Lobelia is most often seen as the little semi-trailing blue, white and purple plants that are used as frothy little annuals in borders and hanging baskets.
There are perennial lobelia too and I prefer them. I’m concentrating on Lobelia speciosa; there are just over 30 varieties of them, all of which are in the deep pink, scarlet, purple colour spectrum. Some varieties are very unusual. The most popular is probably ‘Russian Princess’ which has reddish leaves and bright scarlet flowers.
We grow a number of varieties which are clump forming, generally getting up to about three feet high (or a metre in new money) so make sure you have the room as they won’t fit in many baskets!
They like a fertile soil that is moist but not waterlogged, and they are often planted by ponds. We keep ours in the Walled Garden, which, like the rest of Dartmoor, is reliably moist. If you have full sun or partial shade that will be fine. They aren’t too fussy but as bees love them and they are very brightly coloured I try to plant them in a sunny spot. We use plant supports in our borders so they are secured against the wind. If you leave them unsupported they should be fine but can flop a bit in very windy or wet weather. As a rule of thumb, they should be OK unsupported but pop some supports around the clump if it’s likely to flop onto a path or a lawn.
If you grow lobelia from seed you’ll find it is very fine so you’ll get a clump of seedlings to carefully prick out. Just keep the soil moist and warm until germination. I’d water from the base as the seedlings are very delicate until they get a bit more established.
With the established plants we have I divide them in spring to make new clumps, so once you have either bought a plant or grown some from seed you should have a good source of these super plants for years to come.
Siberica, Germanica, Pacific Hybrids – all welcome here
This month I’m going to talk about Irises as I’ve been thinking about just how valuable they are in the garden.
They are versatile, colourful plants and I’m happy to have plenty in various conditions. They bear bright flowers on slender stems so they’re very handy for anyone planting a border; you can have them drawing attention at different heights without using too much space at ground level. The detail within the flowers can be stunning, with fine veining, marbling and contrasting colours.
Iris siberica ‘Weisse Etagen’ in the walled garden
I’ll begin in the wet with the sibericas. These irises are all shades of blue, usually planted in pond margins. I use them in borders too, as long as they have reasonable soil they will be fine. In one bed I’ve got them with the pink geranium, ‘Rozanne’ and the colour makes me smile every time I see it. If you enjoy pink / purple / blue this combination is well worth a try.
Irises are stately plants that can be used as part of a carefully designed border or drifted through more ‘natural’ planting schemes. There really is one for every place in the garden. If your soil is well drained and sun-baked, germanicas are the species to look for. These are the ‘bearded’ Iris that grow to about 1m tall and need their rhizomes baked hard each summer. I’ve just planted ‘Kent Pride’ which has a striking peach and yellow flower. I’m looking forward to seeing it flowering next year.
The choice of colour is almost endless, especially as the Pacific Hybrids are being cultivated. This group of plants derives from cross-breeding between 11 different types of Iris, and they are extending the choices for planting colours, situations and combinations. I have these on woodland edges and shady borders as I’m experimenting with how far I can get them to adapt to all corners of our Dartmoor valley. I’ll keep you posted with the results.
We have a fantastic new video of the garden, taken late in the afternoon on a wonderfully sunny day. Enjoy views from the tree tops and higher, swoop in over the garden paths and see the famous Ovals from above.
This video was created by Kernow Drones. We’re happy to recommend them.
The Actaea pictured is ‘Black negligee’; a thigh-high plant with frilly-flowered spikes of tiny white-to-pink flowers. It earns its name from the dark, deeply bisected leaves that suggest a lace pattern around the edges.
Actaea is a valuable September plant in the border.
Actaeas are perennial, and a good choice for herbaceous borders. Plant them in good garden soil and mulch or feed at least once a year. They are forgiving plants as they don’t mind wet soil and they aren’t fussy about acid or alkaline. Try to give them some shelter and they will grow to a couple of feet wide and over a metre tall. If all you can offer them is an exposed, windswept site with poor soil – don’t bother. They may be forgiving, but there is a limit to their generosity!
September flowers with plenty of early morning and evening scent
They flower in September, so plant yours somewhere where you can loiter in early morning to enjoy the sweet, exotic fragrance. Maybe you will enjoy your ‘Black Negligee’ while you garden in your pyjamas!
Actaea spread by extending their rhizomes – flat fingers of rooty bulbs. They are not invasive and the rhizomes are handy as you will like as not want to divide them to create more plants in early spring. It’s easier than growing them from seed.
If you have enough room plant a few to form a dark wall of foliage, under spires of flowers that can reach waist height with a scent that will catch on the breeze and attract pollinating insects.
There are plenty of varieties to choose from; almost all have the dark foliage that I prefer. Actaea is a favourite of mine as the leaves are a perfect backdrop to pretty much any brightly coloured flower whilst the flowering spikes are worth attention in their own right. I have planted them in our long borders, fronted by bright pink dahlias, yellow fennel and a variety of other “hot” and purple flowers.
If you want late summer colour choose dahlias. Enjoy different flower forms, from bouncy looking pompons to exotic waterlily styles, and a kaleidoscope of colours to fit every palette.
Dahlias are stalwarts, working hard in borders, pots or as a cut flower crop. Although they flower from June to late October, they are well known for the August / September period. I think they bridge the gap between blowsy summer planting and robust autumn colours. They bring zing to a border so I use a variety of them to introduce a bit of drama in different planting combinations.
Dahlia ‘Sunny Boy’ showing August colour in the walled garden.
Maintenance is easy. Dahlias enjoy the sun and like a rich, easy draining soil. They have tubers, like potatoes, so feed them well as you will be feeding for next year too. Slugs love them, so you will need to protect them. If you choose tall varieties stake well and early as stems snap easily in the wind.
Consider foliage colour, which varies from light greens to deep purple, giving opportunities to under-plant with exciting combinations. For example, we’ve married orange (pictured) on bright green stems with purples and golds from verbena and heleniums for a blaze of colour.
Grow dahlias from seed, plant tubers or take cuttings in late spring. A packet of seeds will give you dahlias for years.
They die right back at the first frost and you’ll lose them over winter in wet ground or sub-zero temperatures. It’s a good idea to lift them in late autumn after the first frost when the stems flop. You can risk leaving them in the ground with a good mulch to protect them – as long as you are confident of predicting a dry winter that’s not too cold. And if you can do that, come and see me for a job as the garden weather forecaster!
This time of year attention turns to the walled garden, where 16th century ruins are a humble backdrop to deeply colourful borders. It’s a real show stopper.
To see more pictures of the garden each week, find us on Facebook. The-Garden-House-Devon. Our photographer captures the garden changing each week and visitors often share their pictures with us too. It’s such a treat to bask in colour and flowers and enjoy the garden at any time.
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