So what’s in vogue this summer? Our columnist takes a peek at this season’s floral catwalk stars
Every year, at the leading flower shows, there are plants that appear all over the place like a benign rash. On the high street, the fashion zeitgeist is always at work, influencing shapes and colours and dictating what we covet and buy to wear in a particular season. Growers of plants and garden designers are similarly susceptible to fashions in plants, plant associations and colour palettes. A favourite pastime for many of us who love the flower shows is spotting the latest trends.
At Hampton Court this year, astrantias, commonly known as masterwort, were the plant most in evidence, their dusky-pink, deep-red or off-white flowerheads weaving their way through many a show garden and enlivening the scraps of planting that decorate exhibitors’ stands.
Astrantias are a plant much valued by the great Margery Fish, who wrote wonderful books in the 1950s and 1960s (snap them up if you find them secondhand) about the making of her garden at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset and other garden topics. Hugely influential in reviving an informal style of gardening and the joys of cottage garden plants, Margery Fish had a particular love of astrantias. A whole chapter of her 1961 book, Cottage Garden Flowers, is devoted to them.
Astrantias, she begins by saying, are ‘unspectacular plants that belong to the same family as the carrot’. Warming to her theme, she says, ‘Quite indestructible and with pleasant foliage, they blend happily with any society in which they find themselves. One old country name is Hattie’s Pincushion, and the flowers do look somewhat like pincushions, with small umbels surrounded by conspicuous bracts.’ Margery Fish notes that Astrantia major is the species most widely grown, and observes that an unusual variation is found in cottage gardens in parts of Gloucestershire. This is Astrantia major subsp. involucrata ‘Shaggy’, as named by Margery Fish, who was given a plant for her garden. This astrantia has compact heads of greenish-white flowers, with green-tipped ragged bracts, which are, as Margery Fish writes, ‘very shaggy’.
Astrantia major ‘Buckland’, which has a long flowering season, and the palest pink flower heads retaining their beauty long into winter, was widely used at Hampton Court. There were also lots of deep reds, such as Astrantia major ‘Hadspen Blood’, a favourite of the proponents of prairie planting. Astrantias are native to woodland edge or meadow habitats in Europe, from the Pyrenees to the Caucasus. They like moist, fertile, humus-rich soil in sun or partial shade. Apart from A. major ‘Buckland’, which is sterile, astrantias self-seed freely, but they have a disarming habit of finding a space to grow and thrive. They are among my favourite plants.
Purple, pink, white and glaucusleaved colour schemes were still going strong at Hampton Court, but there were also some vibrant plantings just fizzing with red, yellow, orange and bright blue. Prominent in these were achilleas, the yarrows, also a cottage garden plant of long-standing popularity, now available in show-stopping colours. Achillea ‘Terracotta’ was the most frequently used, its flat heads of small, burnt-orange flowers carried on tall stems with rich green feathery leaves. A. ‘Walther Funcke’ has heads of red flowers, each with a yellow eye and grey-green foliage.
Favoured edgings included Alchemilla mollis, Lady’s mantle. Years after I banished this most prolific of self-seeders from my own garden, it appears in the middle of the lawn or a crack in the paving stones. Alchemilla mollis is beautiful after rain or weighed down with dew. Richard Mabey, whose Flora Britannica is my desert island book, and one I consult daily, says that the leaves fold up overnight and catch the dew on their soft hairs. Alchemists required the purest dew to convert base metals into gold – hence the name Alchemilla, ‘little alchemist’.
The wonders of garlic
The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight won its eighth gold medal in a row for its Allium Alfresco garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The main feature was a thatched garlic roof, and the garden was a mixed planting of edible and ornamental alliums and roses. The stand was piled high with huge bulbs of elephant garlic, which is not a true garlic – it’s more closely related to leeks and has a mild flavour.
Garlic has many uses: this is the Garlic Farm’s recipe for a garlic spray to eliminate aphids. Blend 100g grated and crushed garlic cloves, ½ litre water and 10g washing-up liquid. Mix well and strain through a fine cloth. Dilute the mixture in 5 litres water and mix well before spraying affected plants.
Plant of the week
Clematis Esme is bred by Raymond Evison and launched by Taylors Clematis at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Grows to 3ft- 4ft, so perfect for a pot, it has light-blue flowers from May to September. Prune hard to 12in-18in from the ground in February/March. £15 plus next-day delivery: £7.95, www.taylorsclematis.co.uk
Daily tip from the lady archive
"DEEPLY-ROOTED is the idea that men are indifferent to dress, while the ladies, God bless them, think of nothing else"The Lady, With Prejudice, 8th January, 1942