Here are some of our ‘Plants of the Month’ chosen for you by our Head Gardener, Rod Milne, who is always keen to share his passion! A new plant will be added each week throughout the month.
Gardeners love catnip and so do quite a few cats. Some cats are uninterested, while others will feast on the leaf which is often followed by a period of intense manic hyperactivity. It is an odd site seeing a cat attempting to eat a relatively large plant. After consumption one cat I had would run around for about thirty seconds then fall into a blissful sleep, usually while doing some strange yogic stretch.
Catnip, catmint or Nepeta to be scientific, is an herbaceous perennial with grey blue, slightly aromatic leaves. It has masses of mauve flowers which keep being produced for many weeks during the summer. These flowers are irresistible to bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other insects. The variety ‘Six Hills Giant’ is the best of the cultivars and has an attractive floppy habit of growth and ideal for planting among roses and other flowering shrubs, its pastel shades complimenting other colours beautifully.
Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ requires full sun and a well drained soil and is generally trouble free and easy to grow. If given a chance it will flop onto a path or lawn, which does look attractive, but can be inconvenient for access and mowing and if you have a cat, it may decide that sleeping in the middle of the clump is the best bed ever and this will leave a nest shape in the clump for the rest of the year.
Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’
For me, Sweet Peas are worth growing just for their fantastic perfume alone. Their sweet scent reminds me of a distant summer memory that you cannot quite pin down to a time or place. This is probably because the memory is a complete fabrication, but it does go to show just how evocative a smell can be.
Sweet Peas are annual climbers (meaning they grow, climb, flower and die within a year) and are perhaps best started off from seeds, sown in pots in the autumn or early spring. Once the spring has a bit of warmth about it they can be planted out where they can clamber up a fence or other supporting structure. Here at Picton we make simple wigwams of Hazel or Ash sticks about six foot tall. Within two months the peas will have clambered to the top and will be flowering profusely.
Sweet-Peas have been bred to have big flowers and in a very wide range of colours, all of which are very pretty, even if some are a little garish. My favourite however is a variety called ‘Cupani’ that has smaller but plentiful flowers of purple and violet making a sumptuous combination. This sweet pea was first introduced to the UK in the late 17th century when a Sicilian monk, Brother Francis Cupani, sent seeds to Dr. Robert Uvedale, a teacher from Enfield, Middlesex. This historic variety has a fantastic scent.
One thing you must do with Sweet Peas is to either remove the fading flower stems or pick them when in full flower and bring indoors. Both are pleasant gardening jobs. Failure to do so will result in the plants stopping flowering because they are putting all their energy into seed production. Other than that they are generally trouble free and will provide a summer’s worth of flowers and scent.
The Shropshire Lad
Roses have flowered spectacularly this year, not just here in Pembrokeshire but seemingly throughout the United Kingdom. Throughout June and well into July roses are hard to beat for their great beauty and often fantastic scent.
Just over two years ago we planted thirty different varieties of old fashioned roses or newer varieties that still maintain the wonderful flower form and scent of the old roses. We went to some length to select varieties that would do well in the moist, mild climate of Pembrokeshire where fungal diseases can be a problem to some roses, affecting their vigour and making their leaves unsightly. The varieties also had to be scented. The results after two years have been spectacular, with most of our selections growing to be large healthy plants. It is very hard to pick just one favourite as all have their merits, however, this week it has to be a rose called ‘Shropshire Lad’.
‘Shropshire Lad’ has big, dense peachy-pink flowers with outer petals that turn back and fade to a paler colour. It has a strong slightly fruity fragrance and is a vigorous, healthy, almost thornless rose with an arching habit of growth. The large dark green leaves are a good background to its voluptuous flowers. It was bred by a famous rose breeder and nurseryman, David Austin and will grow to five feet tall. It can also be trained as a climber where it will grow to about around eight feet up its support.
All roses appreciate good living, so some rose fertiliser or a mulch of manure in the spring will pay great floral rewards a few months later. It is worth cutting out the old flowers as they fade to encourage more flowers to appear later in the season.
Shasta Daisies are really old cottage garden favourites. They are at present unfashionable amongst gardeners, but this will doubtless change as more varieties are tried out. Many of the older varieties were rather over-tall and somewhat top heavy meaning they required staking. In a floppy cottage garden this is acceptable behaviour but unsuitable for most modern gardeners.
Shasta Daisies (or Leucanthemum in the botanical world) have white or cream coloured daisy-like flowers on top of straight stems. There are quite a few varieties available – from short, rather formless ones to ones which grow two metres tall. My favourite is Leucanthemun x superbum (‘Old Court’) which grows to about a metre tall and has masses of wonderful flowers measuring about ten centimetres across. It has lots of really narrow petals, making it look rather spidery and seems to grow happily in any reasonable soil, in sun or part shade, and does not need extra support.
Clematis ‘Bill Mackenzie’
Clematis are a wonderful group of flowering climbers. There are types which flower for every season – in spring, for example, there is the well known Clematis montana or the much smaller Clematis macropetala, and amongst the many summer flowering varieties there is Nelly Moser or the later flowering varieties of Clematis jacqemontii. By selecting the right varieties, you can have flowers throughout the spring and summer.
My favourite of all is Clematis ‘Bill Mackenzie’. A large and vigorous climber, it has dainty yellow nodding flowers which, as they fade, turn into fluffy, pom-pom like seed heads. The flowering continues for about two months and there is always a delightful combination of silvery seed heads and flowers. It will happily clamber up any support it can find, and if its growth requires checking it is easiest just to attack it after a few years and cut it back quite hard. This is best done in the spring just before growth commences. Like all Clematis they are easy to grow – their only requirement is for reasonably moist soil and something to climb.
Trailing Ice Plant – Lampranthus
Trailing Ice Plants are far from icy at this time of year. If you travel around the coastal areas of Pembrokeshire you might well see a bright cerise-pink mound of colour growing on somebody’s garden wall or in a dry border. This intense mound of colour is the daisy-like flowers of Lampranthus spectabilis, the ‘Trailing Ice Plant’, which is native to the Fynbos habitat of South Africa. It is a succulent and is hardy in our coastal areas or at the base of a south facing wall where it will sprawl across the ground and then erupt in a mass of colour for the summer months. It is easy to grow and resents being pampered or over watered. It is quite easy to grow from cuttings, which, once rooted, can be kept indoors (e.g. on your kitchen windowsill) to act as security in the event of a cold winter. I think it is the most colourful plant I know.
Hardy Geraniums – Roddy’s Plant of the Month
Geraniums are a lovely and easily grown group of herbaceous perennials that can bring a bright and cheerful cottage garden feel to any garden, large or small. Confusingly, ‘geranium’ is a common name often used to describe another race of plants, namely Pelargonium, that are often used as half-hardy bedding plants or houseplants. The true Geraniums are a large genus originating from the temperate regions of the world. Some, such as Geranium cinereum, are European alpine plants only a few centimetres tall and are lovely when grown in full sun at the front of a border or in a rock garden. Most of the other species are meadow or woodland plants. The ‘Meadow Cranesbill’, Geranium pratense, is a very pretty native species worthy of garden cultivation.
Geraniums have been grown in gardens for centuries and a great many different cultivars have arisen. Over the last fifteen years a vast number of new ones have been bred to extend the range of colours and the length of the flowering season. I particularly like those varieties with richly coloured flowers such as ‘Sirak’ with neat foliage and liliac-pink flowers. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is a relatively new variety with a long flowering season. It has intense blue-purple flowers and a sprawling habit. ’Johnstones Blue’ is a good old variety with finely cut leaves and blue flowers that seem to glow in low light levels.
Geraniums are easy to please and have a good resistance to slugs. They will grow happily in shade or full sun but the one thing they do not like is waterlogged soil. Plants can be left for many years with little maintenance but after maybe five years or so will relish being dug up during the dormant season, divided and replanted into enriched soil. After the first flush of flowers is over, usually around mid-summer, the plants can be cut hard back. This will encourage a new flush of fresh leaves and a second batch of flowers. This is particularly useful for the early flowering and slightly demure looking Geranium phaeum also known as ‘Mourning Widow’. They have intricate little flowers in a range of colours and once you have a couple of different coloured ones they will interbreed to produce variously coloured offspring. It is a great plant for naturalising in grassy areas or hedge banks so finding homes for extra seedlings is rarely a problem.
Geraniums associate really well when planted with roses and other shrubs, their soft texture leaves and pastel coloured flowers of white, pink, purple or blue contrast with bolder foliage or large flowers. They are not overly flamboyant and are excellent for covering the rather bare areas below shrubs, in particularly roses. Many types make good, weed suppressing, ground cover. My favourite for this purpose is Geranium macrorrhizum and its cultivars. It grows about twenty-five centimetres tall and has pale green ‘geranium’ scented leaves and flowers of magenta, palest pink or pure white. It is a particularly good as ground cover as it is nearly evergreen so weeds never get a chance to get going.
Moorland Cottage Plants, a nursery here in Pembrokeshire, specialises in Geraniums and offers a wonderful range for sale. At Picton I have around twenty favourite varieties but I am sure this number will grow, as it does every year, for there are hundreds of varieties I have not yet encountered. Why not search out one or two for your own garden. They are trouble free, understated, cheerful and very pretty.