Euphorbia wulfennii

Spurge

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

These are the granddaddy of the Euphorbia family. It’s one of the most easily recognizable plants with it’s rounded shape, grey leaves and acid lime green flower bracts produced in the late spring/early summer.

The care thing

Prefers a sunny spot. It is very of drought tolerant. Each stem’s biennial so it’s leaves first year, flowers the second. Once flowered cut the stem back to it’s base so you’ll get new, fresh shoots.

The bad thing

It’s milky sap is an irritant. It can sometimes look very big and ugly if squashed into too small a space. Give the plant some room!

Choisya ternata

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

People can be a bit sniffy about Choisya as it’s quite municipal, but that can’t detract from the fact it’s a darn good work horse. If you want bright, green glossy leaves through out the winter, then look no further. I like the delicate white flowers with their sweetfragrance, but perhaps that just shows my lack of sophistication.

The care thing

Prefers a sunny spot although can cope with some shade. What they don’t like is cold winds, so grow against a wall if you live somewhere wild. Prune after flowering. Happy growing in a big pot.

The bad thing

After everything I have said, there is still no denying it is a little on the dull side.

Stipa tenuissima

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

The only excuse for not having some Stipa tenuissima in your garden is that it’s too shady. Otherwise this is such a good all round filler that you’d be mad not to have it. I particularly like it with Guara lindheimer, but really it goes with everything. It’s prettily wafty too, so will add some movement into a border as it sways in the wind.

The care thing

Easy to care for, just needs sun and a free draining soil. Can be grown in a pot. It’s very drought tolerant.

The bad thing

It can be a vigorous self-seeder. Easy though to dig up and give away or compost if you’ve reached saturation point.

Imperata cylindrical Rubra

Blood grass

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

If you manage to plant this Japanese Blood Grass (was there ever a better name?) so that the evening sun lights it from behind, you will have something truly amazing. That fading light is more orange than the morning and it enriches the red of the grass and literally sets it on fire.

The care thing

The perfect spot for it is where it gets full sun in the day so it’s leaves develop a really rich red colour. Like all grasses it needs sun and a free draining soil.

The bad thing

It can look a bit discordant in the border if you’re not careful. It’s greatness is also it’s limitation.

Pittosporum tenuifolium

Hedges and shrubs

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

A really pretty evergreen shrub for a slightly sheltered garden. The leaves are very glossy and their delicate variegation makers a bright choice – many evergreens have very dark leaves and so this is not too dense a presence in the garden. An interesting choice for a hedge as it can be pruned into a very formal shape.

The care thing

Prefers a sunny spot although can cope with some shade. What they don’t like is cold winds, so grow against a wall if you live somewhere where you get very harsh winter weather.

The bad thing

There isn’t anything besides the leaves, no flush of gloriously colourful or fragrant flowers. Just little something-of-nothing white flowers followed by dull brownish-purple berries.

Alchemilla mollis

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

The leaves of this cottage garden darling are a pretty, pale green and they catch rain drops like blobs of mercury. The unusual, frothy yellow flowers make surprisingly pretty cut flowers.

The care thing

It’s tolerant plant that can cope with most conditions. In full sun they will get scorched making the leaves brown and tatty. If this happens, cut back any untidy bits and a whole fresh batch of green will appear.

The Bad thing

It can self-seed so pull up any extra plants you don’t want and deadhead as the flowers fade to stop the seeds from getting a chance to mature and spread.

Nigella damascena

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

This annual is usually grown for it’s bright blue flowers, but for me it’s the feathery leaves that are so interesting. They manage to be really sharp and really soft all at the same time, it’s quite fascinating and add a very interesting shape into the border.

The care thing

You grow Nigella from seed, sow in the autumn or in March. Just scatter with abandon into any gaps. It will flower for about eight weeks.

The bad thing

Devilish self-seeders given half a chance, but they are easy to rip up in great handfuls -and very satisfying it is too.

Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

What a beautiful thing Fennel is, lovely to eat and lovely in the garden. I haven’t ever grown them to eat but only to have their beautiful feathery leaves standing tall and amazing at the back of a border. They are form great plumes, which are unlike anything else. Good grown with Crocosmia whose simple strap leaves provide a great contrast. Fennel’s big yellow plate-like flowers aren’t to be sniffed at either.

The care thing

It likes full sun and then it will romp away.

The bad thing

Can self seed so watch out and cut of flower heads as they fade.

Lavendula ssp.

Lavender

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

As a general rule I think leaves should be green and definitely not silver. The only exceptions to this rule is lavender. Of course the flowers are wonderful and the smell is divine, but the satisfying block of soft, substantial grey is just as good.

The care thing

Needs lots of sun. Prune regularly after flowering to keep the bush neat. Watch out for the silvery green Rosemary Beetles which can devastate a bush.

The bad thing

Can get woody and look very gnarled and ugly. Also, is it ever so slightly like the garden version of Magnolia paint?

Matteuccia struthiopteris

Shuttlecock fern

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

An absolutely fantastic fern which can reach up to a meter or more with its very pretty, fresh green fronds. The common name of Shuttlecock is very apt, for this is just the way the plant grows, making it neat yet majestic.

The care thing

Can cope with a very shady spot and a damp one. Don’t plant in too much sun otherwise the fronds will dry out and frazzle. Generally pest and disease free. Just cut back any untidy fronds to keep plant looking clean and fresh. It will die down in the winter but reappears the following spring.

The bad thing

No flowers, no colour, not for those who like a bit of gaudy. (me)

Aloysia citrodora

Lemon verbena

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

The fragrance of these leaves has to be smelt to be believed, it’s so deliciously pungent, it’s like the garden worlds version of freshly ground coffee. The plant itself can get rather tall and straggly, but I can forgive it anything. You can make wonderful cordials and even ice cream with it.

The care thing

It likes a lot of sun. Ideally, mulch in the autumn to protect the roots.

The bad thing

I haven’t had this, but apparently it likes being on clay soils and can get quite invasive if it’s too happy. I have only found it gets rather leggy, so cut back in the Spring

Thymus vulgaris

Thyme

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

What’s not to love about thyme – it’s got sweet little neat leaves and dinky flowers, it makes a nice rounded dense shape and it has leaves you can cook with. It’s an evergreen so pretty in window boxes and pots. Bees and butterflies love it.

The care thing

Likes sun and a free draining soil. Will happily grow in a pot or window box. Cut back hard once it has finished flowering to keep it neat and tidy.

The bad thing

Can get woody and old if not regularly pruned.

Phormium tenax

New Zealand Flax

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

If you want something strident go for a Phormium, it’s a fan of stiff blades that can reach up to 4m high. (There are smaller ones that only reach up to 1m.)

The care thing

Pretty low maintenance. Just needs a sunny site and well drained soil. Perfectly happy growing in a pot. Trim off the leaves as they become tattered and torn.

The bad thing

There isn’t much delicacy about them which means they can look like a big lumpen block and if you don’t keep up with cutting out the leaves as they fade then they look like a big blocks of untidy.

Melianthus major

Honey bush

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

Working in my first garden centre the plant buyer went wild about finding some Melianthus major for sale. It was so rare that she quite lost her head. I’ve never forgotten that and even if it’s more common now, for me it’s lost none of it’s mystique. The leaves are a pretty soft glaucus, green and are very sharply toothed. It only flowers in really hot summers – which is lucky as they aren’t very pretty.

The care thing

Needs sun and a well drained soil. It’s also half hardy which means it needs winter protection in most of the country.

The bad thing

It can be quite monstrous if left unchecked – reaching 3m tall and a ungainly 3m at that. Cut it back in early spring. The plant will grow 1.5m in one season.

Cercis Forest Pansy

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

I have one of these trees in my garden which I love almost as much as my dog. It’s such apretty shaped tree – wide, spreading and not too tall. (It says in books it grows to 10m butI’ve had mine for ten years and it’s only just 2m). The leaves are dark purple hearts that shine as the sun reflects through them.

The care thing

Great autumn colour. Can be grown in a pot. Needs a sunny spot.

The bad thing

It has small, nasty pink flowers early in the season. They look horrible but are over quickly and we must all have one failing, mustn’t we?

Rosa glauca

R.rubrifolia

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

So often it’s the loud and showy that get all the attention and it’s no different in the plant world. However, pause for a moment and look away from the big, fat juicy roses and takea look at this lovely delicate creature. The flowers are so understated and beautiful but it’s really the glaucus-grey leaves that are truly wonderful.

The care thing

Like all roses it needs sun and mulch with well rotted manure to the soil in the autumn.It’s often grown as a hedge. Prune in late summer after flowering has finished.

The bad thing

It isn’t fragrant.

Thalictrum rochebruneanum

Meadow Rue

Words & Pictures: Lucy Masters

Thalictrum can quite easily be over looked in a garden, which is a shame as they are surprisingly lovely. The leaves are a soft green colour and are like delicate ferns held on thin, dark stems. Two words to describe them would be pretty and fresh.

The care thing

Best in dappled shade. Likes a good fertile soil so mulch with manure in the autumn.

The bad thing

Tends to flop about so will need staking. The flowers are slightly mad puffy pompoms and are in colours I think are a little odd – mauve or yellow. However, I just cut them off and stick with the leaves.