Gardening: Take some bloomin' liberties

Do the glories of the garden fade too fast? Ursula Buchan offers tips for persuading Nature to perform an encore

People may pay lip-service to the fleeting charm of peonies and irises and other "here today, gone tomorrow" flowers, keen to say that part of their special appeal lies in their fugitive quality. We may say that staying power is a very pedestrian virtue.

But, deep down, we really expect most flowers worth their place to bloom for a long time, and are mightily miffed when they go over more quickly than we think they should, as they have a habit of doing.

The length of time for which a plant produces flowers is influenced by several factors: it may be programmed genetically, it may be influenced by climatic conditions like wind, rain or hot sun; or, even more commonly, it may depend on the availability and success of pollinators. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, plants do not flower for our benefit but for their own survival and their evolutionary destiny is wrapped up in how quickly they can get the business of fertilisation and setting seed over and done with.

It is not true to say, however, that there is nothing we can do to influence the length of the flowering periods of many plants. Take the delphinium as an example. If you cut back the developing shoots of some plants in late spring, you can delay flowering by several weeks and so stagger the blooming of the whole group.

Moreover, if you cut off the earliest flowered shoots of phlox, as soon as they fade, the sideshoots will grow up to take their place and flower in their turn. Anyone who assiduously trims their garden pinks, herbaceous geraniums and Salvia superba after their flowering in June should now be enjoying a bonus of late summer flowers. This late blooming is not as generous as the first floraison, it's true, but it is a great deal better than nothing at all.

Another wheeze worth trying with hardy perennials is to divide and replant them in spring, because young plants will tend to flower for longer than old, established ones. It is the old, old story of youth wishing to party the summer away, rather than go to bed nice and early, as their elders do.

Extending the flowering period a little can be helpful, but what we really crave are hardy plants which naturally flower for a long time so that we can use them as sheet anchors to secure our summer colour schemes. These are plants which can be depended upon, year in, year out, to flower for weeks, even months on end, so that they always coincide with their neighbours' flowers, and never miss out because the weather has brought them unseasonably early into flower or has maddeningly delayed them. It is perfectly reasonable, and sensible, to wish to plan our gardens to contain a proportion of these plants.

In fact, this is such second nature that we often choose on this basis without really thinking. It explains much of the popularity of modern roses. It is a fact that they flower twice, in summer, which makes them so desirable and, it must be said, makes us so ungratefully discontented with other beautiful summer-flowerers, such as Philadelphus and Deutzia, which do not. Indeed, if we gardeners had our way, roses would not even pause for breath but would go on belting out the blooms solidly from June to December.

There are plenty of plants with as much, or even more, stamina and faithfulness as roses, yet these do not always get the praise they deserve for such sterling qualities. In the mixed border, I think there should always be a place for the real stayers, like Gaillardia, Penstemon, Erigeron, Scabiosa caucasica `Clive Greaves', shrubby Potentilla and, stoutest of all, the Anthemis family.

The best known of these pretty, single-flowered members of the daisy family is Anthemis punctata var. cupaniana, which combines grey-green filigree foliage, a neat ground covering habit, and attractive and freely- borne white flowers with yellow centres.

It flowers most magnificently in the late spring, but has a way of going on and on into summer and when, finally, you feel it is past its best, if you take the trouble to deadhead it, you will get autumn flowers as well.

I reserve a special place in my heart, however, for the forms of Anthemis tinctoria such as `EC Buxton' `Susannah Mitchell' and `Grallach Gold' because their yellow flowers begin in June and do not lose their appealing fresh-petalled look until the dog days of late August.

They begin to flower later than A. cupaniana but go on for longer and the colours fit into both cool blue colour schemes and hot orange and red ones, which is quite an achievement in itself. They also make quite excellent cut flowers.

`EC Buxton' and `Susannah Mitchell' only grow to a foot (30cm) or so, so are ideal for a border edging. The flowers of the former are a lovely lemon-yellow, and of the latter a creamy primrose. `Grallagh Gold' and `Wargrave' variety are taller, growing to 3ft (90cm). The former has bright golden-yellow flowers, while the latter is paler than `EC Buxton'.

These Anthemis do need some very discreet staking because in rough weather in early August (such as we have experienced this year) they fall over backwards, exposing their middles and losing something of their dignity.

They should also be cut back after flowering is finally over; so that they have the time to grow nice young basal shoots to brave the winter weather. Otherwise you are rather chancing their survival by leaving the older, more woody and, therefore, tenderer stems. Some people take cuttings about now, against the possibility of a hard winter, but in my reasonably cold garden (admittedly in a free-draining soil in sun) they have survived several years unharmed.

If you know someone who grows any of the choice varieties, beg some cuttings in spring. They are a doddle to strike then and will flower well the following summer Alternatively, use the outside fringes of the plant as divisions. I find this keeps them flowering well. It's the least that I can do for plants which give their all through much of the summer.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
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.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?