Emma Townshend: 'I've got a dirty secret - I've cheated with my plants this summer'
When her own plants weren't quite performing as they should be, our gardening correspondent headed for the local garden centre...
Sunday 18 August 2013
OK, this time I admit it: I totally cheated. Of course, sometimes you buy a plant while it's still small, and then you could argue that you nursed it on into flower, great sprays of bloom that would never have existed without your patent horticultural skill. And other times you've grown them on from plugs, tiny seedlings delivered in the post, an art that seems to me impressive in itself.
But just every now and then, you're walking round the garden centre (mostly to look at the tropical fish) and you see something flowering in a pot and your thought process goes as follows: "I know this is cheating, but I am going to take that home, carefully position it in the middle of my very green but currently flowerless front garden, and it will look for all the world as if it were entirely my own work."
Even worse confession to come: the plants that I've cheated with this summer are, annoyingly, two that I actually already owned. They just weren't, well, performing. Crocosmia "Lucifer" should make sprays of red-orange flowers over August that arch out on long stems, and it surely would have so done in my garden if it weren't for the intense parching heat we've been suffering.
Crocosmia do best with a nice rainy summer, so the plant's done bloomin' marvellous in the back garden (where the sprinkler's been attending to its moisture needs) but has thrown up just a few leaves in the front, where it's been non-metaphorically baked. So when I saw the sprays of a garden-centre-fresh pot waving at me over the top of the hydrangeas, I was a sucker and grabbed it.
Moisture is their main requirement, and maybe a bit of space to go rampant, but every crocosmia, it seems to me, has its delights: "Emily McKenzie", for example, will string out the flowering season for another four weeks after "Lucifer" finishes, adding a broody orange; and then, after that, "Star of the East" will take the torch onwards until late October, providing a touch of cheery sunshine with its yellow flowers at a point when there's little else to make a gardener smile. (Unless you actively enjoy picking up leaves.)
The other problematic non-flowerer this year has been the agapanthus. These monstrous bright-blue stars on long green stems are another habitual August barnstormer, rising above dying foliage just like crocosmia, full of bright- hued distraction. In theory, that is. In reality…
Perhaps they too have suffered from the lack of water, but in my garden they have also been slightly shaded by an honey spurge and I suspect this is the real problem: agapanthus do not tolerate anything less than plein soleil. Another South African species originally, Agapanthus "Northern Star"was recently recommended by Which? magazine for its medieval blue flowers and long flowering season, and it was this one I galloped away with on first look at the garden centre.
My patch was direly and instantly in need, I post-rationalised, as I queued with as many pots as I could hold, arguing that most gardens this time of year generally have gaps anyway. (Though it wasn't until I got home that I could check that this was actually true.)
As it is, my determined anti-bindweed campaign has actually secured a few footholds for new August planting; there were also some patches of sagging allium seedheads that could have the tiny black seeds wishfully scattered, thus leaving plain black soil. And one last tulip pot that had been full of honesty seedheads gave me my final good spot for a splash of late-summer colour. Perfect. Just don't tell anybody about the cheating.
Child's play: Four outdoor incentives
No other plant has this traffic-stopping South African style, with drips of red honey designed to attract hummingbird pollinators. Totally fab. £5.99
Agapanthus 'Peter Pan'
A New Zealand variety, with small, light-blue flowers with deep-blue stripes – a much more delicate plant than the traditional blue corker. £7.99
Agapanthus 'Northern Star'
The colour of Greek doorways, this single plant can do as much to lift your spirits as a nice evening out with friends. And it lasts longer. £7.99
Crocosmia 'Emily Mackenzie'
The most beautiful flashing-sunset colour, on arching stems, through September and into October. £4.99; all featured plants from rhsplants.co.uk
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