At Petersham Nurseries, we are planning our 15th Anniversary this month of May, celebrating the past decade and a half under the stewardship of the Boglione family and the development of the Nurseries and the expert team behind its horticultural reputation. We are choosing 15 favourites, roses of course, garden plants and houseplants, (for we are a powerhouse, though I say it myself, of indoor gardening with a Garden Shop that can be quite simply breathtaking in the display, inspiration, scale, breadth and scope of plants for the home).
But having already chosen, with some recklessness, our favourite roses, here goes for Garden Plants.
Again, a mightily divisive process of picking just a few garden plants from so many. We’ve missed out the huge family of Clematis, all of the Hellebores, fragrant lavenders, Magnolias and flowering Cherries that have been so amazing this season, fruit trees that are decorative as well as productive (though the crab apples do make a wonderful jelly), ferns and grasses, trees galore and conifers, whole worlds of perennials, bulbs and annuals, and there is bound to be a quite valid argument for choosing any one of these over our subjective selection. Maybe if we did our Favourite 100, or 500, it might be fairer …
Today, these are my choices –
Erigeron karvinskianus – Mexican Fleabane – a dainty but tough beauty, with a flurry of tiny white daisy-flowers on wiry stems, fading to soft pinks and purples. Softens walls and terraces, superb underplanting for a sunny spot, near-evergreen and utterly reliable, self-seeding freely too. We love it.
Trachelospermum jasminoides – a superb fragrant evergreen climber with starry jasmine-scented, white propeller-like flowers held against glossy green foliage, that turns an attractive burnished burgundy in cooler winter months.
Malus Red Sentinel – one of the best, this crab apple blossoms in Spring, pink buds opening to pure white, and in Autumn developing very attractive, persistent scarlet fruit, often lasting through to early Spring. We have two of these grown as pleached specimens against one of our glasshouses. They are delight all the way through the year.
Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle – pale-lime green buds become huge, airy creamy flowerhead on this beautifully romantic shrub, quite happy in sun or shade.
Geraneum Rozanne, voted Plant of the Centenary by the great and the good, this herbaceous perennial flowers for an incredibly long season throughout the summer into Autumn, with clear china-blue flowers with a white eye.
Cobaea scandens – a vigorous annual climber, that can put on an astonishing amount of growth through just one season, self-clinging with attractive leaves that set of the unusual, large cup-and-saucer blue-purple flowers that pale of lilac. Sow seeds early in the year for a riotous display in summer and right through until the first frosts
Erysimum Bowles Mauve – a perennial wallflower that is the epitome of flower power. Evergreen foliage and with tall spikes of rich mauve flowers that smother the plant from Spring until Autumn, flowering at least non-stop for six, seven, or more months at a time. Deadhead regularly to stop it going to seed and it will be a triumph in a sunny position in your garden.
Salvia Amistad – we had to choose one Salvia although there is a lot of competition from this family of summer and autumn flowering perennials, Hailing from warmer climes, they need a warm sheltered spot but will repay you with flowers right through until November. Of the smaller-flowered varieties like Hot Lips, Neon and Clotted Cream, they have the bonus of blackcurrant-scented leaves. This one though, Amistad, is a fast-growing border star, with tall spikes of silky deep-blue, indigo and black flowers held high above pointed foliage. Architectural and bold, it is attractive to bees, butterflies and moths.
Foxgloves (Digitalis) – statuesque spires of purple, pinks, rose, peach, whites, lilacs, creams, some the colour of apricots, others of strawberry milkshake – one or two of the species a strong yellow or rich rust – spotted or plain, with dense tubular flowers, sometimes deftly split, these are adaptable biennial stars for containers and garden alike, in sun or shade. We love them and plant up hundreds each year to adorn our Nurseries. We can’t choose a favourite, but would mention the reliable Camelot and Dalmatian Series, Sutton’s Apricot, Pam’s Choice and Serendipity.
Dahlias – another family of flowering though tender, perennials and again, an almost impossible task of picking just one – there is such a kaleidoscope of colour and such a variety of flower-shapes and size in plants that can grow knee-high or more than head-high in just one season. Flowering from mid-Summer right until the frosts, they are an undoubted star of the garden, with many suitable for container growing too. We grow a huge variety in the Cutting Gardens here at Petersham Nurseries, though we do have perhaps one true favourite, Cafe au Laite, a Babylon or Dinner-plate Dahlia with huge creamy flowerheads, streaked with coffer, creme, peach and soft pinks. A true star.
Tulips – yet another family of plants, this time a Spring-flowering bulb. We plant thousands in the Cutting Gardens and in the gardens of Petersham House, and they are a highlight of the April and May floral display. Like the Dahlia, there are a myriad variety of colours and flower shapes -slender-waisted lily-flowered, bowl-shaped, double forms, fringed and puckered. We love the striking Parrot tulips like Rococco, Ballerina in bright orange is as elegant a flower as you could wish for, Black Hero is a rich double, blackcurrant and liquorice creation. If we had to single one out, it would be the late-flowering double, Belle Epoque. A stunning combination of apricot-pink and coffee, fading to the edges, with a silky, pearly sheen. A charming companion to other warm tones, and particularly lovely in a terracotta planter. I might have chosen Alliums, for a bulb, or Camassia, or Fritillaria persica –
Scented Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ – flecks of pink flowers above downy rose-scented leaves, this scented Pelargonium is absolutely one of our favourites. Hailing from South Africa, they can summer outside on a sunny terrace, being brought inside when colder weather threatens to overwinter. Fast growing and generous, cuttings are easy to take as are almost all of the family – which as well as this rich rose fragrance, offer up varieties redolent of orange and strawberry, cherry and saffron, mint and apple, pine, hazelnut, lemon – with flowers in whites and pinks, cerise and richer reds. Place a leaf at the bottom of a baking tin if you are making a Victoria Sandwich, and it will delicately flavour the cake, quite naturally.
Herbs – another group of plants rather than one favourite. many flowering herbs are veritable bee-magnets, Rosemary and Thyme, Oregano, borage and chamomile. There is a dizzying variety of herbs. Thymes that are green, gold, silver, lemon-scented, flowering in pinks, purples, reds and white, bushy or creeping; mints can be chocolate, eau-de-cologne, black, strawberry-scented, trailing (Indian), Moroccan (best for tea), spearmint, peppermint, ginger, grapefruit, apple, Spanish, Silver or lime! We simply can’t choose one …
Daphne odora aureomarginata – in the depths of winter, this evergreen gold-flashed shrub can ambush you on a woodland walk with an intoxicating fragrance of jasmine and vanilla, rich, deep, utterly satisfying and being pumped out by clusters of pink and white, waxy flowers. Plant it where you can best appreciate its scent, by a path or entranceway, with a little shade and deep, rich soil for best results. Perfect for early foraging bees. Many winter flowering shrubs rely on scent to attract pollinators but none are as heady and glorious, we think, as this Daphne.
Muelhenbeckia – such a versatile plant, with tiny oval dark green leaves held on thin wiry stems, hailing from New Zealand but quite happy in a British garden. Given support it will climb, or scramble upwards; left to its own devices it will form an undulating dense ground cover mass in shade, or trail equally happily over the edges of a raised bed or container. There are flowers, and fruit, but these are pretty inconspicuous. A delightful alternative to ivy, used just on its own or in combination with other plants, we have found no end to its uses here at Petersham Nurseries and we couldn’t be without it.