In 2015 I had a deliberate ‘think winter garden’ policy when I chose plants. I actively looked for plants that would look good in winter and summer, either because they were evergreen or because they had good structure or great flower/seedheads. These included hydrangea (the dried heads are wonderful in winter gardens and lavender (I love its neat, clipped tussocks of silver-grey foliage). I have been collecting or growing topiary for several years, and now have lollipops, balls and spirals in box, ligustrum, holm oak and osmanthus delavyi.
So far, the winter has not rewarded my efforts. Instead of crisp, frosty outlines, everything is just a bit damp, bare and green. I’m very grateful we don’t live in a flood zone, but I would like it to be a bit more wintery. So I am turning my thoughts to planning summer, where I think it’s a good idea to take exactly the opposite approach. I’m going to order seeds to fill gaps in borders. I’m not going to ask for a long season of interest. I don’t need them to plump out, self-seed or last for years. I just want a few weeks of blooming amazement.
Not every plant needs to work its socks off all year. Some of the most stunning effects are quite temporary. So it’s really worth asking yourself the following question when choosing plants: will this give me year-round interest or a short-lived dramatic effect? You need a balance of both in the garden.
The advantage of growing border fillers yourself from seed is that you can grow varieties that aren’t widely stocked in garden centres. I rarely see amaranth plants, in a garden centre, for example, or leonitis leonorum, although I’m sure you can find them in nurseries.
There is another advantage of growing a few packs of annuals as fillers rather than panicking and filling bare patches with last minute garden centre buys. Your randomness looks planned. One year I grew a tray of Cleome Violet Queen and another of Leonitis leonorum. I stuffed these into gaps all over the garden, Repetition always looks good. For about a fiver, I gave my garden a theme of riotous pink and orange.
So which two this year? Zinnias (‘Giant Dahlia Mix’) have now become a staple because they seem to grow anywhere and are good cut flowers. But I reserve the right to dither for another three months over my second choice…
Of course, if you plant a whole packet of seeds and they all come up, then you have rather a lot of plants. They make wonderful presents (never give a gardener one plant, give them half a dozen). Charity shops also sometimes do plant sales, so you can give them away to a good cause. And if you still can’t get rid of them all, put them in pots.
One year I planted a packet each of wallflowers Blood Red and Fire King in July for the following spring. I stuffed them into every bare patch and the garden looked amazing – so much better than if I’d bought different plants in twos and threes from the garden centre. And so much cheaper, too.
Thanks for reading!