I waited 12 years for the campsis (trumpet vine) to flower and it first did so five years ago, when it was already putting all its energies into growing along the gutter, completely spurning the south-facing wall it was supposed to decorate. It has never looked better than it does this summer, the flowers waving in an outrageously blatant way from the chimney and the ridge tiles. This is quite a shock when you see them unawares from the other side of the house.
I have been debating whether to cut the whole thing down and try and force it to do its thing on the wall rather than the roof. Its phenomenal display this summer has persuaded me that I will not. I will just plant another one further along the wall and make sure that I am tougher with this second vine than I was with the first. They should be hard pruned in early spring every year. I was loath to do that when I first got it as it seemed unlikely it would ever make enough growth to flower successfully. Now I know better.
Luck dictates whether you plant the right things for the right season. It has been a long time since I have grown sunflowers, but I happened to plant them this spring, setting seeds of `Velvet Queen' (Thompson & Morgan, pounds 1.49) in individual three-inch pots to grow on before I planted them out in the border under the study window. They are flowering now with red dahlias and dark paddle-leaved cannas. They are not monsters, for a sunflower with a bit between its teeth can get up to 10ft and mine are only half that, but they are an easy height to fit into a border.
The flowers are tan and mahogany, the centres very dark, the petals shading from burnt umber through to quite a dark chocolate brown. They are not anything like the "velvety red" flowers described and photographed in T&M's catalogue, but I am not complaining. I like them so much I am going to grow lots more sunflowers next year, starting with `Italian White' (T&M, pounds 1.29) which are actually cream. What I do not want are the ones that T&M describes as "a marvel of breeding ingenuity" - knee-high sunflowers with blooms 10in across. That is not ingenuity. It is deformity.
Next year, too, I want to add to the sunflower/dahlia mix a stunning gladiolus that I saw this week at Bourton House, Bourton-on-the-Hill, Gloucestershire. It had the same colour tones as the sunflowers, each petal on the spike overlaid with a rich brownish red on an equally rich yellow. It is the kind of colouring I have only before seen in tulips. The gladiolus is a species called G. natalensis and according to The Plant Finder is available from Michael Wickenden at Cally Gardens, Gatehouse of Fleet, Castle Douglas, Scotland DG7 2DJ. The sensible man is not on the phone. You can also get it from Ballyrogan Nurseries, The Grange, Ballyrogan, Newtownards, Co Down, Northern Ireland BT23 4SD (01247 810451). Both nurseries do mail order.Reuse content