Top summer colour

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Pentas lanceolata

Last week, I participated in a lively group discussion about the best perennials and shrubby perennials for summer colour in Sydney gardens. It was surprising how much consensus there was on the topic, despite the variety of gardening styles amongst the group. One of the most commonly mentioned plants was Pentas lanceolata (ht to 1 m). This shrubby perennial flowers seemingly indefatigably from late spring until the end of autumn, with dainty posies of starry blooms in colours ranging from white, pinks, purple, mauve and reds. In recent years, dwarf cultivars have been promoted but they don't have the presence or vigour of the traditional taller sorts, and tend to die after one season, whereas the taller ones last several years. After three years or so, they do become quite woody and new plants should be propagated by cuttings, which strike fairly easily.

Salvia Wendys Wish

Salvia plants were mentioned by many as a good source of long-lasting summer colour. The cultivar 'Wendy's Wish' (ht 80 cm) is a firm favourite of many Sydney gardeners for its reliable cerise flowers. Like Pentas, it seems to exhaust itself after a couple of years and needs to be replaced but it will have given much during its lifespan. The compact Salvia microphylla and Salvia greggii cultivars are also excellent summer flowerers. Many of the larger Salvia don't really come into their own until early autumn.

Bedding Begonia in the garden of Julia Price in Sydney

Cane and shrub-like Begonia plants are firm favourites of our garden group, as cuttings have been generously shared by several very keen Begonia growers over the years. These plants are bloom from late spring until the very end of autumn and are particularly stunning at the moment. They are excellent for dry, shady spots, though many (if not all) cane types can also grow in full sun as well. Bedding Begonia are also very tough plants for Sydney, in sun or shade, including very dry spots and containers.

Geranium Rozanne

The purple coneflowers - Echinacea purpurea - are very floriferous during summer, individual blooms lasting for many weeks. There are a number of different colours of these flowers apart from purple available nowadays. Another good herbaceous perennial for summer borders in Sydney gardens is the perennial Phlox. It has clusters of lovely blooms in colours of white, pinks, cerise, red, purples and blue, and will rebloom if deadheaded after the first flush. Both of these plants do best in sun, though the Phlox can cope with a little shade. The gorgeous Geranium cultivar 'Rozanne' (which last year was voted as the UK Royal Horticultural Society's 'Plant of the Century'), is agreed by many of our group to be the best of its type for Sydney gardens.

Canna and Dahlia hybrids are stars of many summer gardens in Sydney, flowering over a very long period, especially if deadheaded on a regular basis. They give a flamboyant tropical style and can be had in myriad flower colours as well as varieties with interesting foliage. Tough Fuchsia hybrids bloom for months in Sydney gardens - not all cultivars are robust, but our group swaps cuttings of the good ones, including 'Ambassador', 'Pixie' and 'Joy Patmore', which all grow well in garden beds. Fuchsia magellanica is also an excellent plant for Sydney.

Foliage plants that provide wonderful colour through our steamy summer months include the many and varied coleus plants (most survive through winter and come good again in spring), the freckle-face or polka-dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya), vibrantly hued Iresine cultivars and silvery Plectranthus argentatus.