Sensory sensations

Paul Green recently provided a very “touchy-feely” talk to the Stonehouse Gardening Club. Entitled “Sensory Sensations”, Paul illustrated his talk with a wide variety of plants and shrubs, stressing that location was important to maintain darker leaved plants.

Paul Green at the Stonehouse Community Centre, speaking to the SGC about “sensory “Sensory sentations”

Here are some of the plants Paul told us about:

Dark Grasses

Sambuca (Mondo Grass) “Opioda” a lovely dark grass which will do well in sun or shade, similarly the darker celandine Runucules “Vicarda” does well in lawns to provide an interesting shade. Many dark leaved plants are deciduous, but Pittosporum with smaller leaves will survive to -15°C. The New Zealand flax, Phormiums, are also very hardy. Surfer will withstand strong winds and Platts Black has a darker colour. Pink stripe is about one metre high whereas Sun down can grow to 1.5 metre. 

Be generous with pot size. Splitting plants is easy – cut off bottom 2/3 of root ball, splitting plant with a spade and then repot the plants in tree/shrub compost. Don’t press down the soil as air in the pot is important for root growth and moisture  

“Thuggy” grasses

Grasses for all their good looks and wavy strands do need to be managed. They do well in a pot or a part of the garden where spreading will not be a problem. Some grasses are “thuggy”, and different varieties suit different growing conditions, be it sunny/shady, damp or dry.

Carex “Everest” is an evergreen low spreader and can be underplanted, also to give shade to smaller plants. The New Zealand sedges Carex (Carex testacea in images below) provide a lovely bronze or purple colour.

Ornamental grasses

Calamagrostis are elegant ornamental grasses which produce upright feathery flower plumes in summer. “Style gigantea” is tall but can be hard to grow.

The Panicum virgatum grasses such as ‘Shenandoh’ are from the North American prairies and like a good open position but will survive cold weather. Don’t be tempted to cut back in Autumn! They can still provide colour, shape and form well into February.  There are some good examples of grasses at RHS Wisley and even in February they give a good show. Most do not spread with seed and are well behaved.

Zebra Grass or Silver Grass (Miscanthus) provide miniature 3-4 foot high growth in many shades. Whilst preferring sun, Miscanthus will tolerate partial shade; in their first season of planting, make sure they have plenty of water.

For pots, walls and borders

“Baboons Bottom”, a member of Bromeliad family from Chile has blue flower and red leaves and does well in a pot but can grow outdoors in mild climates. It even grows on walls in the Scilly Isles!

Osmanthus is an evergreen hardy shrub which can grow to 6×6 foot. It has scented white flowers which can be a bit overpowering inside and should be pruned after flowering.

Gunnera with its large leaves ideally needs space but can be container grown. Don’t be stingy on pot size. It will tolerate sun but does better in the shade. Protect the crown from frost in winter!

Sophora little baby is a small evergreen shrub from New Zealand that provides an interesting zi-zag shaped stems with small leaves, may need to be brought inside in severe winters.

Rudbeckia hirta, sometimes called “Black eyed Susan”, have a wonderful show of bright yellow, sometimes orange, flowers. Rudbeckia hirta provides late-summer colour in ornamental borders and works well in prairie-style schemes with ornamental grasses. It’s short enough not to need staking and doesn’t spread so fast that frequent division is necessary, making it a very easy-care plant. 

Beschorneria flamingo glow provides large (5 foot tall) variegated leaves with a purple/ pink bracts and will do well in a sunny position. Not for a pot, this plant creates a wall on its own. 

Drought tolerant

Pulmonaria has a furry leaf, with pink / blue flowers. This Lungwort doesn’t need much water so can survive drought better than most and is very bee friendly.

Japanese anemones provide a welcome splash of autumn colour. They are shade tolerant and once established, also drought tolerant. A wide range of varieties have been introduced with different colours  and heights such as Red Riding Hood, a cerise shade 18” high and could be in a planter along with Pocahontas, a pink variety.

The swan series provide bigger blooms and have reverse petal colours such as Elfin Swan 14”, and Dainty Swan 17”. Both have large white flowers with yellow centres and pink reverse colour.

Responding to questions, Paul said that repotting grasses and shrubs can be done by

1. Cutting off the bottom 1/3 of roots

2. Replanting with “home-grown” compost at bottom of larger pot (as it can contain weed seeds), with the top half purchased using compost.

Paul Green speaking to the SGC

The recent drought has had a major impact on many plants, but most will recover. Distressed plants shed leaves early to survive. Try the scratch test using a thumbnail to just break the skin of the trunk and see if it is green!

Slugs can be problem and the newer ferric phosphate pellets cause no ill effects to other creatures. Any uneaten pellets will eventually break down into phosphate and iron which will then be taken up as nutrients by surrounding plants.

For tips on how to protect your garden during heatwaves and droughts, read our blog post here.

Words by Will Foster
Featured photo is of RHS Garden, Wisley, taken by Zara Ramaniah in winter.