July 27, 2010

Tall, strong and handsome...

My garden is a bit breezy, blow-y, frankly in need of a bit of protective hedging on the open field side, but I can't bear to lose the view. So, I really have to stake tall plants if I want them to remain on their feet. But, I hate the faffing about with poles and string and twiddley bits of twine and wire, it is just too boring for words and takes ages. So I love and adore the 'Popeyes' of my flowerbeds, the tall, strong plants that need no help at all, shun support and wouldn't be seen dead tied to a hazel pole. I love 'low-maintenance' - I have a life to lead dammit...I am LAZY!!

My realdeal, 'keep standing whatever the weather does' plants this summer are:

Verbena bonariensis, tall (6ftish), wiry, willowy, gorgeous and glam, basically Elle Mcwotsit with a iridescent purple hairdo. Like Elle, she was walking the Shows, (Chelsea, Hampton Court et al), at least 10 years ago, and is, dare I say it, perhaps a little, "yesterday". But I couldn't care less, she has style and attitude, looks good front or back of a flower bed (losing the metaphor here!), looks magnificent for weeks on end, sways and sashays about in a breeze and mixes beautifully with grasses in particular. Also selfseeds promiscuously. Sorry, Elle.

And I'm not the only fan,

Grasses such as Calamagrostis Karl Foester and Stipa gigantea - are tall, statuesque and architectural without being clumpy and coarse. They also rustle in a merest zephyr which I find strangely lovely and very soothing.

Hollyhocks - mandatory by the garden gate of any self respecting English cottage garden - and saved from  utter tweedom by, in my case, selfseeding in moody purpley- blacks, maroons, magenta and sexily grubby pinks. I never sow any seeds, they do it all on their own. Brawn and brain, amazing, non?

...just one more, woo hoo!!

Bronze Fennel - now this really is a rampant beast and will seed itself everywhere, so be warned. But all is forgiven for its effortless height combined with the softest, prettiest foliage.

Cosmos, in purest white and shameless magenta, almost makes it into this list and I love it so much I might have to devote a whole post to it sometime. If you don't grow this classiest annual PLEASE do, you will love it forever!! Truly though, in very windy areas it might need a weeny bit of help, but not much more than a twiggy pole here and there, so not much to complain about really.

So if you want height and glamour in your garden, grow these. Or get Colin Firth round.


  1. Fantastic post. I have all of these and then some, cause they can't stay still.

    Okay, maybe not the grasses and my hollyhocks are gone to your garden or newly planted this year which means no flowers just floppy leaves on the narrow walkway. They fight it out with zucchini. It's a lose/lose situation.

  2. For some reason we can't grow hollyhocks, yet five minutes away they are growing unattended by the roadside. Maybe we are too kind to ours... maybe they like a bit of rough and the smell of diesel or petrol and being brushed occasionally by traffic? For some reason I didn't grow cosmos this year, yet I usually do. I do however, have stipa gigantic and bronze fennel, and bright scarlet Crocosmia. And at the bottom of the garden, five varieties of buddleia, foxgloves and nettles amongst other things, in my own version of the nectar bar as they had on GW at Berryfields.

  3. You know what, my hollyhocks grow in gravel, by our garden gate and near where we park the car - you may be on to something, they get awful treatment and total neglect, and seem to love it! Clearly thrive on diesel fumes and rubbish, dry soil.

    Funnily enough, I have a rather neglected woody area at the bottom of my garden that I am too embarrassed to show pics of, but I tell myself its great for the critters!! Yours nectar bar sounds rather lovely, have you had many butterflies this year, ours seem rather scant which is a worry? Thanks for visiting!

  4. Hi Belinda! Thanks for the great post! We haven't had hollyhocks since the gophers did them several years ago, but you've reminded me how wonderful they are and that we should really get them going again.

    I am so glad to see Verbena bonariensis identified. The things are all over our garden and I've loved them without knowing their name. Can't wait to dig my books out of storage and see if Armitage has anything to say about them. Do you find they make a decent cut flower?

  5. I'm enjoying these transatlantic exchanges of knowledge - I just had to google gopher - had no idea they existed!! I have had no luck with the verbena as a cut flower, seems to wilt after a day or two which is such a shame especially as I have so much of it! the hollyhocks are useless aswell, but the grasses are fantastic, fennel pretty good and cosmos manages a good 5 days. Thalictrum, which I find selfsupporting in a sunny situation, but floppy in the shade (opposite to me!!), is,it turns out pretty tough and longlasting as a cut flower - do you use it? I am about to start using dahlias in bouquets, lush dark ones, do you use them and know how long they last? I think they last longer if you sear the stem ends.

  6. Butterflies seem fewer in number this year, a worry as you say. However, when we had the lovely warm spell last week, there were lots in the garden, mainly the usual like emperor, peacock, red admiral, small blue, cabbage white, and a sulphur yellow one. But as it's down the bottom of the garden, this nectar bar, I don't see much of them!
    Meant to say I have another tall plant which I wouldn't be without, and this may not be much help since I can't remember the name of it.... about a metre tall, black stemmed, green jagged leaves and topped with clusters of off-white tiny flowers. It stands without support, and is a brilliant background for shorter, brightly coloured plants with the dark stems it has. Wish I knew the name though... well, I did... once!

  7. Hi Belinda,

    Thank you for your kind remark on my blog. The young man in the photo was indeed born at the end of the 19th century. I believe it was somewhere around 1885. He died at the end of the 1950s. I have to admit that his clothes give the impression that this painting was made during the 1930s, but as he is still very young in the painting I don't think that is possible. I was quite intrigued by it!

    When I take a look at your blog I see we share a love for gardening. Your garden looks huge compared to mine! Love the flowers you mention. I have some of them in my garden as well.

    Wish you a happy day!

    groetjes van Madelief

  8. Madelief, I'm so intrigued by that unlikely painting - wonder if he did survive WW1? It would make a great image at the centre of a novel!

  9. Ah, to not know a gopher! What bliss. Your innocence gives me happiness : ).

    It is exciting you will be delving into the wonders of dahlias! Some of the larger or downward-facing varieties can be a bit awkward to work with, but in general I have found they make a lovely cut flower. They last well in the vase, especially if you catch them while the inner petals are still a bit tight. But alas, I do not grow them (those pesky gophers again!) Next season I plan to try them in big pots, which is how one of the growers I know foils his burrowing pests.

    I am not at all familiar with Thalictrum and will definitely look into it! Let's hope it is not forbidden to Americans like your gorgeous poppies! Oregon State has a website devoted to them, so that is promising : ).

  10. Maggie, that plant you describe sounds lovely - is it some kind of elderflower relative???? Let me know if you remember, I love dark foliage and pale flowers together. Thanks