Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Blooming in the rain

Penstemon, a deceptively strong beauty
Weather the storm by planting fiery crocosmia.

So much for the days that pass for the Ulster summer. It seems an eternity when there hasn't been a 24 hour period without rain. And serious rain at that, more often than not.

Those showers — and downpours — have been so heavy at times that low lying plants have suffered damage. Rainwater has been bouncing off surfaces in shrapnel-like bursts, leaving plants such as bizzy lizzies, potted geraniums and lobelias in a soggy mess. It hasn't done the chances of those fine-leafed petunias much good either.

So, is there anything that can be planted that looks good here whether the forecast is cloudy or sunny? Of course, the answer is yes. Nature always has a way of getting around problems like these. Some plants and flowers simply do well in spite of what is thrown at them. The hardiest summer flower in my experience is the crocosmia. Its sword-like leaves make an impressive statement in their own right. The fabulous fiery flowerheads on arching racemes bring another dimension altogether to the garden.

Those slender stems might seem a little delicate for the Ulster climate but believe me there is no chance of the rain knocking them down. I don't think the crocosmia in its different variations will submit to any element.

The giant variety, Lucifer, a vivid red, is a standard in local authority planting schemes. But the smaller crocosmiflora variety is equally useful around the garden. If planted sparingly, it will form a strong upright clump within a few seasons. However, the plant is invasive and if the clumps become too big the leaves on the outer edges of the mass tend to bend over. If you have the patience to thin out the plant, it can be divided into smaller clumps with a sharp spade.

Another deceptive beauty is the penstemon. At first sight it can look like a delicate specimen badly in need of support. Again slender stems, which look like they could snap in two at any moment, support a host of tubular flowers. It was only through experience I realised that the stalks didn't need any help in staying upright.

Many of the old myths about the plant were debunked over the course of a growing season. Varieties I've experimented with over the last few years are also surprisingly tolerant of low temperatures in winter. In the right spot — one with plenty of light, the chance of sunshine and decent drainage — those flowers will come in abundance. They might not grow on as quickly as the crocosmia but they are well worth taking the time with.

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