Beyond string theory: keeping flowers growing straight and true
It's complex, but there are more ways than one to give your flowers the support they need
Sunday 08 July 2012
I'm not convinced that normal people know quite how much string goes into gardening. String – which, together with nails and weird little wire inventions – holds a plant in exactly the place you want it to be, rather than where it fancies growing. You adore the delicious bounty of that blossoming flowerbed? You wouldn't know to look at it, but it's held up by serried ranks of Great Egg Race-style structures, carefully constructed to blend into invisibility from a distance.
There are a number of plants, especially midsummer ones, which you pretty much can't even grow without structures such as this. Delphiniums, for example. These classic blue spires, the embodiment of English-garden style, can barely survive a normal summer's rainfall without catastrophic effects, let alone 2012's downpours. Picture-book piles of sky blue cannot be achieved without a major undertaking behind the scenes, just to keep it upright.
OK, some people get by with wigwams of hazel twigs or bamboo canes and more of that string. But those of us without boy-scout skills find ourselves seeking out ever-fancier steel-based objects.
Celebrated delphinium growers Blackmore & Langdon's recommends slightly flexible inverted cones of wire, coated in green plastic, each of which can be placed early in the growing season over a single plant.
But you could also chase something rather more English country garden-ish, such as wooden plant structures. Harrod Horticultural has a pair of wax wood obelisks with a twisting, vine-like design, that would look lovely covered with roses (£54.95, harrodhorticultural.com).
It also does properly formal timber pyramid obelisks in muted Farrow & Ball-ish tones, for an eyewatering £119.95 each. Super-pricey, but super-classy.
Another type of support, possibly more appealing to minimalists, is a simple steel arc on two elegant legs. These are available in "rustic" uncoated metal that will quickly rust to an attractive finish. Then there are twists, a sort of snail-shell curl at the top of a single metal stem, to hold up single flowers such as foxgloves; and umbrellas, which are tall poles with a wirework tray at the top to let climbing plants such as honeysuckle accumulate and trail down their fragrant flowers.
My favourites are the "grow-through" type, three or four legs holding up a mesh for herbaceous plants. In summer, peonies and lupins make the most of this generous support. But the steel structures themselves also have a delicate simplicity that can add a profound calm to an empty January flowerbed, as well as a sense of promise for warmer days.
The only question, really, is how you'll bear seeing your gorgeous new supports covered up by stupid old plants. Console yourself with two innovations from my favourite supplier. First, a twist of olive-coated steel to hold your cup of tea (£5, plantsupports.co.uk). How much more genius could you get? Well, I'll tell you: an 8mm powder-coated steel bar to hold your ball of string. Because in a garden, you can never have too much string.
The best supporting act award goes to...
Conical Delphinium Support
The ultimate expert recommendation from the UK's greatest delphinium nursery. And while you're at it, check out their mouthwatering selection of plants. £5 each, blackmore-langdon.com
Globe Topiary Frame
I love these planetary orbs: topiary with a touch of astronomy. Leander has probably the most creative selection of shapes. £32.50, leanderplantsupports.co.uk
Border Buddy String Dispenser
With a neat loop on top so it can easily be pulled out to travel round the garden with you. Delightfully, it comes with string. £13.94, plantsupports.co.uk
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