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Planting for an extended season of interest – silver, grey & purples
In spring it is very tempting to rush to the garden centre and load your trolley high with
beautiful flowering plants. You weed and dig enthusiastically so that for a few weeks your garden looks wonderful, but the flowers will finish their season of beauty and you are left with lots of green plants that may not perform for another 11 months. One solution to this is to select a range of plants that have different seasons of interest, so there is always something ‘strutting its stuff’. In addition, include plants that have foliage interest, or strong shapes, so interest continues, even if low key.
For this example, plants have been chosen in a soft colour palette using silver, grey, and
purples. The plants are suited to any area where there is plenty of sunshine and well drained soil.
Start with the rear of the site which in this example is backed by a fence or a wall. This could be planted with a quince, in this case white flowered Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’ with flowers like apple blossom, appearing in March and April. Alternatively (or as well as, given room) the dainty mauve pink spring flowers of Clematis ‘Diamond Anniversary’ could be used.
It is always worth investing in a deep border where there is room as it is much easier to build up a display that is deeply satisfying. If you have a shallow border it is best to miss out the taller plants as they can literally look uncomfortable as they develop, as though they are falling out of bed.
At the back use vertical flowers like Delphiniums (which need slug protection), and include the giant 2.2 metre deep violet flowered Delphinium ‘Summerfield Oberon’, or the more compact Excalibur range that includes the one metre high Delphinium ‘Excalibur White’. Delphiniums are summer flowering and may give you a repeat in autumn if you deadhead promptly. The grand Acanthus spinosus has a stout pale purple spire during summer.
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Shorter plants with a strong vertical line include the delicate grey-green foliage and blue-purple spires of Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ which is mid to late summer flowering but contributes a ghostly winter presence. The vivid purple of exotic Lobelia x speciosa ‘Hadspen Purple’ stands 0.7 metres high and flowers in late summer and autumn. Finally, try one of the silvered eryngium such as Eryngium bourgatii with its spiky-looking silver-blue flowers from midsummer.
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Mounding plants make a good mid-to-front row. The small shrub Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ has purple foliage, lime green in spring, which is appealing in winter. Delicate grey-violet flowered Geranium pratense ‘Mrs Kendall Clarke’, summer flowering, or the rose purple blooms of small and spreading Geranium ‘Dilys’, which flowers in late summer. Small, spreading Polemonium ‘Lambrook Mauve’ is good in spring and early summer.
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Flat heads look good. Try sedums including Sedum spectabile ‘Iceberg’ with late summer flowers. The flat brown heads can be left all winter to combine with the contrasting shapes of the Perovskia and Pittosporum.
Finally, plant bulbs – tall round-headed alliums to poke through lower plants such as 1 metre high Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ in early summer. Plant crocus in the spaces for early spring and include tulips, planted deep that will reappear each spring for many years.
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You may not be able to buy all these plants at the same time. Many are only for sale when they come into season. But it is easy to move most herbaceous plants around (except Acanthus which doesn’t like to be moved) if you are unhappy with the arrangements. That is part of the joy of gardening!
Susan A. Tindall
The details and care instructions for all of the plants mentioned are available in our Garden For Pleasure plant finder.