There are plenty of ways to fill your garden with colour this summer and it need not cost a fortune. If you have a greenhouse, conservatory or a spare sunny windowsill, packets of corms and tubers available from Notcutts now are a great way to start.
As well as making beautiful cut flowers for the house, Gladiolus will add height and a cottage garden feel to the back of a border in a sunny spot and Lilies add a decadent air to pots on the patio. These, along with many others can be safely stored in a cool, frost free place until the time comes to plant them. If your soil is on the heavy side dig in plenty of grit to improve the drainage – I like to sprinkle extra grit or sharp sand over the base of the planting hole and sit the corms directly on top for extra drainage around their roots. Gladiolus will need to be supported with bamboo canes or twigs in all but the most sheltered of spots. Although Gladiolus may overwinter in the ground in mild parts of the country it’s the wet that tends to do for the dormant corms through the winter months and I always buy new, stronger ones each year, varying my colour scheme each time depending on my mood! We have more luck with Lilies in pots and they tend to last for several years if they are tucked away in a dry spot over winter – under a big evergreen or in a rain shadow under a fence or shed are ideal places.
Dahlias are some of my favourite flowers for late summer and autumn colour and there is a bewildering choice available. From the huge ‘cactus’ varieties with their spiky petals to miniature pom-pom flowered types, all are as at home in the cutting garden or grown on an allotment as they are to give colour in a border. The great thing about Dahlias is that the more you pick them, the more they flower and the single flowered varieties, with their fluffy pollen rich centres are a magnet for bees and other insects. Early in the year, the leaves give texture to a herbaceous border and the flowers appear over a long season – just remember to only pick them when they are open as any buds will remain stubbornly closed if picked too soon for the vase.
Dahlia and Begonia tubers can be started now in a frost free greenhouse, conservatory or spare room by ‘planting’ the tubers in shallow trays of peat and covering them completely. Keep them watered sparingly so as not to rot the tubers and once the new shoots are seen protect them from marauding slugs and snails. When the plants are growing strongly they can be potted into bigger containers and grown on before planting in borders towards the end of May for late summer and autumn colour.
Blowsy Begonias are a favourite of mine for summer pots in a shady spot. They are some of the best bedding plants and seem to thrive on neglect once they are planted out and settled in to their summer positions. They need very little water – their succulent leaves act as a reservoir – and they drop their spent flowers so that they do not need to be constantly dead headed like some. They flower almost continuously (the clue is in the name of ‘Non Stop’!) and a few plants will fill a big pot with their mound-like shapes. The trailing varieties are great in baskets on their own – I like to plant three or four of the same colour in a hanging basket for a big splash of colour. The only problem is which to choose!