This seems to be the time of year when awards are handed out to movie stars and so on, so I decided to look at my garden to see which plants I could give accolades to - for being the longest bloomers through the year. Since last January, I have been recording what is in flower in my garden every month - as can be seen in the 'What's out in my garden' feature of this website. Call it obsessive-compulsive, but the resultant data has been fascinating (to me, at least) and I now have some evidence for choosing plants that have the most flower power in our Sydney climate.
Whilst it is wonderful to have flowers that truly signify each of the seasons, which I look forward to keenly every year - such as the first jonquils and Daphne of winter, the Freesia of late winter/early spring and the Jacaranda of late spring, it is instructive to know the plants that are in bloom for an extended period, as these give continuity and ensure colour in our gardens, and really earn their keep, especially where space is at a premium.
I was amazed to find that several plants were actually in bloom all year - the scarlet Salvia splendens (regarded by many gardeners as an annual, but I find that self-sown seedlings turn into small shrubs that last for several years and flower in sun or shade); the dramatic angel's trumpets Brugmansia species (which have flushes of flower in every month: I have a white and an orange/yellow one, shaped like trees by developing a trunk early on in their lives); the so-called shrimp plant Justicia brandegeeana (with its lime-yellow or brownish-red long bracts); the dainty cigarette plant (Cuphea ignea) with its tiny orange tubular flowers; shrubby Euryops chrysanthemoides (never without some of its golden daisies); and a perennial Ageratum houstonianum (which has fluffy pale blue flowers and winds through a border). With all these plants, I trim bits of them off every so often to try to keep the shapely and thus avoid having to do a major prune.
In flower for 11 months is a lovely hot pink Dianthus (species unknown) which I was given many years ago. It is only not in bloom in September because I hack it back hard in late August to keep it compact. The same applies to the lightweight climber Manettia, which has a profusion of tiny red and yellow tubular flowers the rest of the year. I like to have it twining through other plants in the border, as it doesn't do any harm and somehow reminds me of a string of tiny lights on a Christmas tree.
Two of my shrubby Salvia flower for 10 months of the year: the burgundy Salvia 'Van Houttei' (which grows in sun or shade) and the slim-spired cerise Salvia chiapensis. These are usually pretty ratty by the end of winter so I cut them back very hard and they start to flower again in October, but possibly progressive pruning throughout the year might enable them to be in flower in every month.
Some other Salvia flower for nine months in the year: the brilliant blue Salvia guaranitica Large Form; the dark blue Salvia 'Indigo Spires', the sultry navy blue Salvia discolour and the bright blue Salvia 'Costa Rica Blue', which has a rest over the summer months. The Chinese lantern shrubs (Abutilon) also flower for nine months, also having a natural break over the summer months. The pretty self-seeder Linaria purpurea carries on for eight months, as does the fragrant sub-shrub Heliotropium arborescens.
A number of others - Dahlia hybrids, Pentas lanceolata, cane-stemmed Begonia, Amaranthus caudatus, Nicotiana langsdorffii, Nicotiana mutabilis and Justicia carnea - bloomed for seven months in my garden last year, which is pretty good going. Many other plants bloomed for between three and six months - not to be sneezed at! The flowering months for all the plants in my Plant Reference can now be seen beneath the plant information.
We are so fortunate to live in a climate that allows all these flowers to give us such a prolonged display. All are easy plants to grow; however, regular deadheading really does help to prolong the blooming period, as does the occasional application of fertiliser.
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