Foliage, I am learning, is just as important as floral splendour, both in the garden and in a container. Last year, I added several new plants to my must-grow list for 2016. All of which have dramatic, firework or jungle-like leaves, stems and seedpods.
All the dahlias that I will grow in pots this year will be accompanied by one of Sarah’s number one spiller plants, the trailing, roughly-haired Plectranthus. It doesn’t look like much on its own but as some accompanying foliage to a small variety of dahlias, it really becomes the icing on the cake when creating a show-stopping summer container. Of course, the pot also has to be classy!
You can easily grow Plectranthus from cuttings. At the Emma Bridgewater factory, where I work, I have some overwintering on the side of my desk. These cuttings have come from Perch Hill and in the winter they will happily become houseplants, otherwise they will be killed by the hard frosts if left outside.
Last summer, while walking through a game crop, I spotted Red Millet which I am growing tons of this summer. This works well as an upper storey firework to a floral arrangement. As with Plectranthus, Red Millet grows happily with dahlias and also cosmos. If you grow it in the garden, sparrows and finches will dart from its exploding seed heads, de-husking them from dawn until dusk. The grass Panicum ‘Frosted Explosion’ serves the same purposes so I am also sowing lots of this too. It looks great with posies and cut as single stems.
Sweet corn is a cheap foliage filler too, looking good with tall growing dahlias like ‘Indian Summer’ and with sunflowers. I have always been fond of the Palmate-shaped, deep-treacle coloured leaves of the tall caster oil plant. You have to soak the bean-like but toxic seeds in warm water over night before you plant them.
They erupt from their pots like freakish monsters and grow quickly. They will almost constantly need to be potted on until they can be set out into their final positions; again they look great with sunflowers but always plant them in a drift and not as singletons. I collected my caster oil plant seeds from a broken plant that was strewn across the lawn of the Avenue gardens in Regents Park, where they are always grow in dramatic summer bedding displays.
Euphorbia lathyris or Caper Spurge is a fabulous green, sharp-leaved fountain. Right now, in the garden it’s looking great and ready to get growing with gusto once spring begins. First it will flower, then go onto form round green seed pods. By this point, it will be tall and I prefer to have it growing with lilies such as ‘Pink Flavour’.
Caper Spurge is normally a self-sowing bi-annual, but I sow it with the wallflowers in August. The plants grow into little prehistoric-looking babies ready for planting out with the wallflowers, in late September. The hens won’t peck it either due to its horrid, milky sap but sadly the same cannot be said regarding their taste for the wallflower leaves!
It is essential to create a definitive wishlist of seeds in the coming weeks, so next month I will be revealing my own list of annual flowers that I will be growing in the Courtyard Garden at the Emma Bridgewater factory.
Thanks for reading!