Sunday, 21 October 2012

Pieris – Perfect for pots in shade

I never understand why more gardeners don’t grow Pieris. This lovely shrub is commonly known as lily of the valley bush, because of its delicate sprays of bell-shaped flowers that resemble convallaria without the scent. Pieris tick so many boxes in the quest for the ideal shrub: evergreen, attractive foliage, manageable, pest free, pretty sprays of buds through the winter months, beautiful long-lasting flowers early in the year and striking, often brightly coloured new foliage.
They are ericaceous, so will not grow on chalk or other alkaline soils, so that puts some gardeners off at the outset.  However you can grow them very successfully in pots using lime-free compost, where they will be just as happy as azaleas, camellias and compact rhododendrons, and they have a much longer season of interest.
In colder areas the new growth can be susceptible to frost damage, especially if caught by the early morning sun after a freezing night. However if you grow a pieris in a sheltered spot close to the house, perhaps on a porch or under the eaves, it will be protected from damage.  Even if the new growth does get caught by frost they will soon produced a replacement flush of showy new leaves.

So what’s the drawback? There isn’t one. Pieris are long-term subjects for pots and what is more they are good in pots in shade. They look good throughout the year, and certainly thrive much better than short term flowering subjects in a shady spot.  Some eventually grow bigger than others, but they can be carefully pruned after flowering to restrict their size and influence their shape. Pruning promotes new growth and colourful new leaves, but you do not have to do it to achieve this.
There are many different varieties to choose from, all with either pink or white flowers, or shades inbetween. Some have plain green, shining foliage; others are variegated with cream and white. The colour of new growth varies from chestnut to scarlet, cream to pink.  The best known variety, which has been a garden favourite for years is Pieris ‘Forest Flame’, loved for its white lily-of-the-valley flowers and scarlet new growth.  The foliage is emerald green, glossy and the perfect setting for both.  ‘Forest Flame’ is a strong-growing variety with an elegant upright habit.  A 10 litre plant in a large terracotta or glazed pot will make real impact instantly.
Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’ is a lovely variegated form with pink to crimson new growth and white flowers.  Its silver-white variegated dark green leaves are its greatest attribute and really show off the bright new growth. it is a little less vigorous than ‘Forest Flame’ with a bushy, well-branched habit.
Pieris ‘Valley Valentine’ is a pieris that is grown for the beauty of its flowers. Branched sprays of deep pink flowers open from deep red buds in early spring.  The foliage is dark and glossy and the new growth red-brown.  This is a more compact spreading plant, perfect for a pot and a real delight.
The time to buy a pieris is now: you will have the pleasure of it throughout the winter months, and you have flowers and new growth to look forward to in spring.  Pieris are great value plants and it is worth spending a little more to buy a larger, 10 litre specimen which will create a real impression from day one. Remember, pieris make great gifts – personally I would rather have a pieris than a poinsettia!
Recipe for success
Pieris really are perfect for pots; always grow them in lime free John Innes (John Innes ericaceous) compost. Water regularly and feed once a year with a granular fertiliser specifically for ericaceous plants.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Alliums – Big and Beautiful

I know I’ve blogged about alliums before; but having talked bulbs, bulbs and more bulbs for the past few weeks I just had to tell you about three of the biggest, most impressive, most gorgeous and thoroughly irresistible alliums that I simply would not be without. 

I know many of you already have Allium christophii, that sparkling lilac lovely with large open heads that bounce across the border.  I’ve got lots in the garden, and they are always a hit with visitors; that is until they see Allium scubertii.  This is a real firework of an allium, not too tall, but with the most magnificent large architectural flowerhead you are ever likely to find in your border.  It’s simply an explosion of fine filaments, each ending in a tiny lilac starry flower.  I grow it though herbaceous geraniums and the lovely Stipa tenuissima which hide the fading foliage, never a great attribute with alliums. 
The most amazing quality of this allium is the long lasting seedheads.
This one was photographed in my garden last week, and it will look fabulous over the winter if brought into the house and positioned in a large bowl.  We sometimes spray these seedheads gold and hang them for Christmas decoration. A single head of Allium schubertii can easily measure 40cm across. 

Now the alliums that everyone marvels at are those magnificent stately individuals that rise above other subjects in the border. A small group of them have such presence, and form and provide a strong focal point wherever they appear.  There are various tall, large flowering alliums but for me Allium ‘Globemaster’ is the finest. 
Fresh green stems up to 120cm (4ft) in height, topped with a plump green bud which gradually expands and then explodes into a large ball of deep lilac, wide-eyed stars.  As time progresses the sphere expands and proves to be a magnet for bees and pollinating insects.  The flowerhead of ‘Globemaster’ will be 20cm or more across.  The bulbs are expensive to buy, over £5.00 each, but they are worth every penny and like all alliums they will be a feature of your garden for years to come.

Whenever I talk alliums I always seem to be talking fifty shades of mauve, so now for something completely different. AlliumMount Everest’ is a tall, stately allium reaching 120cm (4ft) but with sparkling white flowers.  The heads are smaller than ‘Globemaster’, 15cm (6ins across) and more translucent, but the seedhead that develops is striking, architectural and long lasting.  Mount Everest’ is a must for every lover of white flowers, fabulous against dark green foliage, or rising out of silver leaves.  It adds a lightness and transparency to any border, and possesses a magical presence which bolder blooms often lack.

Make sure that you have all of these alliums in your garden next summer.  Take a look at our Big and Beautiful collection heres the product link