A great time to be a plant .. and a gardener

Petunia Serfinia
Petunia Serfinia
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I continued my assault on Monty’s expanded waistline with a couple of outings out on the bike, clocking up those miles to burn off the calories. I say “burn off”, but in truth, caught as we were in torrential deluges of rain which soaked both of us through, perhaps, “washed off” t might be a better description.

In fairness to the little lad, his fitness level has definitely improved over recent weeks and seven miles non stop is now standard, nine miles is pushing it a little. But nine miles a day remains our minimum target as we turn his body into a temple. Presently it is more like a pie shop.

A consequence of all that rain has been a thorough soaking of the ground, and the result has been a surge of growth. Our lawn grew several inches over the weekend and is now so lush there is a danger small children might get lost in there. The trees have put on a flush of fresh growth. In the vegetable garden, the peas, beans and spuds are racing for the stars. It is a good time to be a plant.

It is also a good time to be a gardener. We are at a key moment in the gardening year. It is time to really apply yourself to planting out tubs and baskets. Stuff just wants to grow. And it is planting now that gives us the summer of flowers we all dream of.

Obviously there is the standard summer bedding plants such as marigold, petunia, lobelia, dahlia and begonia. Also popular are lavatera, cosmos, daisies and snapdragons for a more informal “cottage garden” feel. But there are some plants much less well known that really deserve a place in your summer planting schemes.

We are all familiar with the red flowers of salvia, but there is a taller form called Salvia Amistad, which grows to about 24in. (60cm) producing eye-catching dark purple flowers above glossy green foliage. It is superb as a spot or feature plant for the back of the border or the centre of larger tubs.

To give real height, sweet peas are smashing, but I much prefer the more exotic flowers of the Thunbergias, popularly referred to as “Black Eyed Susan”. They have vivid flowers in various shades of orange with a contrasting dark centres, which look like a dark dot, but which are actually part of the flower “funnel” – a charming little optical illusion. There are many varieties but the forms Orange Beauty and Red and Orange are particularly fine.

Much rarer, but equally stunning are the vaguely fuchsia-like dangling bells of Rhodochiton. Last year I grew mine on a pyramid-shaped obelisk in a container on the patio. I ruled it with a rod of iron. As it reached for the sky, I tucked in the vigorous shoots so they were trained to spiral slowly around the obelisks. By September I had a cone about 5ft high, clad top to bottom in deep purple flowers. The variety? The aptly named Purple Bells. Gorgeous!