You could be forgiven for thinking there are only a few trees available to grow in your gardens. A quick walk around any neighbourhood sees the usual suspects; from birch to weeping willow; ornamental cherries to conifers!
Plus, trees can be thought of as huge specimens, which take over a whole garden. But, that doesn’t have to be the case; some trees are so slow-growing they’ll always stay compact, whilst others are genuinely much smaller, much like over-sized shrubs!
So, where do we start?? How about the tree that changes its clothes at least 3 times in the season? Cercidiphyllum, more colloquially known as Katsura Tree, is suitable for a small garden and will intrigue you with the way the leaves appear all along each branch! Those leaves also move from spring ruby red to summer fresh green to autumn burning embers! They also smell of toffee when crushed! I bet you can’t resist one now.
Paulownia is another remarkable tree for the small garden, admittedly only when its coppiced (cut back to base each year), but in doing this, you’ll encourage huge, elephant-ear like leaves which look tres exotic! Grown as a full-sized tree, you’d also get to enjoy the foxglove-like, purple blooms, which give it the name Foxglove Tree.
Now, when it comes to conifers, don’t consign them to the compost bin just yet! Just look at the Korean Fir, an enchanting specimen which makes a manageable tree for a small space. Super hardy and a holder of the much-coveted Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit too!
Change your cherry tree choices too; ‘Amanagowa’ is a space-saving tree, with an upright, narrow shape, bearing sexy pink blossom every spring. Conversely, the Iford Cherry is a naturally weeping tree, which looks majestic in a container. Almost saved from extinction, the Iford Cherry was bright back to production from a single stem, taken from the terraces of Iford Manor!
So, now you’ve seen a few of the manageable trees available, maybe you aren’t so scared….??
There’s nothing more rewarding than growing from seed. That moment where you see the soil surface just breaking with a fresh green shoot is beyond magical! So if you now buy your petunias and geraniums as young plants, I suggest you challenge yourself, and explore the plant world with my list of 10 unusual things to grow from seed:
- Wasabi Rocket
The newest salad leaf, which I’m sure will be filling the salad bags in your supermarket very soon. Fresh, crunchy, rocket-style leaves with a spicy after-flavour! But, don’t worry, it isn’t as strong as the real thing! So easy to grow from seed, at any time of year, and ready to eat in just 4-5 weeks from sowing. Grow some on the windowsill, so you can devour some with every meal!
This diminutive little thing has so many different names; from mouse melon to cucamelon to mini watermelon and even Mexican sour gherkin! The vigorous plants are great for screening or patio obelisks, and are decorative in their own. But, take a peek beneath the leaves in midsummer and you’ll spy the little striped fruits, which only reach the size of a large olive and has a cucumber flavour!
- Banana (Ensete ventricosum)
If you’re a little bit impatient, then you should to grow a banana! Each plant will put on rapid growth and appears quite lush and exotic. With the right care, plants can product fruit in the UK too! Fun to grow from seed, you’ll feel all tingly from the moment that first over-sized leaf bursts through the soil!
- Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia)
Conversely to the banana, you’ll need a lot of patience for growing a Strelitzia! The journey from germination to flowering can take up to 7 years… Similar in appearance to a banana, but a bit more leathery, the Bird of Paradise makes a talking point in a conservatory and once that iridescent flower appears, you’ll want to invite all your friends round to have a look!
- Meconopsis betonicifolia Hensol Violet
The flower colour of this unique Meconopsis just cannot be described; it is metallic and shimmers purple or blue, depending on which direction you look at it from! A connoisseur’s choice of plant; perfect for damp, shady corners.
- Nasturtium Phoenix Mixed
Imagine a ‘garden-friendly’ Nasturtium and you have ‘Phoenix’! Smaller growth than the usual giant cabbage-like specimens, and the flowers are super decorative, with a serrated appearance, and in the case of yellow- FRAGRANT! Don’t forget, pretty much all parts of Nasturtiums are edible too, so jazz up your summer food plates!
- Carrot Purple Sun
Bump up your antioxidant intake with the only fully purple carrot! Purple Sun is purple right through to the core; in fact, it doesn’t look anything like a carrot! Simple to grow, really fun for kids and imagine what you could make with it; purple julienne carrots, purple carrot cake, and so on…
- Sweet Pea Turquoise Lagoon
Another glorious metallic flower, it’s hard to believe that Turquoise Lagoon is actually a reject from a breeding programme! The delicate flowers are iridescent, with mauve, blue and pink featuring. This is the start of some very different colours for the sweet pea family, so keep your eyes peeled!
- Lisianthus nigrescens
Err.. sometimes called the ‘Flower of Death’, this cheerful Lisianthus is actually an amazing seed to be able to get your hands on, as it’s the blackest of any known flower! This plant is just all about the drama; would you believe it’s way more than a metre tall too; think Nicotiana sylvestris, but black!
- Bat Plant (Tacca)
This one has to be seen to be believed! Again, superb, beguiling black flowers and- when you look up close- the blooms do actually resemble a bat as well! Not only that, you’ll love the vinyl-esque shiny foliage too! A nice little challenge to grow from seed!
2016 has been officially declared as ‘The Year of the Cosmos’! Throughout 2016, we expect gardeners up and down the country to be plugging gaps in their borders, in fact planting up whole borders, with these ethereal gems! And, what better way to launch the year than with the most incredible YELLOW ‘Xanthos’! But that’s not all, indulge yourself with our blog, highlighting the cream of the crop!
Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ – Flower of the Year 2016
Firstly, back to Cosmos ‘Xanthos’, a colour that was for many years the enigma of the plant world. An old, old variety called ‘Yellow Garden’ was haphazardly available, but it only bloomed during late September, which is no good for our often brief UK summers! ‘Xanthos’ now blooms from June all the way through, and with slightly smaller blooms than most Cosmos, but there’s more of them! The plants are so neat and branching too; in fact you can even grow them in a patio pot!
Cosmos ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is also another favourite of mine! The blooms are like a work of art; candy striped petals and an inner crest! As with most Cosmos, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is lovely big, frothy plant, which fills a bed or border quickly and easily, and looks great even before the flowers start to open! They will also work fantastically as a cut flower too, and you’ll never see them in the florists I can assure you!
For a taste of almost every type, try the ‘All Sorts Mixed’, which brings together single, picotee, double and quilled formations, across a full colour palette too! Cosmos can be purchased either as seed or (for some varieties) as plants. Growing your own seed is easy though; you can even scatter straight outdoors where you intend them to flower, I think that’s known as ‘throw and sow’!
(L-R) Cosmos ‘Sweet Sixteen’, Cosmos ‘All Sorts Mixed’ and Cosmos ‘Brightness Mixed’
If you want something completely different though, go for Cosmos ‘Brightness Mixed’. This is a ‘sulphureus’ type Cosmos, which has an entirely different appearance, and colour palette to the everyday Cosmos varieties! Give it a try, it makes a good alternative to Marigolds, why not ring the changes in your garden!
So, that’s just a snapshot of how we think you can use Cosmos in your own garden! I personally think that everyone will be ‘cosmossing’ in 2016, so I’d recommend that you get your seeds ordered now!
Michael Perry gives us his top 5 seed varieties for 2016!
For many years, the YELLOW Cosmos has been a myth, and indeed a variety did exist. However, it never flowered until almost September, which is no good for home gardens! Then, from nowhere, Dutch breeders came up with Xanthos, an acid yellow Cosmos which didn’t just flower from June to September, but also offered a shorter, branching habit, with more flowers than you’ve ever seen on a Cosmos! Top tip, grow it in patio pots for a show stopping display.
Zinnia Zinderella Peach
Zinnia have also changed a lot over the years; evolving from a Californian annual which thrived in hot summers to a versatile annual that can now put up with the English climate! The Zinderella Series is a work of art as well, as the crested blooms shimmer with peachy tones, punctuated with hints of lime green. Zinnia can be used as a cut flower too, lasting an impressive 2 weeks in a vase!
Eschscholzia XL Yellow
Californian Poppies will literally thrive on neglect; requiring hardly any water and putting up with baking sun all day long! We selected this beauty for its large, frilly, bright flowers. As a hardy annual, Eschscholzia are a simple ‘throw and sow’ specimen, so you can scatter the seed straight outdoors where they are to flower!
Nasturtium Cream Troika
The perfect hanging basket Nasturtium, with restrained growth and a gently tumbling habit! Easy to grow by sowing the seed directly into the basket, this has the potential to be the easiest hanging display you’ll have ever grown! Cream Troika is a beaut, with buttery yellow dotted blooms and icy variegated foliage.
Phlox ‘Cherry Caromel’
Who’d have thought something so beautiful would be so easy to grow? This startling little Phlox can be sown directly outside! You won’t be able to resist the fantastically rich caramel flowers with vibrant cherry centres! I don’t expect stock of this one to stick around for long though, so be quick!
Eat your greens, and reds, and yellows… If you’re tired of the usual summer salad trio; lettuce, cucumber and tomato, then the edible flower revolution will be right up your street! If you haven’t tried the crunch of a begonia petal or the sweet nectar of a primrose, then you’ve really been missing out!
Edible flowers aren’t just suitable for jazzing up salads; they can be used for decorating cakes too. Get your bake on, and top your cupcakes with pansy blooms, carnation petals or the minty florets of Agastache!
During our recent open days, I surprised visitors by introducing them to the wonderful world of edible blooms, as I picked fragrant begonia flowers straight from the plant. They’re crunchy, succulent and have a lovely citrus taste!
Our Pansy Tasty Mix is actually specifically bred to have thicker petals, to give more crunch. They’re frilly and decorative, and each bloom gives you a mini dose of vitamin A too!
Many herbs and vegetables have edible flowers too; harvest chive florets for a mild onion taste, or the little yellow blooms of rocket for a spicy kick, and let’s not forget nasturtiums where you can eat the flower, leaf AND ripe seed pod, which is akin to a caper!
To discover the world of edible flowers and how to use them, read our guide on edible flowers.