silvery glaucous foliage. H60-90cm (2-3ft) S30cm (12in)

8. Ammi majus ‘Graceland’ This elegant umbellifer creates a froth of white lacy flowers above weightless ferny foliage. Bees and butterflies are magnetised to the open blooms and birds are later attracted to the seed heads. Weave the plants among other border specimens for support or plant in groups staked with natural looking twiggy stems. Graceland blooms from June to August but can be extended with successional sowings. Its cut flowers have a lengthy vase life and combine beautifully with any other flowers in season. H140cm (55in) S50cm (20in)

9. Nicandra physalodes A vigorous and striking annual that owes its common name shoo-fly to the fact some gardeners believe it repels white fly. For this reason, it’s often seen growing close to brassicas in allotments. Lilac/blue funnel shaped flowers with white throats open daily on wide spreading, self-supporting plants. The purple calyces that surround each flower expands after flowering to encase the seeds in rigid papery globes, much like the orange Chinese lantern plants (Physalis alkekengi) making it a great garden worthy plant. H1.2m (4ft) S1m (39in)

10. Cosmos ‘Sensation’  A traditional, stalwart of the ever-expanding cosmos family that reliably produces a mass of long-stemmed, daisy-shaped flowers from early summer until stopped in its tracks by the frost. Give these tall accent plants a strong support from the start as the weight of filigree foliage and blooms on a mature plant can cause the central stem to buckle. Sensation can be found in mixed hues of pink, magenta and white. H120cm (4ft) S60cm (2ft)

Discover the first signs of spring

 Hellebores and snowdrops

Hellebores and snowdrops

As the garden begins to stir, there are plenty of sensory treats to lure you outdoors. Val Bourne describes her favourite sights, sounds and smells

There’s a wonderful moment at this time of year, when you can feel the actual warmth of the sun on your face for the very first time in months. You look around and find the garden’s beginning to burgeon into life. Before long it’s careering full tilt towards spring, having languished in the winter doldrums for months.
Bees are foraging and there’s a buzz of activity in the air. The birds have paired up and are busy nesting, exploring bird boxes or simply singing away on a branch. And you’re likely to see your first butterfly too, for hibernating peacocks and red admirals, slightly battered by winter, are on the move again.
Everywhere you look there are signs, from the plump buds on the apple tree to the daffodil poised to open its papery bud. A burst of warmth may prompt a crocus to open and show off its orange-red feather duster of pollen, or a winter aconite will unfurl and push aside those feathery protective leaves. Both will be visited by a bee desperate for sustenance.
Spring is stirring all around, on the ground and in the air. Your garden responds because this is the most exciting time of the year. The pleasure of anticipation is intense, because we’ve got it all to come – so now’s the time to spend peering and looking, willing it all to grow a little faster. 

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Give a gift they'll love...

...with our top 10 plants with romantic names

Crocus ‘Romance’ While roses may be the flower most commonly associated with Valentine’s Day, it was in fact the humble crocus dedicated to St Valentine, the Christian martyr, after whom Valentine’s Day was named. C. ‘Romance’ defies the cold and will add a ray of sunshine to the sleeping landscape with its buttery yellow, goblet shaped blooms. Plant several in alpine beds, rockeries or the lawn where they’ll naturalise if left undisturbed. At this time of year buy ready-potted crocuses and plant outside after flowering. H10cm (4in) S5cm (2in)

Clematis ‘New Love’ Unlike its climbing cousins, this herbaceous clematis needs little support and would nestle comfortably among perennials in a sunny or semi-shaded border, in a fertile, free-draining soil. This is a plant that stands out from the crowd while flowering for a long period over the summer months. Expect to see a profusion of unique, star-shaped indigo blue blooms with slender reflexed petals clustering along its strong upright stems. When grown in a container, use a loam-based compost such as John Innes No3. H90cm (35in) S50cm (20in) 

Catananche caerulea ‘Alba’ More commonly known as Cupid’s dart, this hardy perennial is a native of the Mediterranean, where its pure white flowers are still used in bouquets as a Greek symbol of love. During its flowering season from June to September, a mass of silvery buds on upright stems open into solitary, papery white flower heads with a purplish centre. This little gem dislikes heavy, water-logged soil and thrives best in gritty free-draining earth in a sunny aspect. H60cm (24in) S35cm (14in)

Rosa ‘My Valentine’ Red roses are the undisputed flower symbol of love but why buy a bunch when you can have a long-lived productive plant? This sumptuous Hybrid Tea produces recurrent flushes of classic red, velvety blooms, usually one per stem, from summer to late autumn. And unlike many of the cut flower roses available, the blooms on this bush rose are exquisitely fragranced. Plant in an open, sunny site, keep it well fed, regularly watered, pruned annually and it will live for decades. H90cm (3ft) S90cm (3ft)

Lavatera ‘Barnsley Baby’ A hard-working little shrub that embodies all that could be romantic in a plant; from its delicately shaded blush-pink blooms to its deeply lobed, heart-shaped leaves. This compact version of a classic garden favourite is no less equal in vigour to its lofty relations and flowers without pause throughout summer. It’s happiest in full sun and well-drained soil and is the perfect, trouble-free specimen for a container. H75cm (30in) S60cm (24in)

Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ For uninterrupted colour from mid-summer to autumn, jewel-toned salvias add a splash of opulence to any border. ‘Love and Kisses’ produces luxurious magenta flowers, held by deep burgundy calyces. Although not fully hardy in all parts of the UK (down to at least -5C/xxF), cuttings strike easily and new plants mature quickly. It performs best in full sun or lightly dappled shade, where winter drainage is good. Salvias are distinguishable from other plants by their heady aromatic foliage and are great wildlife-friendly plants for bees, butterflies and moths. H80cm (32in) S50cm (20in)

Zantedeschia ‘Captain Romance’ Clumps of this sumptuous calla lily live up to their distinguished name by providing great presence in a garden setting. The rich pink, trumpet-shaped blooms stand proudly to attention, above lush green foliage. Summer-flowering calla lilies prefer humus rich, well-drained soil; heavy soil may cause the rhizomes to rot. Lift in autumn when the foliage has died back and store over winter in a frost-free environment. H65cm (28in) S40cm (16in) after 5-10 years

Potentilla fruticosa ‘Lovely Pink’ This shrubby and compact cinquefoil is worth its weight in gold for unremitting flower power over the summer months. Five-petalled, cup-shaped pink flowers, favoured by bees, engulf a neat mound of attractive green foliage. This useful plant is easy to grow in most conditions but thrives in a hot sunny aspect and once established is reasonably drought tolerant. Trim it in spring to maintain a good shape. H1m (39in) S1m (39in)

Dianthus ‘Angel of Desire’ The diminutive nature of this perky little dianthus makes it ideal for edging a border, or equally, will keep containers colourful throughout late spring and summer. ‘Angel of Desire’ is characterised by masses of single to semi-double blooms of frilly deep pink petals with light pink centres that radiate a delicious sweet yet spicy scent. Bred to repeat flower throughout the growing season, it forms an attractive, tidy mound of evergreen blue-green foliage in winter. H10-20cm (4-8in) S20-30cm (8-12in)

Lily ‘Romance’ Fall in love with the seductive scent of lilies that drifts far and wide from where they’re planted. The eclectic mix of pink and red lilies in the Romance series epitomises the colours of Valentine’s Day, each with its distinct profile; some bearing spots, others stripes and all with eight blooms per stem. Symbolising grace and purity, these exotic-looking, oriental varieties need no staking, having been bred to be compact and are therefore perfect for growing in pots positioned in sun or semi-shade. H40cm (16in) S25cm (10in)


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Create a little winter romance

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Tactile seedheads, heady scent and delicate blooms create a picturesque and atmospheric garden in winter. By Louise Curley

Romantic gardens conjure up images of voluptuous roses and exuberant herbaceous borders at their summer peak, with plants spilling out onto paths, but there’s no reason why a garden can’t be imbued with a similar sense of romance in winter.

Wintery weather provides the perfect atmospheric canvas. Misty mornings dampen sound creating a serene stillness, and frozen raindrops dangle from colourful berries yet to be eaten by birds. The weak winter sunlight highlights the intricate silhouette of contorted hazel stems and a dusting of frost draws attention to the sculptural qualities of seedheads.

Winter sharpens the senses. The garden is stripped back to its bare bones which allows tiny details to come to the fore. Shots of red and orange from the last remaining rose hips stand out strikingly against leafless stems.

Whatever the season, a romantic garden needs bewitching blooms in a colour palette of soft pastels and muted tones. In winter look to winter-flowering trees such as Prunus autumnalis, with its exquisite dainty white blossom, shrubs such as viburnums and woodland bulbs to add colour and fragrance. Use the graceful silhouettes of deciduous trees and shrubs and the skeletal structures of seedheads and grasses to add delicate beauty.


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Try our fun snowdrop quiz!

Can you match up these 12 snowdrops with their cultivar names below - going by looks alone? For all the answers click here

Special thanks to Lakeland Snowdrops for their lovely pictures!








Fill your garden with winter flowers

Brighten up the new year with a feast of flowers. Val Bourne nominates the best blooms for fragrance and colour

 Fragrant  Viburnum bodnantense

Fragrant Viburnum bodnantense

 The spidery flowers of  Hamamelis mollis  (witch hazel) have a spicy scent

The spidery flowers of Hamamelis mollis (witch hazel) have a spicy scent

Winter flowers are worth their weight in gold because they really lift the gardener’s spirits, making winter more bearable and bringing spring a giant step nearer. You can either admire them in a border, in a winter container, or put a few sprigs in a tiny vase to create powerful midwinter magic inside the house.

  Lonicera fragrantissima   (winter honeysuckle)

Lonicera fragrantissima
 (winter honeysuckle)

Some deciduous trees and shrubs open their buds long before the leaves appear and their flowers look surreal as they cling to the black spidery branches. Certain evergreens also flower now, while some ground-hugging plants break into precocious flower just when the earth around is largely brown and bare.

These winter jewels don’t have showy flowers because they’d get ruined by wintry weather. They tend to be small and subtle and come in gentle shades such as ivory-white, soft-pink or pallid-yellow. They lure early pollinators with their fragrance, rather than their colour, so it’s important to place them in a sheltered position so the afternoon sun makes the fragrance flow. On a mild January afternoon you’ll catch a waft or two and you’ll almost certainly see a honey bee, or a large bumblebee queen, sipping the nectar or collecting the pollen because early flowers are vital for them.

You don’t have to have a large garden to capture winter fragrance because the most powerfully scented plant of all is a small evergreen commonly called Christmas box. There are several forms of this Chinese evergreen, but the one that packs the most powerful lily-like scent of all is Sarcococca hookeriana digyna. The flowers consist of clusters of downward-facing white stamens, held in pink buds, and the lance-like foliage is olive-green. Sarcococca confusa, my personal favourite, has ivory-white flowers framed by rich-green foliage. Black berries often follow in summer. Sarcococcas can be grown in a container and even a small one packs a fragrant punch. In colder places it usually gets to a H1m (39in) in the ground, but it can get to H1.5m (5ft) in warm, moist areas of Britain. 

If you’ve space, wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) will make a large shrub and the pallid flowers, which appear on bare branches, are full of fragrance. It’s often said to need a warm wall, yet it thrives in an open spot in my cold Cotswold garden and is always full of flower. The translucent, pale-yellow flowers have a touch of wine-red in the middle and you can smell this one even on a cool day. It also cuts really well, outlasting other winter flowers. The downside of this large shrub, which can reach H4m (12ft), is the scruffy summer foliage but I think it’s worth it. The best winter honeysuckle (Lonicera purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’) also looks scruffy in summer, but this non-climbing shrub produces sweetly scented cream flowers from January onwards and again it’s good for cutting. ‘Winter Beauty’ is lovely by a gateway but it also needs space making a shoulder-high wide shrub some 2.4m (8ft) feet across. 

If you have fertile soil treat yourself to a witch hazel (Hamamelis intermedia) but do try to buy it in flower so you can see if it’s scented. The butterscotch-brown ‘Aurora’ and pale-lemon ‘Pallida’ both have a freesia scent. Witch hazels form branching shapes slowly, eventually reaching H4m (12ft). They love summer moisture, so they struggle in containers, but they’re perfect in a woodland garden above early spring bulbs. Cornus officinalis, a small shrub or tree that’s the same size as the witch hazel, has orbs of bright-yellow flowers in late-winter and mature specimens develop a rugged chocolate-coloured bark that gleams in low winter sun. And don’t dismiss the humble winter jasmine, Jasminium nudiflorum just because it’s everywhere. Give this cottage garden favourite a sunny spot and always cut it back after flowering to keep it bushy. Then, watch it produce masses of shiny olive-green stems decorated with yellow flowers.

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Get creative with evergreens

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Make the most of these versatile and colourful winter plants. Val Bourne explains which to choose and how to use them.

Winter brings shorter days and colder temperatures and many plants retreat underground, or drop their leaves in order to survive. As a result much of the garden looks bare, like a finely worked charcoal sketch featuring shape and contour alone. Any hard landscaping, whether it’s a brick path, an area of paving, stone wall or steps, comes into focus as the sun gets a little lower day by day.
The only solid blocks of deep colour come from evergreen foliage and these can offer privacy, provide shelter for insects and birds and some will even berry and fruit. Those blocks of green lift the spirits, whether it’s tightly clipped box balls, cylinders of yew, a well-clothed shrub, an evergreen hedge or screen. And even tiny gardens can include a touch of green magic by containerising small evergreen shrubs supported by winter hardy ferns and grasses.

Create an evergreen backbone
Evergreens offer the perfect solution if you need a year-round private boundary. English yew (Taxus baccata) takes time to make a fine hedge, but only needs trimming once a year in August. You can get a reasonable-sized hedge within eight years if you start off with pot-grown, foot-high yew plants and enrich the soil.
For structure throughout the year, one of the best evergreens is the winter-flowering Viburnum tinus, because this will grow in shade making a shoulder-high roundel. Good forms include ‘Gwenllian’, which is faster growing than many, with pink buds that open to produce unscented white flowers. Also flowering in winter, the Christmas box, Sarcococca confusa, has shiny green foliage and flowers with a heady lily scent, or you could use a skimmia such as ‘Kew Green’. This sweetly fragrant small evergreen bears conical heads of long-lasting buds that finally open to cream flowers. Sarcococcas and skimmias are small enough for containers.
Some evergreens come into their own in frost; Viburnum davidii has leathery green foliage etched in deep veins that show up well in winter, along with the black berries. The frilly-edged climbing English ivy, Hedera helix ‘Parsley Crested’, picks up a silver-edge in frost, or you could use a ground-hugging green ivy such as ‘Ivalace’.
Your green oasis could also contain the rusty bristled soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) and the rugged Epimedium perralderianum, which has wiry stems topped with heart-shaped leaves. Add Daphne laureola, for its rich green rosettes and lime green winter flowers, along with the winter-flowering Vinca difformis ‘Jenny Pym’. And if you have a sunny south-facing spot, ceonothus ‘Concha’ has superb evergreen foliage. Its red-tipped buds are followed by sky-blue flowers in early summer.

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