When I moved to my current home I inherited a garden permanently planted with perennial plants that just grow and grow and need little care except for an occasional gentle pruning session. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t allow me to ring the changes now and again through the use of Summer bedding plants. These plants are mostly regarded and treated as annuals, intended really to last just one season (although some can and do last longer – some of them self-seeding all over your garden if you allow them to). What I love about these Summer plants is that they quickly allow me to be creative with colour in the garden, giving it a different look and feel in much the same way as changing a few accessories in a room will give a fresh new look to a space.
Just recently we created some new borders along the edges of our terrace and now that May has come around I’m really back in my element, practising my exterior design skills, picking colour combinations of bedding plants and planting them out in the borders. This year I’ve gone for a combination of pink and white, with an occasional accent of very, very pale lemon yellow. My reason for picking this pale colour palette was very specific. Our terrace was newly created this Spring and I’m anticipating many evenings spent outside, either lingering over dinner or sitting and enjoying the evening over a glass of wine. The colour white, or anything near white will reflect back what little light is still available so that the pale flowers outside will act as tiny beacons at dusk. If you want to be a purist and just work with white alone this can look absolutely stunning, especially when combined with silvery leaved plants against a backdrop of deep greens. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to create the warm atmosphere of a Mediterranean garden then choose flowering plants that fall in the red / pink/ orange range.
Another aspect of the garden worth considering is scent. Most Summer bedding plants don’t carry significant scent but there are some little superstars that I think are well worth including. Top of the list for me would be the humble alyssum. Its tiny flowers produce the most heavenly honey-sweet scent so it’s no surprise that I’ve included many of them in my Summer planting scheme.
The choice of Summer bedding plants is vast and the fun is in working out your own colour combinations and planting scheme. Go to your local plant nursery, see what is available and take advice from the staff there, always bearing in mind the ultimate height and spread of your chosen plants.
Just for quick reference, here are a few of my favourite Summer bedding plants:
Pelargonium / Geranium – essentially one and the same plant but they do look distinctly different. Pelargoniums, which are susceptible to frost, have beautiful frilly flowers and unusual ‘crinkle-cut’ leaves. Geraniums are sold as both Summer bedding plants and border perennials (plants that flower and/or grow year after year). Some varietes have pretty, variegated (multi-coloured) leaves. Flower colours: white, pink, red and red/orange. Scent: The flowers have no scent but the plant itself has a distinctive and pleasant smell that always reminds me of Summer.
I like these plants because they tend to be very forgiving and don’t mind the heat. You won’t find them wilting at the end of a long hot day and if you forget to water them one day they won’t sulk and wither.
Marigold: Once so common in our gardens but I read recently that they have so declined in popularity that some varietes may disappear entirely. Maybe it’s the colour range that puts people off because they are typically coloured bright orange. In fact other varieties are also available from red/orange in colour through to yellow and even white. (The very pale lemon yellow highlights in my planting scheme this year are from marigolds). Again, they’re fairly robust little plants and have the added advantage that a few flower petals can be used to brighten up Summer salads. I have also read that their presence in the flower border may help to deter certain garden pests. This may be something to do with the distinctive smell of the foliage, which is in some ways is similar to the geranium. Either way, this is also a smell that I associate with long hot Summers.
Alyssum: Only growing to about 4 inches in height, they are best placed at the front of the border. What they lack in height they more than make up for in scent. ‘Alyssum’ in Greek means ‘against madness’ and though I can’t vouch for that (!) what I can tell you is that the scent of these tiny flowers always, always makes me feel happy. I have traditional white alyssum in my plant border and in pots dotted all over the garden but you may find other varieties available in pale pink, through to biscuit coloured and lemon. This as far as I’m concerned is a ‘must have’ in the garden.
Lobelia: Another plant for the edges of flower borders, this is also very often used in hanging baskets where it forms a cascade of small blue or white flowers. Very pretty – and better still, it attracts butterflies to the garden.
Begonia: There are many varieties of this lovely plant growing to all different sizes. In tropical or sub tropical climates they will go on growing. Here in the UK they are treated as Summer bedding plants and the type I’m specifically referring to here are the miniature variety and often used as useful space fillers in Summer borders and pots. Coming in a variety of flower and leaf colours they grow to no more than about 8 inches in height, have an abundance of flowers with deep yellow centres and healthy, fleshy leaves that make them appear particularly lush.