Cottage garden fragments

Sunday, 06 March 2011

Lobelia siphilitica

I have written in a previous blog about my erstwhile cottage garden and my obsession with herbaceous perennials, which lasted a number of years before I came to the sad conclusion that Sydney's climate was not ideal for these plants. Most of the plants that grow so well in England don't cope with our intensely hot and humid summers and our mild winters. About a decade ago, I began to look for plants that better suited our climate and found that many semi-tropical ones thrive, and could be used to create effective garden schemes that still had the lushness and the colour combinations of the pictures we drooled over in English garden books.

My garden is now pretty much devoted to these sorts of plants, but I still have some remnants of my cottage garden growing amongst them. They are the herbaceous perennials that were tough enough to cope with the conditions, and I love to have them growing in my garden, as they represent part of my gardening 'journey'. They remind me of the years I spent with friends browsing in cottage plant nurseries and swapping pieces of perennials - as with all plants we have been given, they conjure up fond memories of the people in whose gardens they grew. I still love the habit and form of herbaceous perennials: the way the graceful flowering stems soar up from a basal clump of foliage (not a characteristic usually found with semi-tropical plants), and how the clumps can be divided up and planted in different places in the garden. To me, they have an elegant beauty unmatched by any other type in the plant kingdom. Some of them flower in late spring but others are in bloom at the moment.

Phlox paniculata Graf Zeppelin

In a sunny border, perennial phlox (Phlox paniculata) are one of my most long-lasting summer blooms, and have been in flower for about three months. They grow to a height of around 75 - 100 cm and have clustered heads of simple rounded flowers in a variety of colours, including pinks, white, cerise, mauve and purple. Some have a contrasting eye to the flower. I find they mingle well with my Dahlia and Salvia plants that grow nearby. If they are deadheaded through summer, new flowers will form. I cut them back to the ground in winter and divide the clumps up every few years. Lobelia siphilitica (ht 60 - 90 cm, shown at the start of the blog) is an unusual perennial relative of the bedding Lobelia that is grown for spring displays. It flowers in late summer and early autumn with a stout spire clustered in the recognisable hooded form of other Lobelia plants, in colours of white or blues. There are other sorts of perennial Lobelia but this is the only one that has steadfastly stayed with me. It self-seeds occasionally, so new plants pop up here and there. It likes a sunny, moist position. Mine sited itself next to Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' and I enjoy the combination of the milky blue Lobelia with the rhubarb colour of the Salvia flowers.

Aster, possibly Aster ericoides

Perennial Aster, with their dainty daisy flowers, are one of the easier cottage plants for Sydney gardens. The bigger-bloomed types (such as Aster novae-angliae, ht 50 - 100 cm) will do quite well (though may be afflicted by mildew at times) but I have most success with the smaller-flowered types, such as silvery-mauve Aster cordifolius (ht to 1.2m); the blue-purple Aster sedifolius 'Nanus' (ht 45 cm); the diminutive, dark-centred, white-flowered Aster lateriflorus 'Prince' (ht 60 cm) with its beautiful chocolate leaves; and the heath aster (Aster ericoides, ht to 1 m). They enjoy full sun and provide clouds of bloom over an extended period. They combine well with most flowers and I also like to grow them near ornamental grasses to create a vaguely 'prairie' look. The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, ht 80 - 100 cm) is another useful herbaceous perennial for Sydney: it has bloomed all summer long and still holds a number of flower-heads.

Thalictrum delavayi

For shadier sites, my favourite perennial is the delightful meadow rue Thalictrum delavayi (ht to 1 m or more). It flowers through summer and still has a few blooms left. It arises to about cm from a basal clump of pretty foliage rather reminiscent of a large maidenhair fern and has clouds of tiny quivering flowers of pale purple or white, with prominent stamens. It self-seeds where it finds a garden bed to be of its liking and is such a pretty companion to other shade-lovers, such as ferns, Begonia and Justicia species.

White windflower

In part shade, the tall stems of the lovely Japanese windflowers (Anemone x hybrida, ht 1 m) are just starting to open their perfect, simple blooms, in colours of white and pink. I love to see these fluttering in the breeze. They were one of the very first perennials I ever acquired - and I will never be without them, as once entrenched, they are almost impossible to get rid of! I grow them intermingled with Hydrangea and Plectranthus ecklonii.

My garden is a pastiche of all my plant crazes over the years; through trial and error I have ended up with the ones that survive our climate. These herbaceous perennials seem to fit in to the melange, providing a dainty touch amongst the more robust semi-tropical specimens.