These have no special needs beyond ordinary well drained soil and an open sunny position. All are increased by division, best in early spring or early autumn.

A. ‘Coronation Gold’ is a smaller headed yellow, growing to a bushy 3 feet.

A. filipendulina, usually offered under the name ‘Gold Plate’ is the tallest, reaching 4 feet, with strong stems, carrying wide plate-head flowers June to August and pungent deeply cut leaves. Flowers hold their colour over winter, if cut and dried before they begin to fade on the plant.

A. millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’, grows from mat forming, rather untidy plants which need curbing or replanting every 2 to 3 years. Stems are filigree leaved about 2 ½ feet, tall, carrying loose heads June-August, which may need supporting.

A. ‘Moonshine’ is a hybrid of great merit, having silvery filigree foliage and glistening flower heads on 20 inches stems, beginning late May and often with some in autumn too.

Its parents A. clypeolata is a deeper yellow, but less reliably hardy and the lighter A. taygetea is less silvery and more erect at 2 feet tall.

Double white Achilleas are, Perry White and The Pearl, but both spread rather quickly and may need support when in flower.

All Achilleas are good for cutting, and if cut back in good time, sometimes flower a second time.

ACHILLEA filipendulina

ACHILLEA filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’

ACHILLEA moonshine

ACHILLEA ‘Moonshine

27. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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Perennial Plant names and origins

Whether one picks up a book or catalogue containing any wide variety of plants, they are listed under their Botanic or Latin names. This may be dispiriting or tedious for some, but not for those who, from love or experience of plants realise and accept that only by the use of such names —internationally known and accepted, could they possibly make sense. The question as to why such names have to be used is often asked by some who find them difficult, and as a preface I will attempt a brief answer.

Plants, no matter what they are, have to carry a first and second name at least, to simplify, identification and reference. The first name indicates the genus, and the second the species. Take Campanula as an easy example. This comes from the Latin for ‘Bell’, and indeed the common name is Bellflower. But there are in nature hundreds of species of Bellflowers or Campanulas, as well as varieties or cultivars which have been raised by human agency as hybrids or crosses between the species. It would be much more confusing to use English or colloqual to describe them, for Campanula lactiflora would then become the ‘milky-flowered Bellflower’—plus the name of the variety. C. glomerata nana lilacina, would need the ‘lilac flowered dwarf clustered Bell-flower’ to describe it—and these are only simple examples. Others would be quite impossible to anglicise.

All names have an explanation or meaning, though the origin of some generic or surnames are lost in antiquity. Some are Greek, others Latin or Latinised versions of a Common name. There is no need to delve deeply into origins, but many specific names give a clue to description. Those ending in ‘oides’ mean that it has resemblance to some other plant, such as ‘primuloides’. Others give the colour—’aureum’ for gold, ‘album’ for white, ‘roseum’ pink, ‘rubrum’ red and so on. ‘Latifolia’ means it has a broad leaf, ‘macrantha’ a large flower in Greek, though ‘grandi-flora’ is the same thing in Latin. Where a name ends in ii or iana it is a personal tribute to some-person just as a surname like Rudbeck or Stokes are Latinised as generic names in Rudbeckia and Stokesia as a means of giving a name to a plant which had no higher claims.

Very many specific names give the place of origin—whether a country like Japan—japonica and canadensis, or an ancient State-like macedonica or tyrolensis, whilst others simply state that it grows wild in mountains montana, alpina or in woods sylvatica or in a damp place iacus-tris, palustris or uliginosa .

Perennial Plant names and origins2

Once you get the hang of names, they can surprisingly enough become a source of interest in themselves. You can pick and choose, as it were, without bothering about those that have baffling connotations and derivations unless you wish. It is all a matter of not being afraid of them, of realising their importance and that most of them have purposeful meanings. No one uses any other name than Chrysanthemum, Nasturtium or Rhododendron, and there are many other examples of Botanic names being accepted by everyone without a second thought. This shows how even difficult names develop in the mind and become accepted as commonplace in themselves simply through common usage.

Plants For Special Purposes

Alchemilla mollisAruncus SylvesterAcanthus spinosusAcanthus in variety
Bergenia in varietyAstrantia in varietyAlchemilla mollisAchillea in variety
Chiysogonum virginianumAstilbe in varietyAnaphalis in varietyAgapanthus in variety
Epimedium in varietyCaltha in varietyBrunnera macrophyllaAlchemilla mollis
Lamium in varietyGentiana asclepiadeaCampanula muralisAnaphalis in variety
Nepeta mussiniiFilipendula in varietyEpimedium in varietyAlstroemeria Ligtu hybrids
Prunella in varietyIris sibirica in varietyEuphorbia — some varietiesAstrantia in variety
Pulmonaria in varietyIris kaempferiGeranium in varietyCatananche caerulea
Stachys lanataLythrum in varietyHylomecon japonicumChrysanthemum maximum in variety
Symphytum rubrumMonarda in varietyIris foetidissimaCrocosmia masonorum
Vinca in varietyPolygonum in varietyLamium in varietyDelphinium in variety
Avena CandidaRodgersia in varietyLiriope muscariDoronicum in variety
Festua glaucaSenecio in varietyOmphalodes in varietyErigeron in variety
Trollius in varietyPachysandra terminalisEchinops ritro
Polygonatum in varietyEryngium in variety
Polygonum affine in varietyGaillardia in variety
Pulmonaria in varietyGypsophila in variety
Stachys lanataHeuchera in variety
Tiarella in varietyHosta in variety
Vinca in varietyKniphofia in variety
Liatris callilepis
Lysimachia clethroides
Macleaya in variety
Nerine bowdenii
Polygonatum multiflorum
Polygonum amplexicaule
Polygonum bistorta superbum
Rodgersia in variety
Stachys lanata
Thalictrum in variety
Veronica virginica alba
Avena Candida
Cortaderia argentea
Lasiogrostis splendens
Miscanthus japonicus

Hosta sieboldiana elegans behind Stachys macrantha

Above: Colour contrasts can be made with both foliage and flowers with Hosta sieboldiana elegans behind Stachys macrantha.

27. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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The sensible approach to any form of gardening is to decide first whether the piece of ground you have is suitable for the type of decorative plants you wish to grow. All plants have their limits of adaptability, and whilst Hardy Perennials are generally very adaptable, it is best to make sure that the soil and situation are suitable, if for instance a wide variety is intended. The soil does not need to be specially rich. What is most important is that it should be free of harmful perennial weeds, such as couch grass, ground elder, creeping thistle, marestail and creeping cress. Annual weeds, like groundsel, chickweed etc, matter much less because they are easily destroyed, but it would be asking for trouble to plant a bed or border already infested with perennial weeds.


Drainage is another essential. One cannot expect plants to flourish in soil that is wet and sticky over winter. Often such soils dry out in summer and bake hard in the sun. Plants need moisture only during their growing period between spring and autumn, and more plants die from excessive winter wet, when they are dormant, than in the driest of summers.

Heavy clay soils are the most difficult to cultivate, but they can be greatly improved by under-draining with pipes, coarse gravel, brickbats, laid in trenches about 2 feet deep and about 6 inches wide. Clay soil can also be improved by adding peat or sand mixed in when digging, but winter sogginess can only be overcome by drainage, with an outlet to a ditch or sump.


Sandy or gravelly soils are almost always free draining. Because of this they are likely to dry out most in summer and are most likely to respond to enrichment with manure, compost or peat. If peat alone is used, some organic fertiliser should be used in conjunction with it. Peat is also ideal for chalky soils which not only lack humus but have excessive alkalinity. Some plants dislike lime, and though the majority of kinds are lime tolerant, it is worth the little trouble it takes, if in doubt, to have a lime test taken before investing in plants which dislike alkalinity. A neutral soil in this respect, with a 6.0 to 7.0 PH is ideal, because one can then grow almost anything.


Shade and moisture are less important factors. Moisture can usually be added by overhead watering, or from the overflow of a pool, if one wishes to grow moisture loving plants. Shade is less easy to contrive if no natural shade in a garden exists, though usually a wall, if not a tree, will be found to lessen harmful sunlight to shade loving plants. Some of the most choice and beautiful plants are happy only in shade where there is no real lack of moisture for long. These are natives of dampish woods, where dappled or broken shade comes from tall trees, and it should be said that not many kinds prefer the deep shade of close planted evergreens. The most difficult of all places to fill with a wide variety of Hardy Perennials, is dry shade, where low overhanging branches keep off the rain and where tree roots have first call on any existing moisture. Only a score or so of kinds exists that will tolerate such inhospitable conditions, yet in many gardens, such spots can be filled with trouble free ground coverers, if only their owners knew about them.

Ground coverers.

Ground covering perennials also have their uses amongst shrubs, as well as for those with problematical banks, verges etc. The sunnier the position, the wider the selection becomes available to fill them, and the demand for ground covering plants these days indicates the need some people have of filling up garden space so as to reduce maintenance to the absolute minimum. There are all kinds of gardeners, just as there are all kinds of gardens and plants with which to fill them. But without any doubt, the greatest rewards in gardening come to those who are prepared to take some trouble in growing as well as possible the widest range of plants their garden will support. Given a common sense approach, one can expect not only a return comparable with the effort, but a bonus as well in terms of interest and satisfaction.



Haphazard gardeners seldom achieve much. One needs to be much more deliberate, to scheme and acquire knowledge well in advance, before embarking on any new project. Such knowledge will of itself create new interests, as well as to avoid the pitfalls of ignorance. The aim should therefore be to plan within the limitations imposed byspace, soil, climate and environmental situations, and then to select the kinds of plants which one can be reasonably sure will succeed under these conditions. This site is designed to help in various ways those who for lack of knowledge have either failed or been afraid to begin, as well as those who having begun, wish to raise their sights a little higher to the wealth of variety in beautiful, easy to grow plants which they scarcely knew existed.

Improving an old border.

A decision with which some may be faced is how to improve an old existing ‘Herbaceous Border’ of the conventional onesided type.

It may have become a nuisance if not an eyesore because it is too narrow in relation to the tall, rank growing kinds it still contains. One should be pretty ruthless and treat the worst offenders (which have probably choked or over-run choicer, more worthy kinds) as if they were weeds. Along with any other weeds the old border may harbour, destroy all unwanted plants, dig over thoroughly and make a completely new beginning. -‘ ‘£**£

If the border is capable of being widened, even if this means taking in a strip of lawn, it will be worth the sacrifice. It would be no sacrifice at all to dig up a gravel path or old box edging, for the former is usually superfluous and the latter a harbour for slugs and snails. When it comes to replanting, having made a selection of worth while subjects, allow sufficient space at the rear for access and avoid the baneful effect a hedge so often has, bearing in mind that light and air are as necessary to strong reliable growth, as are moisture and sustenance.

Awkward spots.

Another possible decision is whether or not to use a given site or space, which is simply in need of filling. Such a space may be damp, shady or a dry impoverished slope. With all the variations there could be, on the score of soil and situation, it is impossible to make specific recommendations.

What matters most is to assess potentialities as well as the drawbacks of a given site, and be extra careful to make a selection which will grow there. This comes back to one of the guiding principles mentioned earlier—of choosing subjects most likely to succeed or adapt themselves to the prevailing circumstances. It is not so difficult as one might at first imagine, and this site provides recommended lists for a variety of situations.


A little more needs to be said about planning. This site gives one or two diagrams on the layout of both an Island Bed and Conventional Border. Some catalogues offer a free plan, with a price for the collection of plants it will hold. But such sterotyped plans can scarcely be applicable to every variation there could be in regard to soil and situation, and wherever possible it is preferable to do one’s own planning. It is not difficult and in the process one can learn a great deal of vital knowledge. The only need is for a sheet of graph paper and having chosen a site, translate its outline to a scale that will suit.

It is simply a matter of filling in the names of the plants you have selected, in their appropriate places. Having done so and having prepared the site, place marker sticks or labels (numbered if the names are too difficult), so that when planting times comes, they can be laid out and planted precisely as planned. If an error regarding placing occurs it will show up when flowering time comes, and in the following autumn or spring the necessary switch can safely be made. The guiding principles given in regard to preparation, planning and planting are applicable to any type of border or bed.

They also apply to shapes and sizes of beds and here it should be said that personal preferences can be given a large measure of freedom. If a geometric design, whether severely oblong or a free form border appeals then the choice is yours. The one-sided border has been the conventional shape, and if the garden lends itself only to this type, it would be wiser not to go in for a very irregular curving frontage to it. The Island Bed offers much more scope, and if any informal outlines exist already in the garden, then it is an easy matter to make a free form bed in keeping with a tree, shrubbery or any other feature. An Island Bed set in a rectangular lawn would however appear somewhat incongruous if it were not in keeping by having it of some free form irregular shape. In these circumstances an inner rectangle for the bed, or for that matter an oval or circular shape would fit in perfectly well.

The question of the size of the bed will depend almost entirely on the size of the garden, if not on the size or colour of one’s bank balance. In either case a midget border could be the solution. Perennials are so adaptable that a bed or border of no more than eight square yards, could be made to hold a very pleasing variety of plants. If one were restricted to thirty or forty plants, one of a kind, it would at least be a beginning.

Bearing in mind that even some so-called Rock Plants are but dwarf hardy perennials it is easy enough to make a selection to suit the size of the bed. The important thing is to restrict that selection, so far as heights are concerned, to suit the site—to avoid having kinds that grow too tall for the width of the bed or border. A midget bed or border of say 5 feet wide, should not contain anything more than about 2 ½ feet tall. There are hosts of beautiful plants that grow below that height. The only kinds one should avoid are the true Alpines which hug the ground, but for such small beds there is no lack of variety of Dwarf Perennials flowering at heights of about 6 inches upwards.

This is for a one-sided border of the conventional style with a backing of some kind—wall, hedge or shrubbery. The tallest kinds are at the rear, and if you wish to follow such a plan, remember to leave ample space between the plants and the backing. The effective width of the border is 12 feet, allowing for rear groups of up to 6 feet high when flowering. If you have only 9 feet width available, omit the back row of groups, and the next to it could also be omitted if your border can be no more than 6 feet wide. The four groups at each end are designed to grade down somewhat so that if a longer stretch of border is available, the plan can be elongated accordingly. This means that other kinds can be chosen to fill up the extra space, but you can use either of these four end groups to make the closure—reserving them for the ends.

It will be seen from the plan that the rear groups occupy rather more space than those near the front. Each group is designed to hold five plants of one kind to give a massing effect, but the taller and usually more robust kinds need more space than the shorter growing ones near the front. The irregular shapes of the groups need not be followed exactly. They merely indicate the need to avoid regimentation when planting, and the suggested position of each member plant of a group is indicated by a small x. These will also demonstrate the way in which greater space can be allowed between each group and the individual plants comprising a group. The border is planned to give a long display, with the first flowers appearing in April, and the last in October, but a different selection of plants could be made to provide more colour at any period between these months.

Although designed for a very small garden, this is typical of an Island Bed, regardless of size. It has all round access, and the tallest growing kinds are in the centre, where it will be noticed they occupy more spacious outlines than those around the perimeter. In this case some of the latter flower at only 9’ or so high but the tallest in the centre run up to 4 feet. As with Border A., flowering is from April to October and colour contrasting or blending has been studied carefully. The use of graph paper in each case makes Border planning easy, because the inch squares in heavy outline represent a scale of 1 ‘to 3 feet. There are approximately 18 square yards in the bed and thirty groups in three of a kind. For anyone wishing to vary the size or shape of such a bed to suit their own needs work on a average of five plants per square yard, but vary the area of groups according to height and spread. In this Midget, the outer groups are in some cases only 18’ wide so that the plants form a compact but irregular edging.

The ends of the bed are rounded, but actual shape can be varied to taste. For a much larger bed, this same plan can be used, if colour massing appeals merely by increasing the size of each group from its present average of three fifths of a square yard. The total area would thereby be doubled if say six plants of a kind were used.

These are a few pointers and hints to emphasise the advice given in the text and it is quite easy to design one’s own border. A larger bed could of course accommodate either a wider selection or larger groups, or both. It is purely a matter of choice, but there is no room for doubt that for effect, for ease of maintenance, the Island Bed form is far more satisfactory than the conventional one-sided border.

27. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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Island beds: set up and maintenance

Island Beds can not only be seen from all sides, but access to them for such necessary maintenance tasks as hoeing or weeding is much easier than with the old conventional border style. With light and air plants grow to the height nature intended and no more. This brings them into the most effective position from the display point of view and creates fewer problems when some kinds need replanting, as some do every few years, to keep them vigorous and free flowering. All,this however depends on one other important factor—that of spacing and the preference it suggests of growing different kinds in groups. So often the effect is spoiled by dotting a plant here and there indiscriminately even to the extent of duplication.

Common sense planning.

Naturally an Island Bed should have its tallest growing subjects near the centre, whereas of course in a one-sided border they must be placed at the rear. This grading of heights is purely for effect, so that each kind can be seen and appreciated. Given adequate width this is easy to arrange so long as one remembers or knows the height to which each kind can be expected to grow.

Such details are included in the description of each kind illustrated, and most specialists catalogues provide them. In selecting a variety restrict the height according to the width of the border. The narrower it is, the shorter should.be the tallest kinds chosen. A useful rule to follow is to divide by two the width of the border, in feet, and to keep within the limit this gives in regard to height. A border of any type, of say 8 feet wide, should contain nothing taller than about four feet. Narrow beds or borders and excessively tall plants simply do not make sense. But they make for trouble and loss in terms of effectiveness of display.

Island beds

It can be assumed that a reader wishing to go in for perennials will chose one or more of three courses. A new garden will call for a decision as to where a bed or border should be. The site may be clear for an Island Bed, and it would be a commendable decision to use a plot nearer the centre, rather than a strip along the boundary. The latter would be much better as a screening border for shrubs, interplanted with ground coverers, leaving the centre for both lawn and an Island Bed if the latter appeals. It need not of course, occupy the exact centre. Most garden plots are oblong, and an Island Bed could well be placed towards one end, as a breaksay, between the kitchen and ornamental sections. In such a case, viewed as it would be mainly from the house, the grading of heights should be more gradual from this aspect than from the rear.

Island beds2

At the back some access should be given by a path, however narrow, and beside this could be planted groups of early flowering perennials such as Primroses, Pulmonarias, etc. These would be over by the time the summer perennials grew tall enough to hide them.

Grading heights.

This design could be termed as a semi-island bed, distinct from the true type, which aims to have a more or less even grading of heights from every angle, as one walks around its perimeter. Bearing in mind the need to restrict heights when making a selection according to the width of the bed, with the tallest in the centre part, the effect is very pleasing. One should also try to intersperse kinds having differing habits of growth, so as to break up any tendency to flatness or regimentation. Some kinds, especially those of the Daisy family have flowers more or less on one level. Others are spikey in growth—like Lupins and Kniphofias. It is by planting the latter in groups amongst the former that the best possible effect is achieved—with an eye to continuity as well.

Spacing for effect.

Spacing, as will be seen, is also important. Assuming groups of three or more plants are used of one kind, rather more space should be allowed around each group than between each plant comprising the group. The average planting space is 16’-18’ from plant to plant, but between groups it should be20’-22’.

The more robust growing kinds would of course need wider spacing, but for dwarfer, slower growing subjects it can be less.

Avoiding trouble.

It follows too, that if a vigorous, tall or very robust kind is planted next to another with much slower or lowly growth the latter will suffer after the first season or two. Segregation is easy to practice. It means simply, that in selecting and placing, growth rate as well as height should be taken into account, so as to keep the vigorous kinds more or less together in one part of the bed or border and the slow spreaders in another. Mention of this should not however, be taken as a deterrent to readers. None of the subjects mentioned are of weedy nature, and those that are merely vigorous can easily be curbed should their spread become excessive.

Continuity and display.

Continuity is also a matter of making a right selection. Not many kinds flower before May, and the peak period for Hardy Perennials is from mid June to late August. There exists sufficient variety to have the maximum display in spring, summer or autumn, but most people prefer to have them cover as long a period as possible. This may mean placing more than ordinary emphasis on the very early and very late flowering kinds if fairly regular continuity is to be achieved. In my own garden, where a very wide variety exists, the first flowers appear in February, and in mild winters, there are still flowers to be seen the following Christmas. A careful selection can also achieve a predominance of favourite colours or colour combinations. Sufficient variety exists to do this, as well as to use the many grey, silvery and variegated foliage plants if any of these hold a special appeal.

27. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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Hardy Perennials For The Garden

It is my belief that in terms of value for money and effort, Hardy Perennials exceed any other section of decorative gardening. It is nearly 10 years ago that I first became attracted to them. It is on this experience that the above testament of belief is based. But experience covers more than knowledge of plants. It has to include ones failures, the amount of work, some pleasant, some tedious, which has been entailed. Its all very well, they say, but I have the setting and the scope for Island Beds, and really ‘going to town’ on Perennials, but they have only a small garden patch, and they find even this difficult to keep tidy and colourful. My answer to them is that, no matter how small or even inhospitable, there are kinds of plants that will grow there, if a careful choice is made.

They cannot expect something for nothing. It takes thinking time as well as effort to get the best out of any garden space. The axiom that what you get from life is measured by what is put into it, applies also to gardening. But it must be said that some forms of gardening are more demanding than others. Annual bedding is probably the costliest in this respect, having to replant beds twice a year to obtain a display from spring till autumn. A few people have gone in entirely for shrubs or ground coverers but are seldom pleased with the result which even if labour saving, provides little by way of interest. Even a garden entirely of lawn, needs frequent regular attention and gives nothing but a sward of greenery. But Hardy Perennials are a two way investment. The initial cost relative to shrubs or ground coverers, is very low. Yet having made ordinary preparations and a careful choice of Hardy Perennials, one has a variety of plants that will not only live on from year to year, providing not only colour and beauty, but interest as well. It is the latter that inspires and stimulates, that makes the little effort required by way of maintenance, infinitely worth while. This is the reason why, speaking from experience, my belief in the value of Hardy Perennials has increased with the passage of time.

What are Hardy Perennials ?

There are some wrong ideas in circulation as to what Hardy Perennials are. To some they are known as, ‘Herbaceous Border Plants’ but ‘Hardy Perennials’ is the betterterm because is conveys most—once it is fully understood. By dividing the two words we can arrive at its full and true meaning. A hardy plant—as distinct from a shrub, bush or tree, is one that will withstand winter frost and damp. It has to be relied upon to do this in our climate as it is expected to re-appear after the winter is over and flower again year after year. Perennial means just that, a plant that re-appears year after year as opposed to an annual which only flowers once and dies. Not all Hardy Perennials are truly herbaceous because the latter term means that foliage dies down in autumn and new growth is made in spring, but some keep their foliage throughout the winter.

The quest for variety.

The range of such plants which are both hardy and perennial is immense. It is far wider than most people imagine, who only grow such things as Lupins, Delphiniums, Michaelmas Daisies and a few others. This category is designed to show not only the best of subjects already popular, but to illustrate something of the rich variety of less common kinds in existence and available from specialist nurseries. In this respect it will undoubtedly fill a need, because variety makes for continuity in the garden, as well as pleasing changes in form and colours from the more ordinary kinds. To widen the variety one grows and can rely upon, is for all keen gardeners a very stimulating process. To enhance-one’s range is to create new interests, to widen one’s knowledge and to achieve a hitherto unsuspected joy and satisfaction by way of reward for one’s efforts.


But the criterion is garden worthiness, coupled with reliability. Difficult or unreliable subjects are not included in this section of the site. All plants possess a measure of adaptability in regard to soil, situation and climate, and it must be understood that no plant can possibly be adaptable to every condition. For this reason every subject recommended is described with this in mind and though the majority are adaptable to most conditions they are likely to encounter, any special needs are mentioned for those with a limited range of adaptability.

Garden worthiness.

The reliability factor must take account not only of hardiness and longevity, though these must be of paramount importance. Garden merit must also be reckoned with on such matters as a long flowering period, of form and grace as well as the display it gives, and the question of whether or not it will stand without supports. To have to stake or support, is a chore that no one could be blamed for shirking unless they are especially fond of such kinds as Delphiniums which scarcely ever can stand unaided.

Hardy Perennials For The Garden

Natural conditions for growth.

Ease of maintenance, is a vital point, and it must be said that a good many conventional herbaceous borders exist which are anything but easy to maintain. This is almost invariably due to too many plants being crammed into too narrow a space. The old idea—when labour was cheap— was to make a massed planting in an artificially created border, with a wall or hedge as backing. This is the conventional herbaceous border, and it is small wonder that nowadays they are regarded as troublesome to maintain. The reason is that with over close planting, the effect of the backing is to make the growth drawn and spindly. Lack of light and the free circulation of air during the growing period produces taller, weaker stems.

The narrower the border in relation to the height of the backing or the type of plants grown—often too tall growing anyway—the more artificial, incongruous and troublesome it is.

Making a careful choice.

It is however realised that in some gardens, where space is restricted, the usual rectangular garden area seems to lend itself to a border of some kind against the boundary hedge or fence and a lawn in the centre. In cases where no change from such a pattern can be considered, there are ways and means of making a comparatively trouble free border so long as a careful choice of plants is made. This is very important, whether or not they are used in company with shrubs, for it should be noted here that many kinds of perennials are very complementary to shrubs. Their range is so great that some can be used as ground coverers, whilst others can provide colour and interest after the majority of shrubs have finished flowering.

Key to success

This, along with other uses to which Hardy Perennials can be put, is dealt with further on, but here the best way of growing them in variety for their own sakes must be more fully covered. Undoubtedly the best means is that of growing them in Island Beds as distinct from the conventional one sided affair with a backing wall, hedge or fence. An Island Bed is closer to natural conditions, allowing free circulation of strength giving air and for all but shade lovers, the benefit of light.

The majority of Perennials prefer an open situation—open to sun, light and air, and by making a careful selection of subjects, one can achieve variety in form, height and colour from early spring to late autumn, with practically no staking and the minimum of labour generally.

27. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
Categories: Hardy Perennials | Tags: | Leave a comment


The’Globe Thistle’is an attractive plant, with its grey and jagged foliage, and stems carrying rounded blue flower heads from midsummer onwards. Some kinds are rather too coarse growing for small gardens, but the more compact are not only elective, but can be left alone for years with no attention beyond cutting back one seasons growth when faded, in readiness for the next to come. Any but damp soil will suffice and they are drought resistant, whilst flowers are of value for cutting.

The best known is E. ritro and at 3-3½ feet is imposingly erect, without being too tail as is inaptly named E. humilis, of which E. ‘Taplow Blue’ is a variety with paler blue flowers than ritro. E. ‘Blue Cloud’ is large flowered, 4-5 feet and E. ‘Veitch’s Blue’, of good colour at a similar height. The little known E. gmelini, is 2½ feet free flowering and neat growing, the colour being slightly lighter than ritro. The larger Echinops make massive plants and need ample space, but all will divide with a spade or knife and will come from root cuttings, as well as from pieces of root accidently left in the ground.

Echinops Globe Thistle

In the upsurge of interest taken in ground covering plants, Epimedium have come to the fore in recent years. They have very pretty foliage and a slowly creeping habit below ground which affords a canopy of greenery—often tinged bronze, lasting until late autumn. The new leaves follow the flowers. These appear in early spring, on short sprays and although individually small, they are capable of making quite a show with their starry formation and bright colours. Although adaptable, Epimediums respond best to good soil where shady, but not excessively dry. Dryness can be offset by using a coating of peat or compost Y2 inch to 1 inch deep, over the -surface during winter, for they are not deep rooting plants and when lifted come up as a mat of fibrous rooted crowns which divide quite easily. This is best done in autumn. E. rubrum, is compact growing with flower stems 9 inches high and foliage about 6 inches. E. macranthum, is of similar height, but the brighter pink E. Rose Queen, is dwarfer still. E. youngianum, with pink flowers is not so showy as the white form E. youngianum niveum, which is a much sought after subject. All the foregoing are grouped as being the choicest and slowest to spread, but the following are stronger growing and more adaptable. E. perralderianum is the strongest growing of them all, having bronzy yellow flowers on 12 inches sprays and leaves 9-12 inches above ground. E. pinnatum is canary yellow of similar height, with the variety E. elegans, the best form. E. cantabrigensis is a hybrid, having dense foliage, following browny orange flowers on 10 inches sprays, and the bright orange sprays of E. warleyense are really showy.

26. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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E. purpurea. The purple ‘Cone Flower’ is an offshoot from the Rudbeckias and is sufficiently distinct to warrant generic rank. The degree of reflex in the petals varies, as does the colour, for apart from purple shades, of varying intensity, there is a white variety. By far the most spectacular are those with broad petals in which a warm rosy to salmon purple is present, as seen in E. ‘Bressingham Hybrids’. These vary but little in colour and form, being of the same breed as the named variety E. ‘Robert Bloom’. They are outstanding for vigour, erectness and freedom to flower, all growing about 3 feet high and flowering from July to September. An old variety E. ‘The King’ is still offered, but the colour is comparatively dull on stems that do not always stand erectly. E. ‘ White Lustre’ is unusual, having drooping petals and a yellow cone at 3½ feet. To grow these plants well, a sunny position and deep light soil is preferred. They can be left alone for several years where happy, but if dividing, March-April are the best months.

ECHINACEA purpurea 'Bressingham Hybrids'

ECHINACEA purpurea ‘Bressingham Hybrids’

26. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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P. terminalis is inserted because it is the kind of plant many gardeners need — of something to grow near or beneath trees. It is of evergreen sub-shrubby growth, giving permanent and trouble free ground cover and able to compete with the roots of trees and shrubs once established. It is especially useful as a ground cover between shrubs and has a slow, sure spread. The type is green leaved but P. terminalis variegata is brighter. Both have flowers of rather non-descript appearance, which neither add nor detract. Both can be divided safely in spring, since their spread is a case of rooting as they go. Though this is undoubtedly one of the best evergreen ground coverers, able to fill spaces in many an otherwise inhospitably shady place, it is rather slow to become established. In the first year plants take hold, but show little spread. If planted 12 inches apart, they should meet to become a complete carpet, touching each other in 2-3 years and if after that one wishes to extend the area, rooted pieces can be taken out without being missed.

PACHYSANDRA terminalis

PACHYSANDRA terminalis

26. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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O. planiscapus nigrescens has the appearance of a grass, but it is in fact a member of the Lily family, related to Liriope. Growth is unfortunately slow and though hardy and long lived, it is not happy in poor soils and dry sunny places. Its dark, almost black leaves seldom fail to appeal and though it flowers in late summer, in the form of 4 inches spikes of little heads, these are not very distinguished. The plain green O. planiscapus is only slightly more vigorous and though both take a year or two to become established, they can in course of time be divided, best in spring.

OPHIOPOGON planiscapus nigrescens

OPHIOPOGON planiscapus nigrescens

26. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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O. cappadocica is a charming, reliable little plant for shady places, making a thick carpet of semi-glaucous ribbed leaves, evergreen for most of the year. In April-May come little 8 inches sprays of intensely blue forget-me-not type flowers above the foliage and the variety O. ‘Anthea Bloom’ is sky blue and freest to flower. There is nothing weedy about this plant and though it can stand summer drought an occasional dusting of fine soil or peat amongst the leaves in autumn, will help it maintain its carpeting qualities and improve its flowering. Early autumn is the best time for dividing or planting and once settled it should be allowed to stay down for several years.

O. verna grows much more quickly, rooting as it goes. It makes quite a show, with bright blue flowers on 3 inches sprays in May though it does not flower for long. The leaves are bright green, but these fade in autumn. There is a white flowered form of this and in both cases a soil dusting during winter is helpful, otherwise it is a good tempered subject fot shady places.

OMPHALODES eappadocica 'Anthea Bloom'

OMPHALODES eappadocica ‘Anthea Bloom’

26. June 2014 by Rupert Foxton-Smythe
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