Top Ten Garden Plants: part one
Do you have a favourite plant? Lots of people do. Perhaps it’s romantic, scented roses or maybe you’re a galanthophile with an impressive collection of different types of snowdrops. Maybe you have a soft spot for hydrangeas or it’s the fleeting flowers of poppies that speak to your soul. For me, there’s no one plant that shines above all others, as each season brings too many fabulous candidates for me to single any out. However, there are a handful of plants that I can gather together as a top ten, a go-to list of plants that have star qualities; plants that I’d always find space for, wherever I gardened.
Snowdrops: these are a bit of an obvious choice, I know, but I honestly can’t imagine a garden without them. The dainty white, nodding flowers have an understated elegant beauty and when they’ve been allowed to colonise a large area so that they form a white carpet they make a spectacular sight. However, for me, it’s the sense of hope these little flowers embody that makes them such an important garden flower – their emergence in late winter signifies the move towards longer days and better weather. In January, I’ll scour the garden, looking for signs of them appearing, and the first sighting of their green buds pushing through is a real tonic.
Hellebores: if I could grow only one spring flower it would be hellebores. They are easy to grow, their flowers start to push up above ground in late January, and they have an exceptionally long flowering period compared with other plants at this time of year, blooming until May. Most importantly, though, they are exquisitely beautiful. Plant breeders have created a fabulous range of cultivars – there are single flowers, semi-doubles and fabulous frilly doubles with multiple rows of petals. Colours include smoky purple, pale yellow, dusky pink, cream and white; some are plain-coloured, while others are speckled.
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’: I love hydrangeas but I find many of them tricky to incorporate into a garden border alongside perennials. That’s not the case, however, with this superb shrub. It grows to a manageable height and spread of 1.5m (5ft), it can be easily pruned and provides interest from midsummer right through winter. Each flower head is a panicle of closely held individual flowers, initially in a zingy lime green before fading to creamy white. As summer moves into autumn the flowers take on shades of pink and as they mature, the flowers dry on the plant, forming striking papery skeletal structures, which look fabulous throughout winter in the low light and covered in frost.
Tulips: I’ll admit that planting bulbs is one of my least favourite garden jobs; all that back-breaking and knee-aching bending and crouching, but I remind myself it’s worth it, particularly if I plant plenty of tulips. The sheer exuberance of the kaleidoscopic range of colours is just what’s needed after a long winter. There are tulips in pretty pastel shades, but I prefer something more vibrant – purples, crimsons and rich oranges mixed with softer pinks and apricot shades.
Erigeron karvinskianus: also known as Mexican fleabane, this perennial plant makes loose mounds of foliage and is smothered in small daisies, creating a lovely froth of flowers. It does have a downside as it self-seeds with abandon, appearing in cracks and crevices in my garden paths, but I forgive it because it flowers continuously from May to November and is happy growing in tricky spots. I have a small gap in some paving by my front door where very little will grow because it’s north-facing and the soil is poor and dry; this little erigeron, however, thrives there.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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