I’ve just finished reading Gardener’s World Magazine and was inspired by Carol Klein‘s article recommending her favourite plants for colour in each month of the year. I was struck by her description of plants being stalwarts of a particular time of year. Describing a plant as a stalwart means they should be loyal, reliable, and hard-working. `Every garden needs its stalwarts, and if they’re woven through the gardening year, then there is always something to excite your interest, a plant to celebrate for its flowers, foliage, berries and scent.’
Today I decided to reflect on our current garden and decide what are my seasonal stalwarts, selecting my 12 must-have plants.
Primula vulgaris (Primroses)
I agree with Carol describing the native primrose as the epitome of Spring. The pretty pale yellow flowers are less brash than the vibrant daffodil which is said to herald Spring. I was a romantic dreamer as a child and dreamt of having primroses in my bridal bouquet. They are too delicate and the stems are too small for a bouquet, but they do look wonderful in a small posy vase.
I chose Lunaria as I felt this plant is a true stalwart. I grow Honesty for the pretty Spring mauve and white flowers, but also for the seed pods. These are papery, translucent discs which can be dried and used in Winter arrangements. I must remember to sow more seeds at the right time as Honesty is a biennial plant. Biennials grown for flowers, fruits, or seeds need to be grown for two years as they take two years to complete their biological life cycle. I tend to find I forget and then get a year without flowers and seedpods.
I debated between including narcissi, tulips or alliums as my third seasonal Spring stalwart. Tulips are my favourites, but I decided alliums were more useful so they won. I find them quite easy to grow as I just plant the bulbs and wait for Spring. To make them more perennial, bulbs should be planted deeply, at least twice the depth of the bulb. I loved the planting colour scheme I spotted at RHS Wisley combining purple allium with lime green Euphorbia. Alliums are related to the onion so add a drop of bleach to the water to minimise the oniony smell or change the water regularly when arranging. They will look good for up to 2 weeks without rearranging.
Nectaroscordum siculum is a wonderful allium which has cascades of white or cream pendulous, bell-shaped flowers, flushed pink. These flowers are a true bee magnet.
I dried allium seed heads and then sprayed them gold for Christmas decorations.
I love Alchemilla and I used this frothy, lime-green foliage a lot last year. It is a great foliage filler for cut flower arrangements. One of my gardening contacts wanted me to dig it all up as she regarded it as a weed!
Other foliage I considered including was Bupleurum. I agree with Benjamin Ranyard from Higgledy Garden `Bupleurum is a particularly useful plant in the cut flower world…it adds a lightness and a ‘zinngyness’ to almost all arrangements.’ Alchemilla and Bupleurum can both be used to add lime green zing.
Astrantia is a dainty perennial which I admired at RHS Chelsea Flower Show exhibited by Letham Plants last year. The flowers aren’t big focal, show stoppers, but provide a beautiful supporting role. With their parchment like dainty petals and pin-cushion centre they look wonderful in bouquets and also have a long vase life.
I did a couple of weeks work experience with the wonderful team at Arcade Flowers last year and I saw Astrantia was put to good use in their Bridal Bouquets, adding pretty texture.
My selection of seasonal stalwarts includes a few `fancy pants’ show stoppers. However I have tried to to include reliable easy to grow plants which need little work. The poppy family are so easy. I have quite a few different types from our common native cornfield poppy to perennial ornamental poppies.
Patty’s Plum is an oriental poppy with deep frilly reddish-purple flowers in early summer. The silky, pleated petals of this popular variety have been compared to the faded silk of antique ball gowns.
I have another peachy, pink oriental poppy which has enormous flowers and is much admired by the neighbours as they walk past. I had to decide whether I really could call this perennial poppy a stalwart as her beauty is fleeting and ephemeral. However I save the seedpods of my poppies and use green in Summer arrangements and dry the seedpods for Winter designs. For this reason I decided to leave out peonies and include poppies. A hard choice as I do love a big, blousy peony!
There are so many flowers to choose from for High Summer. I just had to include garden roses as I love them. I don’t like cheap mass produced supermarket roses which have no scent and don’t open out. I had the pleasure of bringing a garden back to life last year. My customer was no longer able to do her garden due to mobility. However the garden had been hers for over fifty years and some of the roses were already in situ when she moved there. It was a humbling experience to get the garden under control and enable the owner to continue to enjoy her roses. At the end of my gardening session I would pick a bunch of her best flowers and place in her vase to enjoy the coming week. I’m not sure who got the most enjoyment out of the experience!
I have over twenty varieties of rose in my garden and know them all by name like children. I must admit they don’t last ages in a vase, but a few choice scented blooms lift my spirit when I see them in a pretty vase on the breakfast table.
Cosmos is very easy to grow from seed producing generous quantities of flowers from white…through to pale pinks and magenta. The stems are perfect for cutting and keep producing flowers as you cut more. I’ve even saved the seed and sown more the next year so they are true stalwarts of the Cutting Patch. Bees love cosmos too.
Dahlia’s used to have some what of an old-fashioned image, but they have come back into vogue and I am thankful. There is truly a dahlia for everyone’s taste. They range in shape and size and there is a magnificent array of colours from pastels to vibrant reds. Dahlias make excellent cut flowers and bloom from July until the late frosts. Last year I had dahlias in flower in November!
I bought the individual stained glass vases from Sarah Raven and I love the jolly range of colours.
I am in complete agreement with Carol Klein. Rudbeckia is such a useful Autumnal perennial as it flowers for months, particularly if we have an Indian Summer. I planted Helenium and Rudbeckia and the Helenium have disappeared, but my Rudbeckia plant is going from strength to strength. I love the bright golden colour. It really does brighten up the garden.
Hellebores (sometimes known as the Christmas or Lenten rose) are useful perennial garden plants with elegant flowers in late winter and Early Spring. They are the stalwarts of the garden when little else is in bloom.
For me the dainty white snowdrop symbolises the start of the new gardening year and the warmer weather to come. Simply beautiful.
It was a hard decision to decide on just twelve `seasonal stalwarts’. I have included some of Carol Klein’s favourites, but not all of them. I’d love to know which twelve must-have plants you would include.