Five flowers for July

Choris at The Blooming Garden is showcasing 10 of her favourite July flowers and encouraging other bloggers to do the same; I’ve chosen 5 because these are the ones that are looking good in my garden right now and are my absolute favourites.

1  I’ve said before that Verbena bonariensis is one of my top-ten favourite plants of all time. It’s the most striking, useful, gorgeous bee-magnet you can plant. It adds height, structure, colour and interest; I love the criss-crossing erect stems holding aloft purple flowerheads. They look airy and delicate but they’re tough as old boots and withstand the winds round these parts.

Verbena bonariensis
V. bonariensis is a great ‘see-through’ plant so you can put it anywhere in the border.
Verbena bonariensis and Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Here with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
Verbena bonariensis and bee
The flowerheads are made up of loads of tiny flowers full of nectar for pollinators.
Verbena bonariensis and plum tree
I know it’s fanciful but I think they look like tall, cheerful stick people waving big hands.

Verbena is a group of hugely versatile perennials – we also have Verbena rigida, which is another gorgeous purple and grows to about 50cm, and the semi-trailing, bright pink Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’, which is great in pots.

Verbena rigida
Verbena rigida
Verbena 'Sissinghurst'
Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ growing in a pot with Nemesia.

 

2 Sweet peas. I can’t think of a better-value plant for cutting flowers – the more you cut them, the more flowers you get. It’s like magic. You can cut flowers every day if you have enough plants. They’re delicate, beautiful, easy to grow (in my experience, but beware slugs and snails early on), come in a wide range of colours and the fragrance is heavenly. Everyone has their own methods of growing and planting sweet peas but I grow mine from seed in tall pots (or even old toilet roll holders) in spring, pinch out the tips when they’re about 30–40cm tall to encourage side shoots (which flower), then plant out in May. Our soil is very free-draining so I shovel in compost and keep them well watered. I feed mine when I feed my tomatoes – once a week with a tomato feed – but everyone has their own methods. We have one plant that self-seeded from last year, grew throughout the winter and has borne loads of flowers since late May! They’re tougher than you think.

Sweet peas need support to climb up – a wigwam of twiggy branches is perfect, or beanpoles with twine tied around, or some people use trellis. Their tendrils will grab hold of anything nearby so it’s good to check where they’re heading occasionally and redirect them. Anyway, once they start flowering, you start cutting and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have so many sweetly-scented flowers you’ll have jugs of them wafting their glorious fragrance in every room with enough left over to give handfuls to friends. Get them going early enough and you could have flowers from as early as May through to October or even the first frosts but peak sweet pea month here is July. If you follow Sultanabun on Instagram, you’ll have seen it’s her peak sweet pea time, too.

Sweetpea tendrils
Sweetpea tendrils will grab hold of anything as they grow.
Sweet pea
If you give sweetpeas a little love (water well and often, feed them occasionally, plant in good soil) they’ll reward you with flowers and flowers and flowers.

3 Ammi visnaga. All the Ammi plants growing in our garden this year have grown themselves. They self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year and have multiplied tenfold which tells you how easy and undemanding they are. If you want to grow Ammi and don’t want it spreading everywhere, make sure you dead-head rigorously… The best thing about them is that the flower heads are great big landing pads for bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers, the heads are compound flowers providing rich nectar for pollinators. The foliage is a lovely green, delicate and feathery, so stems of Ammi make great cutting material for vases.

4 Another fantastic flower for pollinators (are you sensing a theme here?!) is Scabious atropurpurea. We have two colours here – white and pink. The seed packet I grew them from last year showed rich dark colours, so I was a little disappointed when they turned out to be pale pink, lilac and white. But they’ve come back this year strongly (they’re perennials) and the bees love them, so they can stay. I plan to grow some richer colours at some point.

It’s another plant that pumps out flowers all summer long and into the autumn if you dead-head regularly (or cut the flowers for vases). I sowed a £2-packet of seeds last year and have three large patches of plants for the second year running. Excellent value, I’d say.

White scabious
Here you can see a full flowerhead, one that’s turning into a seedhead (fluffy with a few petals still attached) and a tightly budded head at the bottom.
See – bees LOVE scabious.
White scabious
Grown here with linaria (going to seed) and hardy geranium in the background. This one needs staking (the twigs) as it grows to about 80cm tall.

5 Finally, here’s a flower I’ve grown for the first time this year and I’ll definitely grow it again – Salvia viridis (or clary sage). It’s a hardy annual and the striking blue/purple flowers you can see are actually coloured bracts, not flowers. The real flowers are tiny and grow close to the stem further down.

I planted them out in early June and they’ve been looking fabulous for a few weeks now and have been buzzing with pollinators. The stems are upright and quite striking, with real impact when grown together. We have a patch of about 5 plants, then others dotted between other grasses and perennials. They like free-draining soil and full sun.

Salvia viridis
Look down the stems and you can see the little purple and white flowers.
Salvia viridis
A drift of clary sage makes a big impact in the border. It’s upright and quite tidy so would also work well lining a path (which I might try next year).
Salvia viridis flowers
Close-up of the flowers.

Right, I’m off out into the garden to pick some sweet peas 🙂 Have a lovely weekend.

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In a vase on Monday: A–Z

With so much to choose from in the garden this week, I’ve picked just two different flowers – Ammi and Zinnia – for a Monday vase.

All the ammi (Ammi visnaga) are self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year; they’re over-crowded and some are growing where I don’t want them. Rather than chuck those I’ve pulled up onto the compost heap, I chopped their roots and lower leaves off and plonked them in water.

This is the first year I’ve grown zinnias and I expected them to be rather prima-donna-ish but they seem pretty tough. According to what I’ve read, they hate root disturbance, don’t like overwatering and can’t be planted out until it’s warm enough to sit outside in the evening without wearing a cashmere wrap (I made that last but up). I was quite careful about potting on the seedlings, but not overly so, and there’s not much danger of them being overwatered around here. I was a bit worried about the temperature but I needn’t have as it’s been almost Mediterranean-like here. The major problem has been our slimy foes, the slugs and snails. A fair few pristine zinnias have been toppled and munched, sadly, – I reckon I’ve lost a third of the plants – but the survivors are hitting their stride now and starting to pump out flowers. They’re great for cutting as they last for ages in a vase, the colours are fantastic and they’re like sweet peas – the more flowers you cut, the more you’ll get, so that’s what I’m doing.

How’s life with you? It’s the last week of school before the summer holidays here and everyone is weary; the children are especially weary this afternoon as it was Sports Day today. Despite emails from the school inviting parents along to watch, my three pleaded with me not to go: ‘It would be social suicide, Mum!’. Mortifying our children seems to be something we’re particularly good at but I graciously stayed at home. It seems only five minutes since they were telling me where to stand so they could see me and to shout loudly. How times change.

‘In a Vase on Monday’ is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. I recommend visiting her blog to see what she and other bloggers from around the world have found to put in a vase today; it’s always inspiring.

Wishing you a good week.

In a Vase on Monday and a garden catch-up

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Instead of my usual approach to IaVoM (when I pick a bunch of whatever’s flowering well and a few sprigs of greenery and plonk them in a suitable vase), this week I’d like to show you Ammi visnaga ‘White’ in detail – a study from the flowerhead as it fades and goes to seed. Sorry for the dull lighting in the photos – it’s a grey old day today and the light is low. You can see much brighter pictures of the cut flowerheads used in a vase here.

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You can see all the tiny seeds at the end of the curled stems.

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I grew this hardy annual from seed for the first time this year, sowing in March and planting outside in early July. As you know, we live by the sea and it can get a little breezy; it’s also been an incredibly dry summer. Top marks, then, to this plant which has coped with pretty tough growing conditions and provided loads of lovely, domes and plate-like heads of minute white flowers. I know I’ve extolled the virtues of it before but it really has been wonderful for attracting insects and a magnet for bees and hoverflies. It adds a certain drama to a vase of cut flowers but there’s one thing that slightly lets it down: the smell. It’s meant to be unscented but it does have one – it’s hard to describe but let’s just say it’s bordering on unpleasant. You do have to get close to catch a whiff of it, though, so I do allow it in the house 🙂

I’m joining in as usual with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden where you’ll find some gorgeous colourful blooms and links to many other lovely vases.

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I’ve not had much time for gardening lately but I did get outside yesterday to take some photographs, have a proper look at what’s going on and make a mental to-do list.

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This Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ is about three years old and I love the relaxed, airy habit. Not all the flowers are the red-and-white that they should be, quite a few are all-white, which I actually prefer. Salvias seem happy here and I’d like to grow lots more.
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Verbena rigida – another favourite plant. I love this and V. bonariansis.
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A load of Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’ looking rather floppy and wind-blown.
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This unknown penstemon has produced a second flush of flowers after being cut back in mid-August.
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Nasturium ‘Jewel Charry Rose’ has romped away covering a grotty area by the garden tap. There are loads of seed pods, so I’ll collect some for sowing next year. I’m sure it’ll sow itself too.
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I filled several pots with geraniums three summers ago – they’ve survived each winter since and still flower away even though they’re hardly ever watered. I dead-head them occasionally and cut them back each late spring. Brilliant, value-for-money plants.
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Verbena bonariensis close-up – in my opinion, no garden can have too much of this wonderful plant.
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An illustration of why Japanese anemone is a weed in our garden – it’s growing up through the front steps; it’s on the march…
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Cosmos seed – plants for next year for free.
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One of the Anemone coronarias still flowering.
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Cyclamen that we transplanted last year.
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The pink Japanese anemone isn’t as determined to take over the garden as the white one.
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Water lilies now flowering in the pond, thanks to my mother-in-law clearing it out earlier in the summer.

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Have a good week.

In a Vase on Monday: Homegrown

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The flowers for today’s vase are all homegrown from seed this year. The seeds were sown in late March, potted on and tended for a few months and then planted out in mid-July – later than intended but it took a while to clear the area of bindweed. (As always, we under-estimated the time it would take to prepare the ground…) By the time we got round to putting the plants in situ, most were pot-bound and desperate to get into the soil and I was worried they’d be weak and wobbly as a result.  No matter. They’re fine. They are all growing strongly and blooming away, attracting all kinds of winged creatures. Only one of the sunflower plants survived the slug and snail onslaught from earlier in the year, unfortunately, but it is now pumping out branches of deep, dark flowers. I will leave the remaining flowers on the plant to go to seed for the birds. The outstanding success of the patch, however, has been the Ammi – some of the flowerheads are about 30cm across, huge plates of tiny white flowers forming large insect-helipads.

While I was cutting flowers earlier, bees, hoverflies and butterflies were all flying about ignoring me. One determined bee busied itself on a sunflower head as I carried the bunch back to the house and only flew off when I got to the door. I felt a bit bad about pinching it’s nectar!

Flowers in the vase are:
Cosmos (from a dark mix)
Tithonia rotondiflora ‘Torch’
Sunflower ‘Black Magic F1’
Ammi visnaga ‘White’
Scabious atropurpurea ‘Salmon Pink’

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It’s lovely to be joining in again with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her gathering of Monday vases. Do hop over to see her vase (actually, her mum’s this week!) and other floriferous offerings from around the world. Wishing you a super-duper week.