Yellow is Not the Only Colour – 5 Perfect Blue Flowers for Early Spring

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software
Mass planting of daffodils and muscari
A sea of daffodils and grape hyacinths

Yellow is the colour that brings optimism into early spring gardens. It’s the gardener’s cheer-upper after months of slate grey and mud-brown. But yellow is not the only colour for early spring!

In my last blog post, I looked at the yellow flowers that bloom in late winter / early spring and bring a ray of sunshine to drab winter gardens. But, even as I was writing it, I noticed that Yellow often comes hand-in-hand with its partner in crime, Blue. Daffodils look enchanting with a skirt of muscari. The watery sunlight colour of native primroses is enhanced by bright blue scillas.

Native primroses with scilla
Primula vulgaris and Scilla siberica in early spring

Blue is the colour of the sea and sky. It is the colour of peace. It calms and refreshes.

Yellow sunflower head against a blue sky
Sunflower against a clear blue sky

What is it about yellow and blue together that raises the spirits so beautifully?

All those blue flowers with little yellow centres are like miniature suns set in a sweep of blue sky.

Cluster of forget me not flowers

Blue aster

Waterlily with yellow centre

If you add to the yellow/ blue combination, a dash of spring-fresh green, you’re on to a winner.

Green sits between yellow and blue on the colour wheel. It is the harmonious, balancing link between warm and cool colours. Green combines the relaxing attributes of blue with the energising influence of yellow. It also represents new life. New shoots springing up in garden beds and hedges.

So, to complement those yellow spring flowers, here are 5 of the best blue flowers to bring a sprinkle of serenity to your garden borders.

Scilla siberica

Scilla siberica (Siberian squill) is a dainty perennial, pushing up each year in early and mid-spring to 20cm in height.

Blue Scilla Siberica
Scilla Siberica

Little, bright blue flowers nod above narrow, mid-green leaves. Plant the bulbs in autumn, then leave them undisturbed to naturalise. They like both sun and partial shade.

Muscari armeniacum

Muscari armeniacum or the Grape Hyacinth is a vigorous, little bulbous perennial, about 20cm tall. Clusters of tubular, deep blue flowers, with white rims, appear in the spring, though the linear, mid-green leaves emerge in autumn.

Grape hyacinths
Muscari armeniacum

Plant bulbs in autumn in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Allow the plant to set seed for an even more impressive show the following year.

You could also try Muscari latifolium, a quirky two-tone grape hyacinth, with blue-black flowers on the bottom of the flower spike and a mop of bright blue flowers on the top.

Scilla luciliae

Chionodoxa
Scilla luciliae

Scilla luciliae (previously known as Chionodoxa) carries sprays of starry blue flowers, with white centres. Its common name is Glory-of-the-snow, a reference to its early flowering period in late winter and early spring.

Each bulb produces a pair of linear, mid-green leaves and grows to 15cm in height. Ideally, plant in drifts in full sun in well-drained soil, where they will set seed and naturalise.

Iris reticulata

This is an early spring flowering iris, growing from a bulb and flowering in late winter and early spring. After a period of summer dormancy, linear, green leaves emerge from the soil, reaching up to 10cm long at flowering time but elongating after flowering to about 30cm. 1 or sometimes 2 flowers are carried on each stem.

The beautiful iris flowers are very distinctive. The 3 outer petal-like sepals are called the falls – they often droop or arch downwards. The 3 inner petals, usually upright, are known as the standards.

Pale blue iris Cantab
Iris ‘Cantab’

Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ has pale blue standards. The falls are deep blue with pretty yellow-orange and white markings.

Purple-blue Iris reticulata 'Harmony'
Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’

Iris ‘Harmony’ has soft purple-blue flowers, with pretty yellow and white markings. Iris ‘Clairette’ has pale blue standards. The falls are deep violet with white markings.

Plant bulbs in late summer. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil. Bulbous irises need moisture from autumn to spring and hot summers to perform well.

Anemone blanda

Anemone blanda, the winter windflower, is a cheerful, little tuberous perennial. Pretty, daisy-like flowers in violet-blue appear in spring. ‘Blue Star’ has pale blue flowers. The flowers of ‘Atrocaerulea’ are deep blue.

Anemone blanda
Anemone blanda

Anemone blanda likes moist or well-drained soil in sun or part shade. Growing to 15cm in height, it will quickly spread to form a large clump.

Try some blue/ yellow combinations in your garden containers and borders for an early taste of summer skies!

5 Blue Flowers for Early Spring - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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Splashes of Sunlight – 5 Cheerful Flowers for Early Spring

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

After months of grey, damp winter, a splash of early yellow flowers brings a shot of spring into the garden.

Yellow Tete-a-Tete Daffodils
A splash of sunshine in early spring

Yellow sings of warmth and sunshine. It’s the colour of happiness and optimism. Here are 5 gorgeous, cheer-uppers for gardeners.

Daffodils

While daffodils are at their peak in April, Welsh people need their daffodils in full bloom for March 1st, St David’s Day, so it’s great that so many varieties are early flowerers. Plant daffodil bulbs in autumn for a glorious swathe of sunlight in spring.

Narcissus February Gold yellow daffodil flowers
Narcissus February Gold

One of the earliest daffodils to flower is Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’, growing to 40cm in height. It can flower as early as January in sheltered spots. February Gold is another early daffodil and grows to about 30cm high.

I love the delicate-looking dwarf daffodils, such as ‘Tête-à-tête’ or the flouncy ‘Rip van Winkle’. Their size makes them better suited to garden pots and smaller borders and they match well with low-growing early spring flowers, like scilla and crocus.

Daffodil buds beginning to open
Early daffodils
 Tete a Tete flower heads
Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’

Narcissus Rip van Winkle - double flowerhead
Narcissus Rip van Winkle

Crocus

Yellow crocus
Yellow crocuses

Golden-yellow, early-spring crocus brings a rich ray of sunshine to garden beds. The large Dutch crocuses are the most commonly planted spring-flowering crocuses and come in whites, purples and yellows. The corms are often sold in mixed colour bags, but I prefer to keep the colours separate.

Crocus ‘Romance’ in dappled sunlight
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Romance’

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Romance’ is a creamy-yellow crocus, with white highlights. It flowers from late winter so provides an extra early snack for bees. Crocus × luteus ‘Golden Yellow’ is a sun-drenched, rich yellow, and is perfect for naturalising through lawns.

Plant crocuses in September or October for early spring flowers. They like a sunny spot but will tolerate partial shade. Remember, they flower before trees leaf up, so a shady spot later in the year will still be sunny enough for crocuses to love in early spring.

Primroses

You can buy primulas in vibrant shades of purples, reds and yellows, but the native primrose – Primula vulgaris – is my favourite. It hugs the ground, forming a pool of pale, lemon-yellow flowers, surrounded by a rosette of bright green foliage. It is perfect for woodland areas or a shady bank.

Close-up of native primroses
Primula vulgaris

If you get down close enough to detect the flower’s fragrance, you might also notice a clever little tweak of natural adaption, which promotes successful cross-pollination by early nectar-seeking insects. Primroses have two subtly different types of flowers. In ‘thrum-eyed’ flowers, the anthers are visible in the centre of the flower, while in ‘pin-eyed’ ones, the anthers are hidden below the stigma, which looks like a tiny pinhead.

Native primroses with scilla
Primula vulgaris and Scilla siberica in early spring

Primroses and scilla siberica make a perfect match in my hedge. When happy with their conditions, primroses will naturalise readily to form an impressive colony.

Cowslips

The wild cowslip, Primula veris, is a cousin of the native Primrose. The semi-evergreen plant has nodding, bell-shaped flowers, falling from upright stems, up to 25cm in height. Flowering from early spring, they were once a common sight in woodlands, meadows and hedgerows. With the decline of their natural habitats, they are seen far less often now.

Cowslips - yellow spring flower
Primula veris

There are also pretty varieties, such as Primula veris ‘Sunset Shades’, with flowers in shades of copper, orange and red. Cowslips are at home in moist, wildflower gardens or light wooded areas.

Forsythia

In contrast to some of the more modest, low-growing, yellow spring flowers, you can’t miss the blossoms of the Forsythia. A vigorous, upright, deciduous shrub, it produces a glorious, early spring display of flowers before the sharply toothed, green foliage appears.

Forsythia intermedia 'Spectabilis' - yellow flowering spring shrub
Forsythia intermedia ‘Spectabilis’

Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spectabilis’ has rich yellow flowers, each with 4 narrow, slightly twisted petals, borne in profusion from early to mid-spring. It enjoys moist, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade.

Forsythia giraldiana
Forsythia

Other popular varieties are Forsythia × intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’ and Forsythia × intermedia ‘Goldrausch’, which has larger flowers.

While winter is slowly giving way to spring, these flashes of yellow hint at warmer days to come and bring a gleam of golden sunlight into the garden.

5 Cheerful Flowers for Spring - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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Autumn Foraging

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Autumn leaves

Misty mornings and the leaves are ochre and gold. There’s a nip in the air and the hedges are dripping with berries. Time for a spot of autumn foraging! Here are 4 vitamin-packed fruits to collect in autumn.

Elderberries

Elderberries on Sambucus tree
A cluster of gleaming elderberries

Elderberries ripen in late summer or early autumn. Pick the berries when they are fully ripe. You want them to look almost black, so if they are still green or burgundy, wait a little longer. Use a pair of scissors to snip the cluster of berries away.

Be certain you know what you are looking for as there are some poisonous lookalikes. If you need help to identify the elder tree, the Woodland Trust has some useful advice here.

Elderberries in a bowl with a glass of liqueur
Separate the berries from the stem by running a fork along the stem.

Separate the berries from the stem by running a fork along the stem. If you find some hanging on tenaciously, they may not be ripe enough. Just leave them be.

Place the berries in a large bowl of water. The unripe berries will float, enabling you to pick them out and discard. Wash and drain the berries. Pat dry.

You’re all set to start processing them, but if you prefer, you can freeze the berries until you are ready. Freezing can help to break down the berries and release the juices. Elderberries are rich in vitamin C, dietary fibre and antioxidants. They may even reduce the severity of colds and flu. But beware – the raw berries, stems and leaves are all poisonous, so if you want to use the berries to make juice, jams, chutneys or pies, they should be cooked first.

Elderberry Liqueur

750ml bottle of vodka or gin
400g elderberries
100g – 200g sugar (depending on how much of a sweet tooth you have)
Zest of half a lemon

Put the elderberries into a sterilised kilner jar. Add the sugar and lemon zest. Finally pour over the vodka or gin. Seal the jar and give it a good shake. The jar needs to be kept in a dark cupboard, while the flavours infuse. Shake the jar every couple of days for the first 2 weeks, then once a week for the next 2-3 months.

Strain the gorgeous berry-coloured liqueur into a clean bottle, using a straining funnel or a sieve lined with muslin, and you’re good to go.

Since raw elderberries are toxic, I’d be inclined to discard those boozy berries afterwards. If you want to make a liqueur that leaves you with alcohol-infused berries to add to chocolate or ice-cream, try blackberries or sloes instead.

Blackberries

Blackberries on a bush
The ripe blackberries will twist off easily.

Blackberries are easy to identify and most people will have picked them at some time or other.

Blackberries contain vitamins A, C, E and most of our B vitamins. They are also a source of important nutrients and antioxidants.

They can be frozen until you are ready to use them. To avoid squishy berries, spread them out on a baking tray and pop in the freezer. Once they have frozen, you can transfer to a bag, to take up less room in the freezer.

A portion of blackberry crumble
Blackberry Crumble

They are wonderful sprinkled over meringues or ice-cream. Cook them in pies and crumbles. Or use them in jams, chutney, wine or liqueur.

When your blackberry liqueur is ready for straining, don’t discard the alcoholic berries. Melt dark chocolate and pour over them for a delicious treat. Put them in the fridge to set and enjoy them with your coffee or give them away as a present.

Pickled blackberries

Try serving pickled blackberries with your cheese and charcuterie board for a sweet/ sour pop of flavour.

500g washed blackberries, patted dry
250g granulated sugar
125ml white or red wine vinegar

Heat the sugar and wine vinegar in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Add the blackberries and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the blackberries with a slotted spoon and put in a sterilised jar. Turn up the heat and boil the liquid until it becomes thick and syrupy. Pour over the fruit, making sure the blackberries are submerged in the liquid. Seal the jar and put it in a dark place for a month. Once opened, keep the pickle in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.

Sloes

Sloes on blackthorn tree
Sloes

Sloes are the fruits of the blackthorn. Fresh sloes are rich in vitamin C and vitamin E. They contain nutrients such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Traditionally, they were picked after the first frost, so that the frost splits the skin, allowing the juices to infuse the gin more readily.

You get the same result by popping them in the freezer, so as long as the berries are ripe – a rich purple colour – you can go ahead and pick them, without waiting for temperatures to drop. If you freeze the sloes, then the skins will burst and you won’t need to prick them either. Partially defrost the sloes when you are ready to make your sloe gin. Adding a few drops of vanilla essence can give the sloe gin a more mature taste.

Rose Hips

Rosehips on bush
A crop of rose hips

Deadheading roses encourages more flowers but if you leave the last spent flowers on the bush at the end of the season, you will allow the red seed pods to develop.

Rose hips are ornamental but also edible, with a tart flavour. They are a wonderful source of vitamin C and full of antioxidants. Rugosa roses have the largest hips and are said to have the best flavour of all.

The first touch of frost sweetens the flavour so that’s the best time to pick them. Wear garden gloves to protect yourself from thorns and snip or pick off the hips. Trim off the ends and rinse them in a colander.

It’s best to use rose hips fresh – when the vitamin levels are higher – but you can also dry them. Spread them out on a baking tray and put in an oven on a low heat until they are completely dry. Then store them in sealed jars.

The seeds of rose hips have irritating hairs. You can split the hips in half and scoop away the seeds. Or you can use the hips whole, mashing and straining the pulp through a sieve when you are ready to cook with them.

Teapot
Rose hip tea for a boost of vitamin C

There’s no need to bother with this if you plan to make rose hip tea, as you will be filtering the tea anyway. Straining through a coffee filter will get rid of every last hair.

Rose Hip Tea

1 tablespoon fresh, mashed rose hips (or dried crumbled ones) per cup
1 cinnamon stick
Sugar or honey to sweeten, optional
Pour boiling water over the rosehips in your teapot and leave to steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain and serve.

You can also use rose hips in jams and jellies, sauces and syrups. To rehydrate dried hips, put them in a pan and cover with water. Simmer until soft, then sieve to remove the seeds.

Red rose hips
Plump rose hips ready to harvest

The high vitamin C content of rose hips meant that they were highly prized during the second world war.

The national diet suffered a shortage of vitamin C when the importing of fruit such as oranges was curtailed. In the autumn of 1941, boy scouts, girl guides, school teachers, the W.V.S. and other volunteers collected 200 tons of rose hips. 600,000 bottles of rose hip syrup were produced from this harvest and sold in chemists’ shops. Parents were advised to give a teaspoonful a day to young children to boost their intake of the vitamin.

Tips for Foraging

  • Make sure you know what you are picking. If in doubt, leave it!
  • Forage sustainably. Only pick from plentiful supplies and leave behind enough for wildlife, other foragers and for the plant itself to be able to produce seeds for the next generation.
  • Avoid plants which have been treated with pesticide.

Autumn Foraging - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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Style Guide – Romantic Gardens Part 2

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Romantic gardens are more ordered than the haphazard jostling of a cottage garden. The garden will be delightful not just to look at, but also to smell, hear, touch, perhaps even taste.

Read: Style Guide – Romantic Gardens Part 1

Plants for a Romantic Garden

There will be roses, of course, and they must have an old-fashioned scent. David Austin’s roses are renowned for their excellent range of colour, combined with the ability to repeat-flower and the fragrance of old garden roses.

Red roses in a romantic garden.
Rosa Falstaff

Rosa Falstaff is a fragrant shrub rose, with deep crimson petals. It grows to 1.25m high.

Roses in a romantic garden. Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Rosa Generous Gardener

The Generous Gardener is a climbing rose, growing to 4.5m. Its pale pink blooms carry a delicious Old Rose fragrance. It has earned the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Camellias and peonies (or paeonies) are rose lookalikes, with their delicate clusters of multi-layered petals.

Camellias in a romantic garden
Camellia × williamsii ‘Anticipation’

Camellia × williamsii ‘Anticipation’ is an upright shrub, with double, deep pink flowers in late winter and early spring.

Red peony - herbaceous perennial
Herbaceous peony

Most peonies are herbaceous perennials, dying back to ground level in autumn. They flower abundantly in early to mid-summer. Paeonia lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ has large, scented, pure white flowers. ‘Bowl of Beauty’ has pink flowers with a cream centre.

Tree peony
Tree Peony ‘Kamada-Fuji’

There are also woody shrub peonies. The tree peony is China’s national flower and has enormous, breath-taking blooms. Kamada-Fuji is a tree peony with beautiful pale lilac flowers.

Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus' - scented shrub for a romantic garden
Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’

Well-behaved shrubs provide structure in garden borders. Choisya (Mexican Orange Blossom) and Philadelphus have fragrance as well as pretty flowers.

Climbing plant for romantic gardens.
Clematis
Climbing plant ideas for a romantic garden
Wisteria
Lonicera (honeysuckle) - climber for romantic gardens
Honeysuckle

Clematis, wisteria and honeysuckle are perfect for clambering over arbours in a romantic garden. Or go for more roses – this time, the climbing or rambling ones.

Perennials for romantic gardens
Campanula lactiflora Loddon Anna

Include perennials like Geranium Johnson’s Blue, Nepeta, Verbena bonariensis and Campanula ‘Loddon Anna’ for luscious flowers.

Heart shaped flowers of Lamprocapnos
Lamprocapnos or Dicentra spectabilis

And what could be more romantic than the heart shaped Lamprocapnos (also known as Dicentra spectabilis or bleeding heart)?

Grasses in a romantic garden
Pennisetum alopecuroides Hameln

Swaying grasses are also very tactile, adding to the sensory feel of a romantic garden.

Herbs in a romantic garden
Dill

Herbs are perfect for a romantic garden, because they can be touched and smelled, as well as tasted.

Spring bulbs in a romantic garden
Camassia leichtlinii

Don’t forget spring bulbs for an early display of flowers. A swathe of camassia, grape hyacinths and scilla are fabulous early in the year. Plant up as many pots as you can spare with narcissi and tulips.

Romantic Gardens Part 2 - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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Style Guide – Romantic Gardens Part 1

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Romantic Garden – who wouldn’t want one? Can you picture it in your mind’s eye? You will probably be wearing something from the 18th century and inhaling the intoxicating scent of roses. The garden will be delightful not just to look at, but also to smell, hear, touch, perhaps even taste.

Rosa Cardinal de Richlieu - romantic garden
Rosa Cardinal de Richlieu

So what does the garden actually look like? Romantic gardens are more ordered than the haphazard jostling of a cottage garden.

Features of a romantic garden
Topiary and an elegant fountain in a romantic garden.

They may be formal – think Lady Someone’s Walk in the grounds of a stately home – or more relaxed. In fact, they could be a mixture of both. Neatly trimmed box hedges and topiary balls combined with billowing drifts of flowering shrubs and fragrant perennials.

Features

Stone lamp
A stone lamp for added interest in a romantic garden

Features include statues or garden sculptures to admire and linger near. A bench is essential for relaxing moments amongst the scented flowers.

Garden borders creating symmetry
Matching borders and a winding path

There will probably be elements of symmetry, such as borders mirroring each other either side of a path. Here, the same plants are used in both borders, but without strict symmetry. The winding path also creates a less formal look.

Water feature in garden
A pond with fountain feature

A water feature is perfect for a romantic garden. Listen to the murmuring of a fountain or watch sunlight playing on water.

Clematis on iron arch
A soft purple clematis scrambles over an archway

Of course, there needs to be a hidden part, too, for secret trysts and whispered conversations. It could be a path leading away from the main garden, obscured by high planting. Or a secluded, flower-strewn bower – an archway, arbour or a pergola, draped with perfumed climbers.

Colour

Garden furniture in pale colours
Garden furniture in relaxed muted colours

Colours will be soft and serene. Furniture and paintwork will be chalky greys, smoky greens and grey-blues. Or plaster, rose and lavender – the colours of castle stone walls at sunset.

Dark highlight plant
Verbascum, delphinium and iris, with dark acer to contrast

Flowers are in pastel shades, blush and peach and soft apricot. But don’t forget to highlight with splashes of a more intense colour. Deepest red or dark purple black add a frisson of romance and daring.

Flowers in a white border
White tulips

You could have a white border too or a collection of containers with a white focus.

Lighting

Garden lighting
Candles for soft lighting at night

There’s nothing more romantic than watching the sun set, followed by an alfresco meal. You’ll need a sheltered spot and a collection of candles or solar powered lights so that you can keep enjoying the garden well into the night.

Romantic Gardens Part 1 - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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6 Fillers for Fantastic Container Plantings

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The Thrillers are the architectural plants, usually the tallest plants in the display. They provide the structure for your planting combination.

Next come the Fillers, the second layer of planting in the container. They add mass to the planting, as well as providing a contrast in shape and texture. Think mounds, if your Thriller is a spire.

Here are my 6 choices for plants with superb filler qualities.

Geranium

The colourful summer bedding pelargoniums of course make fantastic summer container plants. If you want a longer lasting display, though, choose from the hardy perennial geraniums, known as cranesbills. They are superb for providing long season flowering year on year. Some of the more vigorous ones, like Geranium Ann Folkard, make fantastic ground cover in your borders, but choose a more compact one for your containers.

Geranium cinereum Ballerina - ideas for container plantings from Weatherstaff garden design
Geranium cinereum Ballerina

Geranium (Cinereum Group) ‘Ballerina’ grows to 15cm high. Pale pink flowers, delicately veined purple and with a bewitching dark eye, are carried in spring and summer.

Geranium Rozanne - hardy perennial geranium for containers
Geranium Rozanne

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is taller and more vigorous. Violet blue flowers, with white centres, appear in abundance from July to October. Trim back hard to maintain shape and encourage more blooms.

Geranium clarkei 'Kashmir White - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Geranium clarkei ‘Kashmir White

Geranium ‘Kashmir White’ is 45cm high, with white flowers, veined pink. It spreads by rhizomes, so can be easily split to provide free plants elsewhere in your garden.

Heuchera

Heucheras are the most perfectly behaved container plants. Foliage can be green or chocolate, red or golden, often marbled or frosted. They produce delicate sprays of tiny flowers in late spring or early summer, but their colourful evergreen (or semi-evergreen) foliage is the main attraction. You can find heucheras which are suitable for any spot in the garden, sun or shade.

Heuchera Green Spice - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Heuchera Green Spice

‘Green Spice’ has stunning foliage. Its bright green leaves are frosted with silver and its veins highlighted in red. A good plant for shady borders and pots.

Heuchera Marmalade - container filler plant idea
Heuchera Marmalade

‘Marmalade’ has ochre leaves, with pink undersides. It can tolerate full sun to part shade.

Heuchera Beauty Colour - foliage plant for container planting from Weatherstaff blog
Heuchera Beauty Colour

Shade-loving ‘Beauty Colour’ has silvered foliage with fresh green margins and dark purple veining.

Take a look at their close cousins, heucherellas and tiarellas, too!

Salvia

Salvia x sylvestris is a clump-forming perennial, with flower spikes in early and mid-summer. The perennials die back neatly at the end of the season and push up again the following spring.

Salvia x sylvestris Viola Klose
Salvia x sylvestris Viola Klose

‘Viola Klose’ has spikes of indigo, two-lipped flowers, with contrasting dark purple bracts. It grows to 60cm tall.

Salvia x sylvestris Mainacht - from Weatherstaff blog
Salvia x sylvestris Mainacht

‘Mainacht’ (or ‘May Night’) has dark purple-blue flowers, with red-purple bracts, growing to 75cm.

Hylotelephium

Hylotelephium (also known as stonecrop or sedum) is a low growing perennial with succulent leaves and flat flowerheads of starry flowers in summer and autumn. Cut back in late May, the ‘Chelsea Chop’, to keep the plant from flopping and produce later flowers. You can leave the flowerheads to provide interest over the winter months.

Hylotelephium Purple Emperor - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Hylotelephium Purple Emperor

‘Purple Emperor’ has dark plum leaves with deep pink flowers. It grows to 50 cm tall.

Hylotelephium Munstead Red - from Weatherstaff blog
Hylotelephium Munstead Red

‘Munstead Red’ is 60cm tall, with purple-pink flowers. The dark green leaves are tinged with purple.

Thyme

Herbs make good fillers, as well as providing flavour in the kitchen. Thymus x citriodorus is a hardy, evergreen perennial with summer flowers and lemon-scented leaves.

Thymus x citriodorus - herbs for container plantings
Thymus x citriodorus

‘Golden Lemon’ has variegated yellow and green leaves, with lavender-pink flowers. ‘Bertram Anderson’ forms mounds of tiny gold-green leaves, with clusters of lavender-pink flowers.

Allium schoenoprasum - planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Allium schoenoprasum

Chives

Grow chives (Allium schoenoprasum) for edible, dark green leaves and attractive pom-poms of pale purple flowers. The flowers are edible too and can be sprinkled over salads.

5 Fillers for Containers - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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Prairie Planting at Lascaux

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

18,000 years ago, the cave at Lascaux, in southwestern France, was visited by a group of prehistoric hunters who set about creating their masterpieces. With pieces of iron oxide, manganese oxide, charcoal and kaolin, and using the cave walls as their canvas, they painted their subterranean cathedral.

Lascaux cave painting from the Weatherstaff blog
Cave art at Lascaux

In earthy shades of reds, browns and yellows, nearly one thousand animal figures – horses, aurochs, bison and red deer – clamber, jump and charge across the walls of the underground gallery. The story of how the cave entrance was discovered in 1940, in a country ravaged by war, by an 18 year old boy and his dog, seems almost as much a fairy tale as the idea of prehistoric man, clutching his stone lamp in the darkness of the cave, and taking up his plant-based brush to make the first stroke.

Lascaux cave painting from the Weatherstaff blog
Cave art at Lascaux

The thousands of visitors to the caves took its toll on the paintings, which quickly began to deteriorate, and the caves were shut to the public in 1963.

In 1979, Lascaux was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and twenty years after closing to visitors, a replica of part of the cave system, known as Lascaux 2, was opened. The latest facsimile, Lascaux 4, uses digital technology to create a replica of the whole of the original cave, which perfectly reproduces the contours and dimensions of the original walls and paintings.

International Centre for Cave Art from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
International Centre for Cave Art, Lascaux

In 2016, the International Centre for Cave Art, housing Lascaux 4, opened at the foot of the Lascaux hill.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about visiting the replica. I wanted to get as close as possible to the real thing, but I wondered if there would be a sense of anti-climax, knowing that what I was seeing was a 21st century copy. In fact, the sense of wonder was still there. It even felt like a real cave, dark and cool, and the first painting, emerging from the blackness by the arrow of light from our tour guide’s torch, was enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

Lascaux visitor centre surrounded by planting

The new centre is half-buried, sinking into the landscape, but determinedly modern, with its angular lines and an enormous wall of glass. The planting in front is modern too.

Prairie-style with yellow and purple perennials - from Weatherstaff
Yellows and purples bring splashes of colour to the planting

Swaying, ornamental grasses combine with vibrant perennials to create drifts of naturalistic planting.

Blue perennials at Lascaux
Agastache, geraniums and asters at Lascaux

Colours are predominantly blues, greens and soft purples, with splashes of bright yellows and oranges.

Prairie Planting

The origins of the current trend for ‘prairie’ or naturalistic planting can partly be found in the Dutch Wave movement of the early ‘80s in the Netherlands, associated with garden designer, Piet Oudolf.

Pennisetum and seedheads
Soft Pennisetum and tactile seedheads at Lascaux

The planting is primarily grasses and perennials, with structure provided not by shrubs and trees but by long-lasting grasses and perennials which keep their shape into the winter without collapsing.

chinacea purpurea flower and seedhead - autumn interest from the Weatherstaff blog
Echinacea purpurea flowers and seedheads

Those perennials which flower late and develop appealing seed heads are especially valued. Echinacea purpurea flowers from late summer into the autumn, then as its drooping petals drop away, its dramatic seedheads provide further interest in late borders.

Pink echinacea flowers - late summer garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Pink echinacea flowering in late summer at Lascaux

A pink echinacea adds a splash of vivid colour in the late summer borders.

Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firedance'
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’ – the leaves fade attractively in late summer

Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’ is one of the perennials favoured by Piet Oudolf. A clump-forming perennial, it has spikes of red flowers from mid-summer and into autumn.

Soft blue planting at Lascaux
Soft, swaying planting at Lascaux

The overall effect of prairie-style / naturalistic planting is soft and dreamy. Walking through the borders should be like wandering through a flower meadow.

Chipped bark pathway at Lascaux from Weatherstaff
Pathways meander through the planting

At Lascaux, paths of chipped bark meander through the waist-high plants to provide close-up views.

Drifts of planting - Weatherstaff blog
Drifts of grasses and pockets of yellow planting create repetition in the borders

The planting, of course, is far from ‘natural’ but is carefully designed to give a naturalistic feel. Plants are arranged in drifts and mingle with others. Colours and groups are repeated at intervals.

Yellow and red daylily - prairie-planting style from Weatherstaff
A yellow and red daylily adds a pop of colour to the borders

Tall stems support each other, rather than being tied and restrained by stakes and wires. There is a wonderful juxtaposition of shapes and textures and colours, almost too varied for nature to manage by itself.

Green lawns outside Lascaux Centre - from Weatherstaff garden design software
Borders to wonder at and lawns to roll on…

Outside the modern, glass-fronted building of The International Centre for Cave Art, the misty swathes of planting ebb and flow. But they are carefully bordered with immaculately manicured lawns. Like the artists of long ago, the gardeners of Lascaux are fully in control here.

Prairie Planting at Lascaux - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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The Weatherstaff Team

Garden Maintenance Calendar

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Need to know just what to do and when in your garden? The Weatherstaff’s new maintenance calendar screen collects together in one place all the maintenance tasks and information for each plant in your personal planting plan.

Maintenance tasks on the calendar screen

If you’re not using the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner yet, read more here to find out how it can help you create stunning garden borders.

So, you’ve generated your tailor-made planting plan – your choice of colour and style, with plants selected to thrive in your garden’s micro-climate.

You’ve printed out your plant shopping list.

And you’re all set for your home-grown designer show garden!

But how do you keep it looking fantastic year after year?

The Weatherstaff intelligent garden design software has just got smarter! Our latest update now includes a Maintenance Calendar Screen.

Tasks sorted by season or task type - Weatherstaff Maintenance Calendar Screen
Maintenance tasks sorted by season or task type

The maintenance tasks refer specifically to the plants in your border. They can be sorted by season or task type.

Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner displays maintenance instructions for individual plants
Specific maintenance information is given for every plant in your planting plan

Clicking on a maintenance task for a particular plant will bring up detailed information relevant to that plant.

List of task priorities - Weatherstaff Maintenance Screen
Sorting maintenance tasks by importance

What’s more, the tasks are graded by level of importance – decide how much time you can spare in your garden each month and prioritise your maintenance tasks accordingly. *** means important tasks!

Screenshot showing task priority bar -Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Select all tasks or choose from Important, Beneficial or Useful.

Make sure you get all the essential gardening jobs done by selecting the important jobs first.

Select tasks for new or established plants
Select tasks for new or established plants.

You can also choose to select tasks for all newly added plants, established plants or every plant. That means if your border is now established, you won’t need to see gardening jobs relating to plants which are just getting settled in.

Weatherstaff Planting Plan with highlighted plant
Plant is highlighted in your planting plan.

And if you need help finding a plant in your borders, double-clicking on the plant in the Maintenance Calendar Screen opens up the Planting Plan Screen with the relevant plant highlighted.

We think the new maintenance calendar will be all you need to organise your gardening to-do list each month. If you have any questions or feedback about the new screen, do let us know.

Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner CD for customised garden plans

Garden Maintenance Calendar - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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The Weatherstaff Team

Spring update – How to Plant Pots for All Year Round Interest

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Last spring, I decided it was time to give my little courtyard a make-over, by potting up three matching containers. My challenge was to choose plants which would provide interest all year round and continue to look good the following year. It was hard work restraining myself over the cold months but, eventually, in early spring, I allowed myself to indulge in my favourite pastime at the garden centre!

Salvia x superba - for spring and summer flower beds and containers. Weatherstaff garden design software
Salvia x superba
Pansies and grape  hyacinths - spring flowers for container planting. Weatherstaff garden design software
Pansies and grape hyacinths
Dianthus for garden pots - from the Weatherstaff blog
Dianthus

Buying plants earlier in the year means that the plants are small – and I did have to take some on faith that they were going to survive and grow more than the one flimsy leaf they came home with – but they are usually cheaper, so you can get a lot more for your money.

Choosing plants at the garden centre from Weanterstaff garden design blog
Choosing plants at the garden centre

Early summer containers with heuchera
Early June

Because these pots were designed to brighten up the courtyard all year round, I chose at least one evergreen plant per pot, as well as plants which would provide interest at different times of the year.

The Gaura in this pot flowered magnificently for months on end, but when it eventually faded away, the purple heuchera and red hook sedge (Uncinia rubra) kept the display going well.

I potted up each container with at least one tall, architectural plant, a couple of mounds for contrast and a trailing plant to tumble over the edge. This is known as the ‘Thriller, Filler, Spiller’ technique – read more about it in the post below. I also added a handful of Muscari bulbs, left over from planting elsewhere in the garden.

Here are my recipes for all-season container plantings:

Pot 1 rosemary, salvia superba, Japanese anemone and geranium endressi - planting ideas for all year round interest
Pot 1

Pot 1

  • Rosmarinus officinalis – upright (and also evergreen), so great as the backbone of a container. Aromatic shrub, with needle-thin leaves, and pretty blue flowers in spring.
  • Salvia superba (late spring to late summer) – forms a mound of foliage, with vertical spikes of flowers.
  • Anemone hupehensis ‘Praecox’ (Aug to Oct) – Japanese anemone is an upright perennial, with late deep pink flowers.
  • Geranium endressi (May to October), semi-evergreen mounding perennial.
Pot 2 - heuchera, uncinia rubra, gaura and dianthus - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Pot 2

Pot 2

  • Gaura Whirling Butterflies (June to Oct), a real ‘thriller’ for pots, with masses of fluttering flowers.
  • Uncinia rubra (evergreen, ornamental grass) – has gorgeous red-brown linear leaves.
  • Heuchera (evergreen) – superb mound of eye-catching foliage, with delicate sprays of flowers in late spring and summer.
  • Dianthus – mine was unnamed, but has bewitching dark pink-red markings, with a pale pink outer petal. Compact, prolific bloomer and scented.
Pot 3 - lavender, iris, geranium sanguine, Achillea millefolium and lemon thyme - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Pot 3

Pot 3

  • Lavandula (evergreen) – bushy, evergreen lavender with wonderfully fragrant summer flowers and aromatic foliage.
  • Thymus × citriodorus – lemon thyme forms an aromatic mound, perfect for flavouring roast vegetables and chicken.
  • Iris germanica ‘Accent’ (May, June) – has beautiful yellow and dark red flowers in spring.
  • Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ (summer) – upright perennial, with flat-topped flowerheads, magenta with white centres.
  • Geranium sanguine (May to September) – low mound of foliage and masses of flowers all summer long.
Pot 2 in April - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Pot 2 in April

The containers were a picture through the spring and summer. Within a month, the heuchera had put on fresh new leaves, the gaura was growing strongly and the dianthus was flowering prettily.

Iris germanica Accent - flowering in May. Spring garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Iris germanica Accent

In early May, the iris began to flower, its soft yellow standards and dark red falls echoing the dark heuchera and the purple and yellow pansies in the adjacent containers.

Salvia and heuchera flowers - late spring garden border ideas
Salvia and heuchera flowers

By the end of May, the salvia was throwing up spikes of deep blue, two-lipped flowers, contrasting with delicate sprays of pink heuchera flowers.

Early June - geranium, salvia and gaura. Summer planting ideas for containers.
Early June – geranium, salvia and gaura

In early June, the vertical stems of gaura, salvia and rosemary (with the tall iris leaves still showing behind) created vibrancy and movement, while the mounds of heuchera and geranium kept the containers grounded.

Lemon-scented thyme - herbs for summer containers, Weatherstaff garden design software
Thymus × citriodorus
Roasted carrots with lemon scented thyme - planting herbs from the PlantingPlanner garden design software
Roasted carrots with lemon scented thyme

Planting herbs in your all-season containers provides a ready source of fresh flavours to add zing to your cooking. The zesty taste of Thymus × citriodorus is perfect for flavouring roast meats and vegetables. The edible flowers have a lemony flavour too.

Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ - ideas for summer flower beds,from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’

Into the autumn, the late flowers of Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ and Anemone hupehensis ‘Praecox’ took over from the fading summer bloomers, while the evergreen plants continued to work their magic in each of the three pots.

Muscari armeniacum for spring containers from Weatherstaff garden design software
Muscari armeniacum

During the winter, I added some winter-flowering pansies, which did a great job of keeping the pots looking good through the cold months and into early spring. The muscari popping up through the over-wintered planting was a delight. Next year, I’m going to multiply this effect by adding more bulbs of tiny spring flowers.

New growth on the uncinia rubra -grasses for container gardening by Weatherstaff
The red hook sedge pulls through

Uncinia rubra will only tolerate full sun if kept constantly moist. I thought I had lost it, but this spring, it has fought back and is putting on new growth.

New pink leaves on the heuchera - container planting in spring. Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
The heuchera keeps on going

The wonderful heuchera has fresh, soft pink leaves now, which darken to a deep red purple. Its foliage looks fantastic all year round and in a few weeks’ time, it will send up sprays of tiny pink flowers again.

Planting pots for year round interest doesn’t mean that the pots will continue to look good forevermore. Over time, some plants will grow too big for the space and some will need dividing to keep them in good flowering form. But it does mean that you won’t have to ditch a whole container of planting every time the seasons change. Of course, you could use a slow-growing shrub or dwarf-evergreen, which will last for several years without needing much effort on your part. If you enjoy watching the seasons change in your garden, though, you might well prefer to watch them change too in your garden containers, where new plants push up into the limelight as other quietly fade away.

All Season Pots - spring update - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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The Weatherstaff Team

How to apply a spring mulch

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The spring bulbs are a picture. Early winter aconites and the valiant, little snowdrops are giving way to the first cheery daffodils, flashes of purple crocuses and creamy primroses, huddled low in their blanket of foliage.

Purple crocus in early spring Weatherstaff garden design blog
Crocuses light up the spring border
Cyclamineus narcissi - early flowering daffodils for a spring display
Early Cyclamineus narcissi
Primroses (Primula vulgaris) in an early spring border
Scented primroses in early spring

A splash of sunshine on an early spring afternoon is enough to entice you out into the garden, pulling on the gardening gloves, on the look-out for an excuse to potter.

There are plenty of jobs to do. Winter-flowering shrubs can be pruned when they have finished flowering. The grasses can get a bit of tidying up too. Any deciduous grasses left to provide winter interest can be cut back in early spring, while dead foliage on evergreen grasses can be pulled away. The wisteria gets its second cut in January or February. Those whippy shoots which were cut back in the summer after flowering can be cut back to 2 or 3 buds in late winter or early spring.

Wheelbarrow of well-rotted manure for a spring time mulch
Well-rotted manure makes a great spring time mulch

It’s almost time for the spring mulch – but don’t be too impatient to get it done. The best time to do this is mid to late spring, when the soil has had a chance to warm up a bit, but is still moist from the winter rains.

If you are planning to lift and divide perennials, do that first, so the mulch is left undisturbed as much as possible once it’s down. Tackle the weeding first too.

What is mulching?

Mulching means to apply a thick layer of material over the soil in garden beds. Between 5-10cm (2-4 inches) of mulch will prevent annual weeds from germinating. Any weeds which make it through will be weakened and easier to remove.

Tulip leaves emerge in spring garden beds
Leave room for new growth to emerge

Spread it carefully, leaving a gap around existing or emerging plants. Piling mulch up too close to the stems can cause them to rot.

Why mulch?

As well as suppressing weeds, mulching also helps trap in moisture, reducing the need for watering later on. If you choose to mulch with organic matter, there are additional benefits, as it acts as a great soil conditioner and improves the structure of the soil.

Chipped bark used as a mulch in flower beds Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
A layer of chipped bark covers the soil around perennials

Mulching also gives garden borders a tidy appearance, covering the soil between plants with a neat, homogenous surface.

What should I mulch with?

The two choices for mulching are organic or inorganic material. If you are mulching to conserve moisture and reduce weeds, you can use anything which will allow rain to permeate through, yet reduce evaporation. A layer of straw will help or even bits of old carpet. Woven landscape fabric is particularly useful when planting up a new border, because you can lay the weed-suppressing material down first, then cut crosses and plant through the gaps. Gravel, slate or pebbles can be an attractive addition to flower beds or containers.

Pebbles, slate and gravel can be used as an inorganic mulch in spring
Slate, gravel or pebbles make an attractive mulch

However, if you want to benefit from improved soil condition and structure, your best choice is to use an organic mulch. All soil types can be improved by adding organic matter, which helps the soil to retain moisture and nutrients. Adding well-rotted organic matter to heavy soil improves its structure, making it more crumbly and easier to work with.

Apply chipped bark to borders as a spring mulch
Decorative chipped bark can be bought from garden centres

Organic matter includes well-rotted manure, garden compost, leaf mould, chipped or composted bark and spent mushroom compost. Dig it in when first preparing the ground for planting and then add layers around the plants (mulching) every year if possible.

If you have a lot of garden, it can be expensive to cover every bed. Making your own leaf mould or compost is a good start, but if you need to supplement it with something extra, it’s worth trying to find a reputable source. My first delivery of well-rotted manure contained more than I bargained for and I spent hours sifting through it, removing bits of string, electrical wires and weeds!

How to apply a spring mulch - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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The Weatherstaff Team