Top ten long-bloomers

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Salvia Love and Wishes blooms all year

Once upon a time, I was thrilled by the brief flowering of some Himalayan or European rarity or other, which would be in bloom for barely a few days. It was enough to know that I had succeeded to grow my treasure well enough to allow it to flower. The fact that I had to wait another 12 months for the performance to be repeated was irrelevant! (Though often it never was repeated, as the plant would die, being totally unsuited to the Sydney climate.) My approach to gardening was to peer closely at individual plants, not to see the big picture of how the garden actually looked as a whole.

These days, I look for plants with the longest flowering period possible, so that my garden can be colourful for months with little effort from me. I do love seasonal highlights, but I also want continuity of colour. A lively discussion with some gardening friends last week centred on our favourite long-blooming plants. There was a surprising level of agreement with what we came up with, and the plants, by definition, are tough enough to survive the horribly hot conditions of our most recent summer! All of these plants will benefit from deadheading to help keep them tidy and to prolong with their lengthy display. Eventually, they will become woody, exhausted by their extensive flowering: then it is time to propagate or purchase a new specimen!

Pentas lanceolata

1. One plant that was probably mentioned the most often was shrubby Pentas lanceolota. Hailing from tropical Africa, Madagascar and the Arabian Peninsula, this compact plant (ht around 1 m, though some are a little taller) is continually covered in cute posies of dainty, star-shaped flowers, in colours of white, varying shades of pink, cerise, purple, mauve and red. It will grow in sun or part-shade and only stop flowering (briefly) in the depths of winter. It does not turn a hair on the most torrid of summer days. It suit semitropical style gardens or more cottagey style. I am not a fan of the dwarf hybrids, as they don't seem to have the staying power of the larger forms.

Salvia Indigo Spires (rear) with pink Garvinea at front

2. Salvias can be very long flowering, especially the smaller-leaved ones: those with large, soft foliage tend to be seasonal in their blooming patterns. Cultivars mentioned by the group as being 'good doers' included 'Indigo Spires', the 'Wish' series ('Wendy's Wish', 'Love and Wishes' and 'Ember's Wish'), Salvia splendens (the taller forms, rather than the miniature ones, and especially the red- and salmon-flowered specimens), cerise-pink 'San Carlos Festival' and creamy-flowered 'Heatwave Glimmer'. The cultivars mentioned all do best in full sun.

Seedling of Abutilon found in a Sydney garden

3. Another shrub mentioned by many was Abutilon. These lovely plants, with their Chinese lantern blooms, come in colours of oranges, yellows, white, pinks, reds and cerise, and they flower for most of the year, having a rest in November (when they can be pruned). The will grow in sun or part-shade. Their main foe is the nasty leaf-rolling caterpillars that turns up in summer; I use the non-toxic spray Success to combat them. Abution plants sometimes self-seed, producing offspring with interesting colours, such as the pinkish-red one pictured, which appeared in the garden of a friend in the group.

4. Cane Begonia varieties are exceptionally long-flowering, and they flourish in inhospitable dry shade. The old-fashioned white and pink ones are probably the toughest, rather than the fancier cultivars (though these still do pretty well), and will basically bloom all year, only stopping (momentarily) when they are pruned in early September!

Pelargonium Big Red

5. Pelargonium plants have done well in our recent hot, dry summer; our group unanimously agreed that 'Big Red' is one of the very best. This is a zonal Pelargonium that seems to be always in bloom. It does best in a sunny, well-drained position; it can also thrive in a pot. In my experience, its cousin 'Big Rose' is also a good plant, though perhaps not quite as exceptional as 'Big Red'. Ivy Pelargonium specimens are also very good value for lengthy flowering.

6. Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), a small shrubby perennial, was mentioned by a number of people as being long-flowering. The heads of tiny flowers are mauve, deep purple or white, and have a sweet vanilla fragrance. The cultivar 'Aurea' has attractive lime-hued foliage. Heliotrope does best in sun.

Cleome Senorita Rosalita

7. The perennial form of Cleome is an amazingly floriferous plant that was lauded by the group. It has a shrubby shape, quite different from the annual variety, and it has pink, purple and white forms. It can be cut back a few times over summer and will rejuvenate and continue on blooming most of the year. It is best in a sunny position.

Zinnia in the garden of Sandra Wilson in Sydney

8. A plant I haven't yet grown but which was much recommended by others in the group was the tall annual Zinnia. Apparently simple to grow and blooming for many months, these have bold flowers in a range of hues and a stately presence in the garden, carrying on from year to year by self-seeding. It is excellent as a cut flower. I came away from the meeting clutching some seeds to grow next spring!

9. Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' is another highly recommended long-bloomer. It seems to be always covered in a cloud of dainty, white flowers. It can be cut back when it becomes untidy and will soon be in bloom again. It grows in sun or part-shade and also looks good in a pot. It is a great filler in a garden bed. There is a miniature form, but it is not as striking as the taller form, which gets to about 60 cm in height.

Justicia brandegeeana Lutea

10. The good old shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) is another stalwart in our gardens. The classic form is brownish-red, but there are lime-yellow, pink and yellow, and burgundy varieties. Like many of these plants, they only stop flowering when they are pruned! I usually cut them back (as with many of my semitropical shrubby perennials) in late winter. Other recommended Justicia that are long flowering include Justicia carnea and Justicia scheidweileri.

Planting some of these plants will ensure that your garden will have long-lasting colour! Don't have them in your garden? Visit the huge charity fundraising plant sale at Lane Cove North next Sunday 29 April 2018, which will stock a number of them plus other great specimens for Sydney gardens that are hard to find in mainstream nurseries.

Reader Comments

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

    Agree with your list of plants which perform and flower well over a long period. Particularly pertinent over our long, hot summer period. This summer I have found that cosmos and dahlias performed extremely well, flowering from November until now. A bonus with these, plus the zinnias, is that they self seed readily, and so pop up the following season(s, without much effort on my part! The self-seeding plants are terrific value, In my garden it is Browallia and Amaranthus that pop up all over the place and flower for a very long time. Deirdre

  • By Shaun 2075 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

    Deidre, Thanks you, I love early morning reading of your blog! You are a devoted and generous gardener! Thanks so much, Shaun. Deirdre

  • By Kerrie 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

    Great article Dierdre! I actually sprained my hip muscle yesterday digging out all the dead & unhealthy plants that haven"t survived or thrived this Summer so once I"m recovered i have a good list of plants to replace them with. Thank you! Hope you are recovered now! Hope some of these plants will prove good replacements for the ones you removed. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

    I have had no luck with new cleome - every one I buy only survives for a short time. the pink, white purple "annual" ones however are great prickly survivors and give me constant colour. Also have had no luck with Big Red or Big Pink. The Syd Bot Gdns had a magnificent display this summer with lots of zinnias in amongst it. Salvias are great and agree with you re the shrimp plant - the two different pink justicias provide long colour too. Love that kniphofia you featured. Great colour. I am wondering about the perennial cleome and why it hasn"t done well for you. I do know they like a bit of space around them so they aren not hemmed in, and to be trimmed back periodically. They need full sun. They last about two years for me so not really true perennials but they would not have stopped flowering in that time. Shame about Big Red and Big Rose not doing well either. I find they need good drainage and lots of sun; I have success in pots with Big Rose. Will visit the Sydney Botanic Garden again soon. Deirdre

  • By Lloyd 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 23 April 2018

    Have had an interesting experience with Justicia, the pink one. I assumed it would do well under the shade of a large Sasanqua. But had to give the Sasanqua a heavy prune - a hatstand prune - and the Justicia has burst into life and blossom. Most rewarding. Didn"t see them as sun loving. And they have gone on blossoming for the last several months. It sounds a great success. They are tolerant of sun and do produce more blooms in a sunny spot, but in my experience they also flower well in shade, but not deep, dark shade. Deirdre

  • By Linda 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

    Deirdre, your weekend local Garden Club opening was brilliant demonstration of the possibility of cascades of form and colour after our Sizzling Season, using many varieties of the above-mentioned plants. I"m SURE all readers would love to see a few sweeping shots of what you have achieved. Please put up a whole article devoted to YOUR GARDEN, using your best shots. Fingers crossed you can overcome modesty and just show what a dedicated gardener can do ... in awe ... Linda Thanks, Linda. I do have an entry about my garden on the Garden Ramble part of my website. I do try to convey in my blogs ideas for what we can do in Sydney, and include pics of my garden from time to time! Deirdre

  • By lillian 3951 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 23 April 2018

    Ah- Justicia carnea! I note that Lloyd is subtropical. Here in much cooler South Gippsland I too had to suddenly expose it to sun, after a dense wattle was blown over. I held little hope for its survival, but recovery was brilliant, with better growth and more flowers. Alongside it,a species cousin (a gift- lost it"s name) has absolutely exploded. Now a shrub with big pointy bright green leaves and inconspicuous white flowers. Interesting but no great beauty. Good to know how well the Justicea carnea does in a wide variety of climate zones, and how ti does appear to be at its best in sun. Deirdre

  • By Roger 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 April 2018

    Thank you for you latest blog, Deirdre. I recently re-discovered a pale pink abutilon growing in a thicket of fishbone fern I was clearing. I"d assumed it died years ago, I was wrong. Apart from overly long stems from trying to reach the light, it looked very healthy and the flowers are beautiful. They are certainly survivors! Glad it is doing OK. Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 23 April 2018

    I agree Diedre, I do like long flowering plants. For me Abutilons and salvias (especially salvia leucantha) are a must but most of the others dont perform that well for me. Have tried & failed with zinnias, heliotrope, maybe my soil is too heavy & wet. Others that do very well here for a long time are japanese anemone, shasta daisy, dahlias, day lilies---not the new varieties. but the old fashioned double apricot one. I still enjoy the short lived spectacle though eg Liliums, autumn crocus. Interesting about those ones that don"t do well for you. Possibly a climate thing or as you suggest, due to the soil. Deirdre

  • By Lloyd 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 24 April 2018

    I too have had an unlikely success. My dear old mum"s purple salvia - she called it sage - has shot forth from a small pot about three inches deep that I left on top of a large wooden planter. The metre long stems of salvia arched out towards the sun, blocking a path - just about spent now. I am guessing the roots are through the drainage hole in the small pot to enjoy the deeper soil beneath. About to bust it out - about the only way I am afraid - and find it a home in a bigger pot

  • By Maureen 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Saturday, 28 April 2018

    Have thoroughly the two recent garden rambles to your beautiful garden with all its beauty not only enjoyed by people but birdsy, bees and butterflies!! You have revived my interest in the good old Abutilon and yesterday browsing the amazing CALYX for the first time was intrigued by several bearing red, yellow, orange flowers what appeared to be on the one shrub until I noticed the 3 entwined stems -great idea! Hope Ken & Maureen have some this weekend. Another grreat Blog - thank you..

  • By TRICIA 3730 (Zone:11B - Arid) Wednesday, 02 May 2018

    I put in a tiny cutting of Zauschneria cana, (Silver Select), commonly called variations of Californian Hummingbird/ Trumpet plant a large scarlet trumpet flowers. After growing well for 12 months but with no flowers I gave it a final inspection before pulling it out. Oh the beautiful flowers and its been flowering profusely since early Nov 2017, and just now setting seed. It doesn"t require much water, and lifts the garden colour delightfully. Tricia

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