Plant of the Month – May and June

Back by popular demand – or maybe hierarchical command!

For a job that’s supposed to be such therapy, so nice, so calming, I’ve known a surprising amount of gardeners who are overwhelmed by mid summer and become as frazzled as their lawn in a July heatwave. It’s been a busy few months here as well – lots of weeding, lots of mowing, much tea pouring so it helps to have some plants that you can ignore and yet they still do their stuff.

I was reading through an old email recently which read ‘The snowdrops and aconites have just started which look very nice next to the Fuchsia microphyla and geums that are out as well!’ This was written on January 10th and the geum mentioned is ‘Prinses Juliana’. Well, 8 months later she’s still looking very nice and sending up new stalks that will give us atleast another month of flower. I’ve grown it before and it is always a good do-er even though it has been under a tree both times and in soil that is drier than it would prefer. As a chiloense hybrid (like Mrs J Bradshaw and Lady Stratheden’) it requires less moisture than those descended from rivale or coccineum such as ‘Bell Bank’ or ‘Marmalade’. These geums demand a decent amount of water, flake if they don’t get it and need dividing every 3 years or they’ll stop flowering – then when you do divide them they wilt because you’ve disturbed their roots. Such divas!
‘Prinses Juliana’ is orange. Unapologetically so. Clear, sharp orange, like the Dutch flag. I never understand people who dislike a certain colour, especially orange. It is so useful as a contrast (we’ve just put Agapanthus ‘Navy Blue’ next to her) and very good at perking up the moody, dusty colours that are so popular – Sedum ‘Matrona’, the dusky red sanguisorbas, Pennisetum ‘Red Buttons’. Some times it can seem that you are looking at a border through a sandstorm.
Care? Dollop of compost over the winter, sprinkle of Gro-more in the Spring, best of luck for the rest of the year. The 2′ stems have a way of falling forward when they have finished flowering. So I mow them off when they fall over the grass in my usual kamikaze way – I take no prisoners.

A plant we’ve been waiting to see perform for 3 summers now has finally flowered. Perhaps it got the message after I started walking up and down in front of it with a spade and a malicious look in my eye. Or perhaps it has to get large first. We planted 2 new Cortaderia richardii to replace an Ampelodesmos mauritanica that succumbed to the big freeze 3 winters ago. We decided 1 wouldn’t be enough, it’s in a big border and we appreciate a bit of excess. We thought we had planted big, but nothing happened except they got bigger. Year 2, bigger still. Year 3, an eruption of 30 8′ stems of elegant, draping grass flowers. I had expected a few years of 3 or 4 flowers building up to its mature state but no, it’s an all or nothing plant, which is how most people look at a pampas grass I suppose, love ’em or hate ’em. Richardii, however, is far more elegant, doesn’t rip you to shreds if you walk too close to it and starts flowering in June, that’s 3 months earlier than Cortaderia selloana. Cortaderia richardii is a lovely thing and proves that grasses aren’t just for Autumn.

So, that’s 2 plants that look after themselves and give you no trouble. This gives you plenty of time to deal with the prima donnas of the garden – I’m off to butcher (oops, clip nicely) a box hedge or fifteen. . . . .

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Geum 'Prinses Juliana' in bottom right hand corner

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Cortaderia richardii in its first flowering!

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