Clematis florida “Alba Plena”
Flowering time: June-September
The clematis family has an enormous range of colors and shapes. Some have simple four-point, star-like flowers, some elegant, hanging bells and others have vast flowers the size of one of the Queen Mother’s hats. All are the result of many, many years of tweaking and fiddling by plant breeders.
Clematis florida “Alba Plena” is one of the larger flowered varieties – with knobs on. With a central tiara of petals, the color of lime juice, it looks like a mutant waterlily. It blooms in mid-summer and, as the flowers age, the green fades from the petals and they turn pure angelic white before they die. There is another double version with a deep purple center. Grows to about 3 m (10 ft) high. Clematis like their roots to be cool, so it is important to provide some shade at the base of the plant. Prune hard in early spring.
Flowering time: March-April
This picture is of a plant on the brink. It was taken in March, early in the morning. In a couple of weeks that bud will open to reveal bracts the color of greenfinch breasts on reddish stems. (A bract is not strictly speaking a flower, but a sort of modified leaf: however, in many spurges it is often the most striking part of the plant. There is a flower behind it, but it is tiny.)
Euphorbia “Redwing” is evergreen and modest in its habits, making a clump about 60 cm (2 ft) across.
Cut back old flower stems after flowering, but beware of the milky sap that oozes from the plant when cut – it can burn those with sensitive skins.
Flowering time: August-September
It is tempting to think that only spring flowers (like daffodils, bluebells and tulips) are grown from bulbs. Although that is mostly correct, there are some real corkers that flower later from bulbs, and this is one of them. Galtonias have deep emerald, strap-shaped leaves and send up 75 cm (2 ½ ft) tall flower spikes, from which swing a couple of dozen waxy bells streaked with pale green that are wonderful in flower arrangements. The whole thing is very like a multi-storey, out-of-season snowdrop that exerts a calming influence on some of the brighter colored, late-flowering plants. If you were a wandering elf caught out in the rain, the flowers would also make perfect hats.
Plant bulbs deeply in spring but do not allow them to get waterlogged. Propagate from offset bulbs or from seed sown in trays during autumn. Protect bulbs with a winter mulch in frosty areas.
Helianthus annuus “Jade”
Flowering time: July-September
I bet you thought that there was nothing simpler than a sunflower. Wrong. For example, did you realize that what we think is the flower is not? Instead it is called the head and it is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers (called disc florets); the halo of petals are actually ray florets. If you look closely you can see that the florets are arranged in perfect mathematical spirals.
While in bud, sunflowers also demonstrate heliotropism: they move in order to keep the sun in their faces, rather like an obsessive sunbather moving a lounger around the pool. However, as soon as the flowers emerge they stop moving – usually when facing east. Helianthus annuus “Jade” is a very pretty variety, sporting attractive green-tinted petals.
The seed can be dried for birdfood or roasted as a snack or to add a bit of crunch to salads. It can also be processed into biodiesel.
05. Corsican Hellebore
Flowering time: March
Some might consider this a rather dull plant; with heavy green leaves and pale green flowers, it’s not exactly a carnival with marching bands and high- stepping baton twirlers. But sometimes subtle is good, especially when there are hidden delights.
The pleasure of Helleborus argutifolius is mostly in the detail. Look closely at the leaves: their edges are finely cut like the teeth of a shark and marbled with fine white veins. The flowers are a great teeming mass of palest green, the color of pistachio ice cream, but on even closer inspection there is a yellow spider of stamens sheltering in the center of each bonnet-shaped flower. No matter how cold the weather, you should always take the time to look.
Happy in both sun and partial shade. Best propagated from seed sown fresh in spring; it is unsuitable for division as it only grows on a single stem.
06. Golden Hop
Humulus lupulus “Aureus”
A vigorous, herbaceous climber
Flowering time: September
Some climbers are sedate and well behaved. Roses, for example, can easily be trained to cover a wall or drape themselves insouciantly across a gateway; the clematis is a little wilder, but still malleable; then, at the other end of the scale, there is the Russian vine (Fallopia baldschuanica) – a plant that is capable of colonizing small countries or smothering outlying villages if given the chance.
Somewhere in the middle is the hop: a fast-growing, herbaceous (meaning that it dies back to nothing in winter) climber that can shin up a 5111 (16 ½ ft) tree or along a fence in the space of a season. It is grown for its bright, greenish-yellow leaves and clusters of wafery flowers that hang like chandeliers in late summer.
This plant tends to sucker a bit, so be careful when deciding where to plant it; the plus side is that new plants are easy to make by digging up runners.
07. Torch flower
Kniphofia “Ice Queen”
Flowering time: July-September
To many people the kniphofia family means one thing: red hot pokers. These plants have rather disreputable-looking red tips and pale yellow tails thrusting from tangles of spiky leaves: the sort of plant you either love or despise. So what do you call one that is neither red nor hot?
In the case of Kniphofia “Tee Queen” you could call it a Chic Poker. It may not roll off the tongue as easily, but instead of glowing harlot-scarlet flowers there are modish pokers wearing tasteful frocks of greenish-yellow, and the unsophisticated foliage is swapped for neater, spined leaves. It is a poker more likely to be found taking tea in musical salons than loafing around with disreputable sharks in basement billiard halls.
This plant is easily grown from seed, although its progeny is never exactly like the parents. Divide established clumps in late spring. Be warned that they provide good hiding places for snails.
08. French Lavender
Lavandula stoechas “Tiara”
Flowering time: May-August
Everybody knows about lavender: dark purple- blue, strongly scented and often found in little bags at the back of grandmother’s chest of drawers. Lavandula stoechas “Tiara” is a slightly less hardy relation. The most obvious difference is the coxcomb of cream-green petals that stick vertically upwards (it is sometimes referred to as ‘Bunny Ears’ lavender). Below these protuberances is a chubby, tubular body that is studded with tiny, jewel-like, blue inflorescences that makes it look like a strange, mythical insect. It is a little shorter than other lavenders but should manage to flower twice if you cut it back after the first flush in late May.
Needs shelter from bitter winds and good winter drainage. Propagate from semi-ripe cuttings in summer or from seed sown under glass in spring. Hang in an airing cupboard to dry the flowers.