Antirrhinum majus “Night and Day”
Flowering time: July-October
To a child these plants hold almost as much fascination as feeding flies to Venus flytraps. The flower resembles the rearing head of a dragon, and if you squeeze each side of it the dragon’s mouth opens and closes. Not exactly a snap, more of a toothless chomp, but still fascinating to a four-year-old – and it could be the starting point for a lifetime’s passion for gardening. If you are going to plant snapdragons, then plant plenty – there’s nothing more dramatic than the sight of a sea of blood red lapping around the feet of shrubs in a mixed border or lots and lots in pots. In the official Royal Horticultural Society’ guide this plant is described as having a “hairy palate”, which is perhaps not something one would wish upon anybody.
Sow seed under glass any time from August to April. Even if they survive the winter (which they can in some sheltered places), it is best to start again each year with new plants.
Carina pfitzer “Salmon Pink”
Flowering time: July-October
Cannas tend to satisfy the longing for the tropics that many of us have. As we Brits sit at home in August watching the rain lash down on our gardens and ruin the barbecues we had planned, we can at least take a little comfort from the fact that in any short, sunny interval we can admire the majestic, slightly purple leaves of these plants. It is this dramatic foliage that takes us away to a distant land of dense jungle, skittering macaws and ripe paw-paws falling from the trees.
This canna, “Salmon Pink”, has very large pink flowers that tumble from reddish buds. Only growing to about lm (3½ ft) high (there are other, taller, varieties as well), it is best planted en masse with other equally exotic plants, such as ginger lilies (Hedychium) bananas (Musa basjoo) or hardy palm trees.
Rhizomes should be dug up after the first frosts and stored under cover. You can propagate from these by cutting them into short sections in spring, ensuring that each piece has a decent bud.
Dianthus “Lady in Red”
Flowering time: June-July
Rather like the Chris de Burgh song of the same name, the dianthus is a bit out of fashion. It has been in our gardens for ages (in a seventeenth- century book John Parkinson lists over sixty different garden species), but for some reason it seems to have slipped out of favor. It will be back, though, because its delicate grey foliage and flamboyantly frilled petals make it irresistible.
Pinks come in so many colors that everybody can find one to love (although, as always happens with plants that are easy to hybridize, there are also some pretty hideous confections out there). But their best point is their scent; a mixture of clove and honeycomb with just a splash of lemon.
Get one you really like and you can easily propagate it by removing non-flowering shoots in summer and potting them into good-quality, well-drained compost. Deadhead regularly to prevent plants becoming straggly and to ensure long flowering.
Gloxinia “Glory Mixed”
Flowering time: July-October
It is always a little alarming to see such a striking flower at quite such close quarters. Viewed from a few feet above, the gloxinia is startling, but it is only by getting up close and personal that we understand the full glories of any plant.
The velvet red of this gloxinia is the color and texture of one of Violet Elisabeth Bott’s (you remember Miss Bott – from the Just William stories) more eye-catching party dresses, with ruffled white edges to each petal. In the center the stamens twist like a lightbulb filament – as if this flower needed to be any brighter. The leaves are dark, bluey-green and feel very slightly fuzzy to the touch.
Gloxinias are very tender, so they are really only suitable for growing in pots kept in a greenhouse or conservatory. Water them freely during the growing season and let them dry off in autumn. Keep out of direct sunlight in summer.
Knautia macedonica “Crimson Cushion”
Flowering time: June-October
This plant is like the perfect boyfriend and ticks all the right boxes. He will be polite and charming to your mother; he is immaculately turned out with deep burgundy, button flowers and narrow pea-green leaves; he is strong growing and only occasionally needs physical support, and his flowers are long-lasting, not at all smelly, unfailingly generous and never, ever late. Even better, when it is all over there are no recriminations and flying crockery, instead he fades gently away.
As the red petals fall like heartbroken tears, a beautiful, frog-green seedhead is revealed. Knautia macedonica “Crimson Cushion” is fully hardy so it will last as long as you want it to, and because it reaches about 72 cm (28 m) high, it is invaluable in any mixed border. There are hardly any disadvantages to growing this plant – unless you are terribly jealous and possessive, as it is highly attractive to bees.
In good soil this plant will self-seed abundantly, but if it doesn’t you can propagate from basal cuttings or sow seed in spring.
06. Oriental Poppy
Papaver orientate “Türkenlouis”
Flowering time: May
This is one of the most exciting of the oriental poppies. I know it might seem a bit sad to get over-agitated about a poppy, but just look at it: an enormous, smiling-face that’s about the size of a bright red saucer. Not just any red, but a red that is the color of a Beefeater’s waistcoat or the throbbing breast of a lovesick robin.
Amongst all this rubicund extravagance is a dark center that is surrounded by a tight wig of black stamens. And then, just when you thought your heart would burst, it comes to your rapt attention that each perfect petal of this plant is fringed like the shawl of a fortune-teller. Aaaaah.
Oriental poppies will sprout easily from root cuttings: just trim off pieces of fleshy root each about the thickness of a pencil and cut into 5 cm (2 in) lengths, then pot them up.
Rosa “Peter Beales”
Flowering time: June-September
If you were ever to find yourself hang-gliding at dusk across the mouth of a volcano and happened to look down, then the sight that greeted you would be very similar to that of this flower. It has a crinoline of slightly ragged, velvet petals that are the color of bubbling scarlet sunsets surrounding a glowing halo of molten gold.
“Peter Beales” is a short rose – reaching only about 90 cm (3 ft) high – so it is best grown in a container or as a low hedge, but what it lacks in stature it makes up for in attitude. It has a deep, fruity scent and an incredibly long flowering time. This rose was discovered in America only a few years ago and is named after the great Norfolk rose grower.
Roses are easier to propagate than you might think; they will not come true from seed, but they will grow easily from healthy hardwood cuttings taken in late autumn.
Salvia elegans “Tangerine”
Flowering time: September-October
It may seem a little strange that a plant whose striking flowers are, in anybody’s book, as red as traffic lights managed to be named after an orange. Perhaps the plant breeder was color-blind, or a little unfamiliar with some members of the citrus family?
The flowers of Salvia elegans “Tangerine” are the shape of long, fanfaring trumpets – closer to bananas than tangerines. But pick a leaf, crush it and there is a distinct orangey scent (rather like the better-known pineapple sage).
In colder areas this 90 cm (3 ft) high shrub may never flower as it needs a lot of sunshine, in which case you may have to be satisfied with the leaves. That said, these leaves add a bit of extra texture and scent to fruit salads and cocktails.
This salvia is tender, so to avoid losing such a spectacular plant, bring it undercover in winter and take semi-ripe cuttings in autumn.