The genus Pulsatilla are a group of attractive perennial wildflowers native to the Northern hemisphere and distributed across a wide range of Europe and SW Asia. In our own gardens we can enjoy growing Pulsatilla for their magical early spring flowers. The flowers are soft and the foliage is covered in delicate grey-green hairy foliage. After flowering the attractive silky seed heads last for many months.
In the wild Pulsatilla grow in grasslands where the soils are alkaline and of limestone origin. They are herbaceous which means they die down in winter by losing their leaves and they also have deep tap roots. In early spring the leaves re-emerge before they flower and tend to bloom for many weeks. Often called the Pasque flower as they bloom at Easter and make an ideal companion plant for many early spring flowering bulbs such as miniature daffodils, crocus and muscari. Like many of these, Pulsatilla are an invaluable source of early season nectar for pollinators such as bees.
Plant Pulsatilla in well-drained, alkaline soils with full to partial sun. In wetter climates, these herbaceous perennials are best situated on sloping beds, a rockery and in raised beds so their roots don’t sit in waterlogged soil over the winter season. They thrive in cold weather and look particularly beautiful with a dusting of morning frost on their silvery foliage. Each year it is a good idea to allow the plants to release their seeds before cutting off the old flowers stalks to allow them to gently re-seed themselves in your garden. Once young seedlings emerge they can be transplanted without too much difficulty to your desired location. Once established they produce those long, deep tap roots and do not like being moved so leave them in their situation.
Once you plant one Japanese Acer in your garden you are likely to become addicted to Acers! Many gardeners can’t stop at just one. One reason for this is the staggering diversity of Acers available but it is hard to believe they have come from primarily three species; Acer japonicum, Acer shirasawanum and Acer palmatum.
In colour, size, shape and texture no other tree provides so many options. You will find dwarf, midsize and large forms. Some are vase shaped while others cascade or form a column. In some cases the leaves can be star shaped, deeply dissected or nearly round. The colour range in Japanese Acers is breathtaking ranging from purples, reds, oranges, yellows and greens. Often under appreciated are their sculptural trunks during the winter months.
Design wise they provide colour echoes as well as textural highlights when dispersed through your borders. Even a single specimen can create a stunning centrepiece in the garden. These trees are basically like a living sculpture and they are constantly changing throughout the season. Planting companions are Ginkgo biloba, Rhododendrons and Metasequoia glyptostroboides.
Even if you have a small garden you can still participate in Acer madness. They do particularly well in small containers and pots. Once in a pot your tree is then mobile and able to be moved around your garden to suit your preference.
When growing Acers make sure they are sheltered from strong winds and harsh bright sunlight to prevent the leaves becoming scorched.
To get long lasting spring flower displays you need to try layering bulbs in what is called a ‘ bulb lasagne.’ This is when you layer them up one on top of another. It starts with the largest and latest flowering bulbs like tulips which go in deepest, moving to medium ones like daffodils (narcissus). The smallest and earliest flowering bulbs eg. crocus, snowdrops, iris, grape hyacinths, scillas, puschkinias, chinodoxas and anemones can go in the top layer. The emergent shoots of the lower layer bulbs just bend magically round anything they hit sitting over their heads and keep on growing. Isn’t nature wonderful!
With this technique you need to plant the bulbs slightly further apart than you would in a pot with a single layer, so 5-10cm apart is the right sort of spacing. The first layer can go as deep as 30-40cm deep. Typically in pots, you can plant your bulbs closer than you do in the garden but they shouldn’t touch each other or the sides of the pot.
Then cover them over with a couple of inches of potting compost, before you place the next layer of bulbs. I tend to dress the top of the pot with grit – this will prevent mice or squirrels trying to dig up the bulbs during the winter months.
Drainage is key with bulbs, so make sure all your pots and containers have more than one hole in the bottom. Keep them watered after planting, and regularly in the first weeks when their roots are forming. Don’t let the compost dry out.
The spectacular Ammi makes one of the most useful and productive filler flowers in the summer garden. It can be an annual or biennial, upright or spreading, with fern-like pinnately divided leaves and large branched umbels of small creamy-white flowers. With an airy splendour it works well amongst a range of plants in a mixed herbaceous border or in a bouquet. The more you pick, the more the plant will flower!
It prefers to grow in sun or partial shade and in well drained soil. Sow seeds indoors or under glass in a seed tray 6-8 weeks before the last frosts – then transplant out for the growing season. Allow your seed to develop to save and to sow the following year or leave the seed head for the goldfinches in your garden which will come to feed on them during the cold winter months. The flowers are also beneficial for pollinators and predatory insects in your garden.
It is best to pick the flowers when 80% of the flowers on the stem are fully open. If harvested earlier there can be a tendency for the stems to wilt. The fresh flowers of Ammi typically last from 6-8 days in a vase and it is suggested to add flower preservative to the water.
The origin of Ammi is uncertain. It is generally considered to be native to southern Europe, northern Africa, and western and central Asia.
This fascinating succulent has an incredible hanging habit with globe like leaves. The leaves of this plant have evolved as bead like globes that help it limit evaporation in its desert home of South West Africa where it grows between rocks. Desirable in your home it will look great styled in a hanging planter or placed on an item of furniture where the trailing stems can hang down for the best effect.
The small white fluffy flowers are cinnamon-scented, followed by small fluffy seed heads. It likes a lot of bright light in your home so make sure you position it in a sunny room.
If you look closely at the globular leaves, you will notice leaf windows (epidermal windows) similar to the markings on a classic beach ball. These clear leaf windows allow more sunlight to pass into the leaf for maximum photosynthesis. Many other succulents such as Lithops and Haworthia use this similar adaptation to their leaves.
‘String of Pearls’ will hate to sit in moisture, which means use a free draining mix of compost such as 50:50 John Innes No 2 and horticultural sand. It is best to slow down the watering in winter to maybe once a month, but check the soil before you water every time. Ideally in the active growing season it will need watered once a week. Feed once a month from spring through autumn with a standard house plant liquid fertiliser.
Taking cuttings for friends is as easy as just snipping off a ‘string’. Strip some ‘pearls’ from part of the stem and bury this part in well-draining compost at the edge of a pot. Within a few weeks, it will root and become a new plant.
Vibrant Dahlias are one of the most widely grown and much loved cut flowers. Their brilliant blooms come in a wide range of colours, flowering from mid summer until the first frosts. Almost every garden is suited to Dahlias whether that is in the border or an attractive container.
Dahlias like full sun and free draining soil, where they will thrive and bloom abundantly, but also grow well in large pots. Dahlias are not hardy and should not be planted until the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has past. They are best started in a heated glasshouse or polytunnel during the spring and are hungry plants that require quality compost or well-rotted manure.
When you plant your Dahlia tubers dig the hole 12-15cm deep and place them horizontally with the growing eye facing up. Then refill the hole with soil. It is important to remember Dahlias get quite large, so allow at least 45cm of space between plants.
These beauties require generous amounts of water throughout the growing season if the summer is warm and dry. When you are just starting to grow them they should only be watered when you see the first green shoots breaking through the ground. Overwatering before shoots are visible can lead to tuber rot. Once the plants reach 30cm tall, give them a pinch by snipping out about 8cm of the growing centre to encourage low basal branching, which increases flower production and overall stem length.
As for pests slugs and snails damage young plants. You may want to put down slug and snail bait at planting time and periodically throughout the season. Nematodes are also an organic option that is safe for both children and pets, and works well. It is important to stake the plants as many will get tall and this will prevent them from falling over.
While Dahlias are not a very long lasting cut flower, you can get 5-7 days from stems picked at the proper stage. Since Dahlias don’t open much after they’ve been harvested, it’s important to pick them almost fully open, but at the same time not overly ripe where they have begun to brown. Check the back of each flower head, looking for firm and lush petals as these make the best cut flowers.
Philadelphus is found widely in the wild, from Eastern Europe to the Himalayas, Eastern Asia and North and Central America, but in gardens we tend to grow cultivated varieties of these wild species and they can vary in both size and flowering type. The blooms appear in early summer and are always white and scented. Grow this shrub in moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. The scent of its cup-shaped flowers are known to resemble that of orange blossom. Hence the common name ‘mock orange’
In your garden prune out some older wood immediately after flowering, cutting back flowered stems to a lower growth bud, which will then sprout and regrow. The green shoots that grow this summer will flower next year and in this way you can make sure that your shrub keeps producing flowers rather than becoming reluctant to flower.
Give the shrub a good mulch in spring to help seal in moisture this will help it stay healthy and well fed. Its flowering season may be brief but its glorious flowers are necessary for any garden.
Peony flowers are large, vibrant and romantic.
Herbaceous Peonies are easy to grow in any garden and typically flower in May. They need plenty of water but not waterlogged ground. The soil must drain well and have good organic matter. If your soil is clay add organic matter so that it doesn’t stay permanently wet. Herbaceous peonies need to be planted with the budding stems no more than 2cm beneath the soil surface and if planted too deep may not flower. They flower best in full sun but can tolerate light shade and are best moved when the plant is dormant between October and March. Peonies that are the herbaceous form can be divided to make new plants. Just make sure that three stem buds are visible in each of your divisions. Patience is critical with this plant as it can take around three years for them to flower well. They are known for being long lived and can live up to 50 years. As a cut flower they can last up to 10 days in a vase. Many people are not aware that some peonies have a scent so place in a vase in a warm room. Another bonus for planting peonies in your garden is that rabbits do not like the taste of them which is a great reason to plant even more.
Tree peonies on the other hand are also a wonderful addition to any garden. To some the name ‘tree’ might cause some confusion – no this does not mean it grows as tall as a tree! The main difference between tree peonies and their herbaceous cousins is that tree peonies do not die down to the ground in winter. They lose their leaves in late autumn but a woody scaffolding of stems remain. The blooms can sometimes be larger and can be placed at a more elevated position in a border in comparison to the herbaceous forms.
This delightful deciduous shrub is known for its unusual and colourful late winter and early spring flowers. These typically appear before the foliage emerges and are arranged in pendant catkin-like racemes that hang from the branches. The foliage can turn rosy red and yellow during the Autumn season. The genus comes from the Greek word Stachys meaning an ear of corn – hence the hanging flowers appearance. Plants in this genus are sometimes commonly called spiketail also in reference to the flowers. Native to Japan it was introduced to UK cultivation in 1864. It can be grown by seed or summer cuttings taken with a heel in late July and given bottom heat. Layering is also a method – do this in summer months and the new plant should be ready to detach the following spring. It grows well in fertile soil that is free training in full sun or partial shade of a woodland. In terms of garden design it is a perfect shrub for woodland gardens or it can be effectively trained against a wall with southern exposure.