On your marks: The summer Olympians of the plant world are under starter's orders


The Tour de France is over and the Olympics finally under way, so now we can spend the next three weeks gasping, 'She ran it how fast? HOW FAST?' and doing some mental arithmetic about the 20 minutes later we'd have finished.

And the Olympians of the human race have leafy counterparts: an elite group of plants so much bigger, stronger and more spectacular than all others that it's hard to believe they actually arise from the same basic genetic material.

Flowering right now, Crocosmia "Lucifer" makes a scorching display every year; and even in this most disappointing of summers, it is lighting the whole garden on its own. I saw a wonderful stand of it at Heathrow the other day, a blaze of orange across the greyest of skies. "Lucifer" has satanic powers of growth: it's about 1ft taller than other crocosmia and spreads through flower beds with an insouciance suggestive of either terrifying, medal-winning levels of self-belief or behind-the-scenes drug-taking.

Another titan of the August garden is agapanthus, which lifts strong, vivid-blue heads on unfeasibly tall stems to give England a touch of wild Africa. All agapanthus are great garden plants, but just occasionally you meet one that actually makes you stop and stare. And wonder when they last had a randomised blood-doping test. You need to pick exactly the right variety for that jaw-dropping effect, though: try "Northern Star" for a blue giant, "Snow Cloud" for a white.

Red-hot pokers are another sure-fire gong winner, though you need to give them room for a five-star performance, because their strappy leaves do spread out a bit. The bog-standard red-hot poker comes in a violent Tequila Sunrise cocktail-coloured combo of orange bleeding into yellow, but they are more likely to incur gawping if you pick a non-traditional shade. The acid-yellow of "Bees Lemon", and the cycling-vest tones of "Green Jade" are both to be highly recommended. Both trevenacross nurseries.co.uk and burncoose.co.uk have excellent lists for all these plants.

Behind the main contenders should be huge teams working away in support of dramatic spectacle, contributing their own bright colours and sturdy foliage to earn enough points to stay in the game. Setting off August firework colours is simple when you have softer blues to work with, and ceratostigma is a great choice, its substantial mound of foliage studded all late summer with china-blue flowers (£9.99, crocus.co.uk).

Some of the finest of the support plants, though, are the softer lime-green euphorbias, such as E.palustris. This works all summer with anything even slightly orange- or red-toned to produce an internationally recognised level of zing. And E.griffithii "Fireglow" contributes a level of second-tier magic which can only leave you asking, in a Chris Froome-ish way, "Should this plant actually be the leader of the team?" Maybe next year…

Podium placers

Hedychium gardnerianum

A stunning skyscraper of lemon-yellow tiers complete with Norman Foster-ish detailing. Can grow 6ft tall without the use of any performance-aiding substances. Allegedly. £9.95, palmcentre.co.uk

Canna 'Pretoria'

It's no accident that many of these showstoppers evoke South Africa's rich floral heritage, but this one hails from rainy Richmond. £19.99 for a huge plant, palmcentre.co.uk


'Heavenly Blue' This beautiful, hard-working plant lays a subtle but solid base for any glory-seeking star. £8.99, crocus.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all