Country & Garden: It's good to know there's something you can rely on

They never send out an inconvenient shoot, or die off unexpectedly. So, if you need an attractive and trustworthy anchor for your garden, pick the potentilla.

IF THERE is one feature of a plant which we gardeners like more than another, it is the propensity to flower for months on end. We will forgive a plant a lot if it is prepared to oblige us in this way. It is so much easier to paint convincing garden pictures if there is a plant that can anchor a scheme, acting, as it were, as a rock in a stream of ever-changing, swirling colour.

Late April or early May, depending on the season, sees the first unfolding of the flowers of the shrubby potentillas (mostly varieties of Potentilla fruticosa): these are plants with the capacity to flower for almost half the year, without fail and regardless of weather conditions or circumstances. That is some achievement.

Potentillas are closely related to species roses, and have similar single, five-petalled, saucer-shaped flowers, measuring up to 4cm across and ranging in colour (depending on variety) from pure, chilly white through all the yellows and orange, to deep scarlet. Whatever the colour of the petals, all these flowers have yellow bosses of stamens. The flowers are held above small, palmate leaves, consisting of five narrow leaflets, not unlike little hairy fingers. The plants are usually rounded shrubs, clothed to the ground, and excellent weed-smotherers.

If the shrubby potentilla combines so many virtues, why is it that one hesitates for a nanosecond before filling the garden borders with these amenable plants? Surely only a deep-seated wilfulness or ingratitude could stay one's hand?

I am perfectly willing to plead to wilfulness, but I do still have a reservation (well, two in fact) about potentillas. Neither is so serious as to make me banish them from the garden, but both encourage me to take care how I place them.

The first reservation is that the potentilla has a prim habit, as if it had never been able to bring itself to kick over the traces. It is so blooming well-behaved, it's unreal. It never sends out an inconvenient shoot, or dies off unexpectedly, or looks anything but completely in control. It is a plant that lives within its limitations, never apparently yearning to be variegated in leaf, or double in flower. The only adventurous aspect to it is the way it will occasionally produce a seedling with a differently coloured flower, causing sharp-eyed nurserymen to pounce on it, name it, and send it out into the world to general acclaim.

The second slight misgiving I have is that, over the years, a number of seedlings have been raised which have orange or scarlet flowers. The most famous is probably "Red Ace", but there are also varieties with names such as "Tangerine", "Sunset" and "Royal Flush". These are fine plants in their way, but put them into a sunny spot and their petals will fade in colour as surely as if they were curtains hanging in a south-facing window. Yet, if you plant these in a shaded position, the flowers will be much less abundantly borne, and a sparsely flowering bush of a plant that does not anyway bear flowers densely, is hardly a heart-warming sight.

I have come to the conclusion that the solution is to plant these shrubs in very light dappled shade, such as that cast by a birch tree, like the cut-leaved Betula pendula "Laciniata", so that some of the worst glare of the sun is mitigated but there is still plenty of light filtering through.

Although it does not worry me, not everyone is enamoured of the rather domey habit of these shrubs, either. If that is the case, plant them in front of more informally shaped shrubs which have similar, smallish leaves, so that the specific habit of the potentilla is lost, rather than accentuated. Suitable shrubs might be daphnes, genistas and most cytisus.

Having said all this, I admit that there are one or two truly first-rate potentillas which I would genuinely recommend to anyone. The first is "Primrose Beauty" which combines intensely hairy, silver-green leaves with pale, clean, lemon yellow flowers. The combination is a winning one in a sunny place, among artemisias, dianthus, santolinas and the like. And, for a more dwarf plant to go in an alpine bed or rocky outcrop, I suggest "Princess", which has pale pink flowers and a more ground-hugging inclination.

I THOUGHT Independent readers would be interested to know (and I am sure that she won't tell you) that Anna Pavord won the Walter Blom Trophy at the Royal Horticultural Society's Westminster Show on 27 April. This trophy is awarded to the winner of the class for a vase of nine tulip blooms, in this case "Prinses Irene". Which shows that she can grow them, as well as write about them.

Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?