Friday, June 14, 2024
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Bedding in pure growth

As someone who for many years made their living by growing bedding plants, it is sad to see this once ubiquitous gardening method almost passing out of favour.

Even plants that were once so commonplace they were regarded as passé by “serious” gardeners – think marigolds and petunias – are now almost on the endangered list.

So, how delightful it was to visit a suburban Masterton garden this week that was chock-a-block with vibrance of colour, partly by dint of a lot of petunias, growing in garden beds, pots and other containers. There was a great range of colours, and different types, from the large-flowered ‘grandiflora’ types, to the smaller ‘multiflora’ varieties, with smaller flowers but more of them. There were even a few double varieties.

These were all annual varieties, not the more expensive tissue-grown cultivars with unusual colours, such as starred bi-colours and even orange. They ranged in colour from white and pastel shades though to deep purple and bright red. There were a few with the delicious fragrance that some varieties possess.

But as bright as these lovely plants were, they were not the floral highlight, that place being taken up by a bright clump of rose mallows, Lavatera ‘Beauty Mix’, with a lovely mix of white and various shades of pink on strongly growing bushy plants.

Lavatera flowers are hibiscus-like, shining silky confections, usually in brilliant white, or soft to mid pink. This is a lovely plant for the garden, but is another that is seldom grown today. Once established, you can easily keep it going by saving the seed each season, or alternatively just letting it seed down. It prefers well-drained soil in full sun, and perhaps a little protection from the worst of the westerly, as it can topple over a little as it gets older and taller.

Growing at the back of this sumptuous clump of annual Lavatera was the shrubby cultivar. ‘Barnsley’. This is a fast-growing plant that can easily get over two metres in a season and has amazing crops of flowers that open white with a deeper centre, then deepen to light pink as they age.

This plant was enormously popular a few years back, but as the fashion for “cottage gardens” fell away, so did this plant. It is well worth growing but needs a little bit of care, as it can easily get away in growth. A good trimming in early spring will help it perform better. It tends not to be very long-lived – perhaps up to ten years or so – but will grow from cuttings.

“Barnsley’ is a periclinal chimaera, meaning it is a sport with two different genotypes. Although it is reasonably stable, it does have a tendency to revert back to the hybrid it derives from, ‘Rosea’. This is more vigorous, and the flowers are deeper pink, and [in my opinion] nowhere near as attractive.

There is another great attribute to all these lavatera – bees love them, and they also attract butterflies.

During this early part of summer, I have noticed another mallow family member is having a great flowering season, in this case one with some geographic confusion when it comes to its common name. Although it is sometimes called “Indian mallow”, it is more commonly known as “Chinese lantern”, due to the pendulous shape of the flowers, and their slightly papery texture.

These are probably not in the first order of treasured plants, but they are valuable fillers in the shrubbery, with dense maple-like foliage that is attractive year-round. At this time of the year, they push out a stream of brightly coloured flowers, often in the red, orange or yellow spectrum, although there are attractive white forms too. One of those I like the most is ‘White Gold’, so named because of the bright golden stamen in the centre of the flower.

For those of you who like dwarf plants, the new ‘Lucky Lantern’ series will be very appealing, with plants that only grow about 60cm high, with a similar girth. The flower size is not diminished, so these little plants are very attractive when in flower. Like most abutilons, they prefer full sun and good drainage, but these smaller versions will; also perform very well in containers. Just remember to keep the water up to them.

If you like something that’s just a little different you could go for the more unusual abutilon species, A. megapotamicum. This is a slender growing Brazilian, with smaller hanging bell flowers. In this case, they are yellow, but with prominent red calyces and burgundy coloured anthers that start in summer and carry on through until the first frosts. This is a stunning conversation piece.

There is a variegated form of this plant, which is probably better suited to the conservatory, or perhaps for growing inside.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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