Clemmie Hambro’s gardening week: May 4
Monday, 30 November -0001

Clemmie Hambro’s gardening week: May 4

There has been a flurry of frantic activity in the garden this week, which was sparked off by the arrival of the plants. Yes, I am pleased to report that three and a half years after I pulled them all out in a fit of quickly waned enthusiasm, the borders that front the house are now full of plants.

The palette of conflicting colours – purples, oranges, pinks and acid greens – is cooled off by the odd silvery glaucous greens and contrasted by the occasional dark green seriousness of a box ball.

It took me a long time to plan it, but once I did, it took no time at all. The important thing was that the plants were not demanding creatures, but the types that would just get on and do their thing. I am not in the garden every day and so can’t be wiping noses and tending the bruised knees of plants as well as children.

The other criterion for choosing was a long period of flowering. Most of them had to promise to perform for a sizeable amount of time, in case I wasn’t there during the five minutes of flowering, and missed it. That would be very annoying.

The last box the chosen plant had to tick was that it was tasty to bees, butterflies and insects. What with all the dying out of our lovely insects, I feel that it is part of our moral duty to the world to make sure the plants we choose for the garden are tasty and appealing so that they hum with what my daughter likes to call ‘buzzy bees’, who then go and tell their friends, who tell their friends etc. So the main players are as follows…

Making a debut in my garden is geum ‘Fireball’, a repeat-flowering variety that will keep going, if deadheaded, from early summer to early autumn. It has graceful, arching stems that carry a firework of yellow/ orange flowers that bees and insects go bonkers for. They love full sun and are unfussy about soil type and that sort of thing. Another long-flowering newcomer that will add a sense of wildness and lawlessness is Centranthus ruber – dense red/ pink flowers tower on glaucous, fleshy stems. I am a tad worried that it will not cope in the rich soil as it is a hedgerow plant found near the sea and so likes freedraining conditions. But I couldn’t resist it – so am giving it a go and will report back.

Setting this off with a ping is Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’. From June to October, its deep, violet-blue flowers are carried on chic black spires. Like geums, if you remove the fading stems as they appear, you will prolong the flowering. The grey/ green foliage is aromatic. In fact, I can’t think why I haven’t used this before.

Planted through this are the gorgeous claret buttons of Knautia macedonica, another long-flowering stalwart. The colour is rich and dark but the structure of the plant is light and airy. Slightly more high maintenance than its friends, it might need a bit of staking to prevent sprawl and mulching in autumn to prevent mildew.

Euphorbia palustris is one of my favourite greens with a wonderful lime undertone that makes it look so fresh. It will sing with the geums, salvias and the Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ that is also woven through. Cooling the whole party down is Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’. Those lovely silvery cashmere-soft leaves add some much needed texture and the children love picking them to keep as pets. Also in the silvery camp are nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, Artemesia ludoviciana ‘Silver Queen’ and adding some restful pauses are the beedelicious sedum ‘Herbstsfreud’.

As I dug them all in, I was pleased I had spent all that time improving the soil, so that the task itself was a pleasure and that the plants have the best chance of thriving. The husband was speechless with shock that I had finally managed this feat, and every now and then cocks his ear out of the window and says in a very satisfied way, ‘Yes, I can hear them growing’.

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