Geum ‘Princes Juliana’

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

I really, really, really love this plant. It is something about the screaming orange flowers that excites me more than is strictly decent. I spend a lot of time sneaking them into clients’ gardens, especially those clients who specifically say, “I don’t like orange”. (Nobody has complained yet!)

There are three main geums. In order of grandeur there is ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ (who is red), ‘Lady Stratheden’ (yellow) and this one. (There are, of course others but that is a pretty good start.)

If you are nervous of orange flowers, plant them with blue. The colours complement each other perfectly.

Good things

Long flowering (a burst in about May and then occasionally through the summer). Scrambles a little through neighbouring shrubs.

Bad things

Can get smothered by overenthusiastic neighbours.

Papaver 'Pattys plum'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Discovered, I believe, on a compost heap somewhere in the South West where a random seedling had germinated. Not just any seedling but one of such unique delicacy and colour that it has become extraordinarily popular. Goes brilliantly with roses.

Good things

Easy to grow given some sunshine and a decent soil.

Bad things

They die really badly. Do not be tempted by the seedheads. Cut back to the ground the minute it finishes flowering, If you do this it will soon grow fresh new foliage. Propagate: By root cuttings in autumn or division in spring.

Achillea 'Walter Funcke'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Not to be confused with the early twentieth century German welterweight boxer this is a very handsome yarrow. The flat rusty orange flowerheads fade as they age (don’t we all) to a dusty yellow colour. Good architectural,shape, goes really well with grasses and deep blue Salvias. About 60cm high and 60cm spread

Good things

Staggeringly good strong colour and great foliage.

Bad things

Named after Achilles which is appropriate as they live a relatively short but heroic life. Be prepared to propagate some new ones every couple of years. Propagate: Divide a small piece during growing season.

Allium Christophii

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

One of the larger headed alliums. A great sphere of five pointed star shaped petals each interlocking and jostling like queuing bees supported on a necessarily stocky stem about 30cm high. Goes really well with Lavender (L. Hidcote if you pushed me) and some grasses (Anemanthele leesoniana or Carex testacea). The common name is Star of Persia which sounds suitably exotic.

Good things

Wonderfully skeletal seed head that dries well and is great in flower arrangements or can be left in borders as winter architecture.

Bad things

In spite of the spectacular seed heads, like many alliums, this tends to self seed in a rather profligate and ill-mannered way. A minor inconvenience best sorted by vigorous hoeing.

Geranium 'Ann Folkard'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

A strange combination of greeny yellowy foliage and pink flowers. A no-no in any taste and style handbook yet oddly enchanting. The flower has a black centre (inherited from one of its parents, the magnificent Geranium psilostemon) and goes on for weeks. It also scrambles happily through neighbouring plants.

Good things

Can be used as a low herbaceous climber reaching up to about one metre.

Bad things

The fastidious may dismiss it as a touch scruffy.

Propagate

By division in spring or autumn.

Thalictrum rochebruneanum

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

If, one day, the garden was simultaneous struck by hurricane, frost, earthquake and a whistle stop tour by all four Horsemen of the Apocalypse then this is the plant I would rush out to try and save. All thalictrum are lovely but this one pips the others to my heart. It is something about the plump buds which look a bit like tiny, very camp pumpkins to the perfect starburst of yellow anthers.

Good things

Can cope with a bit of shade, is tall (1.8m) and has wonderfully delicate foliage.

Bad things

I won’t have a bad word said about it in my hearing.

Heuchera 'Maureen Iddon'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Most heuchera are hideous. I know that by saying that I am laying myself open to violent affray and the muttered threats of a thousand gardeners but the sort of caramelly, bile-green, frilly-leaved things are truly unacceptable. There, I have said it now.

There are two good heucheras. The straightforward Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and this one which is tall and willowy where other heucheras are dumpy and coarse.

Here it is growing through the deliciously named grass Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Bronzeschleier’ or ‘Bronze Veil’. On a side note, I used to have a particularly fine specimen of this grass, or at least it was fine until a horde of puppies decided it would make a comfortable bed.

Good things

Very slightly variegated leaves and tall (1.2m) flowers.

Bad things

Difficult to find.

Nectaroscordum siculum

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

This used to be an allium, Allium bulgaricum if I remember rightly, but it fell into the clutches of the taxonomists and was drummed out of the ranks of alliums and made to stand on its own in the corner. It is very happy there and is excellent not only in borders but in the wider world.

There are three distinct and wonderful phases in this plant’s life. Firstly a tightly sealed bud that gets more and more transparent as the flowers within begin to swell. Then comes an eruption of hanging flowers (best viewed from below) and, finally, as the flowers fade to seed heads, they transform again into desiccated papery uprights.

Good things

Drop dead lovely. Tall and thin so look good growing through other plants.

Bad things

Can get lost in a flat border. Need some support from either stakes or neighbouring plants. Smell of onion so bad for vases.

Propagate

By splitting the bulbs in the summer. Will sometimes self seed.

Paeonia 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

The peony is one of the great romantics. Big and blousy they produce a great effervescence of petal and pinkness like tumbling a giggling courtesan in a huge feather bed. This one is named after the great actress* and is an essential part of the classic English herbaceous border.

*Apart from having a peony named after her, Sarah Bernhardt is also notable for sleeping in a coffin, having affairs with princes and acting with one leg after her right one was amputated in 1905. She also played Hamlet in one of the first talking pictures.

Good things

If the sun shines nothing could be more perfect but in a wet summer the flowers seldom come to much as the rain turns them to mush. However, it is well worth the gamble.

Bad things

Flowering season is quite short and foliage a little dull. Try growing later flowering herbaceous clematis (in particular C. integrifolia) to drape over the leaves.

Rosa 'Moonlight'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

A hybrid musk rose that will grow equally well as a bush or, if you prune it right, as a perfect climber for a short wall (up to about 2m high). This (and her sisters ‘Penelope’, ‘Cornelia’, ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Vanity’) were all bred by the Rev. Joseph Pemberton (and his sister, Florence,) in the early 1900s. His garden contained about 4,000 roses which is going some, even for an enthusiast. How he found time to visit the sick and write sermons I do not know.

Good things

Flowers glow in the twilight. Flowers intermittently throughout the summer. Disease resistant.

Bad things

Like most roses ‘Moonlight’ is susceptible to aphids on the sappy growth. Keep well watered and healthy and the plant is much more capable of shrugging off such inconveniences.

Astrantia major

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

There are quite an array of astrantias. A whitish green one of which I am inordinately fond called ‘Shaggy’, a number of deep red varieties and one that is a very pure white called, imaginatively, ‘Large White’. A bit of judicious dead heading will produce a further flush of flower later in the year.

Height and spread: 45cm high x 55cm wide.

Good things

No plant is better for the edge of a semi-shaded border. Long flowering

Bad things

Gets cooked in full sun. Cut back after flowering and they may well flower again. Propagate: By division in autumn or winter.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Formerly called Dicentra spectabilis* and also known as Dutchman’s breeches (because of the shape of the flowers, as opposed to anything sinister). Actually it has a whole series of rather prosaic common names including Bleeding Heart, Lady in the Bath, Venus’s Car or Lyre Flower.

*It always seems that when botanists change plant names (for, we assume, excellent scientific reasons) the new name never quite trips off the tongue as neatly as its predecessor. Or maybe I am just getting old and crusty.

Good things

Flowers very early. Hates being messed about with so just leave it alone. Propagate from root cuttings.

Bad things

Pretty short flowering season and not ultra thrilling thereafter although it does have nice leaves which work as a foil to later plants. Watch out for snails and slugs.

Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

This is one of those plants that make people gasp. The solid stems, slightly prickly leaves and the deep claret coloured thistle flowers ooze class and style. They flower quite early in the summer and go beautifully with newly sprouted grasses (especially, I think, Calmagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’).

I first saw them in Arne Maynard and Piet Oudolf’s Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2000 and, like many others, was immediately smitten.

Good things

All of the above plus they have a second flush of flower later in the season.

Bad things

They hate being jostled and require a bit of space as the foliage needs to get the light. Do not pack them in amongst a load of other stuff as they will sulk and die.

Epilobium 'Stahl Rose'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Your eyes do not deceive you. This is a willowherb, a relation of that pretty pink weed that blows seeds all over the place if given half a chance. However this one is its more educated, better behaved cousin. It does not set viable seed and is the most heavenly palest pink with a deep carmine cross in its centre. Height: About 1.2m

Good things

Not only very pretty flowers but spectacular seedpods that split and spill out fluffy seeds. Also makes an excellent winter silhouette: brittle and architectural.

Bad things

Has a tendency to run so only really suitable for the wilder parts of the garden. Propagate: Very easily, by digging up a piece of root in spring.

Prunus 'Tai Haku'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

A properly exuberant flowering cherry. The sort of tree under which you can lie for ages just staring into the canopy as occasional petals flutter down to alight gently upon your rosy cheeks. It became extinct many years ago in Japan but the population was revived from a single specimen found in Sussex. The emerging leaves are a sort of bronzy ochre which complement the pure white flowers perfectly (Tai-Haku means big white flowers in Japanese).

Good things

Truly spectacular flowers. Spreading habit (10m wide) and thick leaves so provides an excellent site for a bench – flowers in April and shade in summer.

Bad things

A very short flowering season. Mature leaves are a bit coarse so best at the end of the garden. No fruit.

Libertia grandiflora

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

A really useful evergreen with dark sword shaped leaves. Good as a border edging to contrast with geraniums or short fluffy grasses like Stipa tenuissima. The flowers float gracefully over the foliage. Like many white blooms they seem to gain in intensity as dusk falls and glow spookily.

Good things

Evergreen leaves and pretty hardy. Copes well in light shade or full sun. Will self seed if happy.

Bad things

Hates having wet feet: especially over winter so in heavy soils add lots of grit for drainage.

Tulip 'Paul Scheerer'

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

This is not the only dark purple tulip but it is one of the best. (Other possibilities if you cannot find this one are ‘Queen of the Night’ or ‘Black Hero’ – which is a double flowered variety). They are a welcome change from the relentless April diet of yellow daffodil. Sultry, silky and perfect in border, container or vase.

Good things

The tulip is the first proper lush colour of spring.

Bad things

Unless you have perfect, free draining, soil tulips tend to operate on a law of diminishing returns. The second year’s flowering will not be as good as the first etc etc. You need to keep topping them up every year. Propagate: Simply bury the bulb about 20cm deep in about November then go back inside until spring.