“Blue roses” are always delightfully retro. I remember the passion for Rosa ‘Blue Moon’ when I was a lad. Of course it wasn’t blue just like tulips were never black and sweet peas were never yellow. ‘Blue Moon’ was a sort of faded grey-lilac; a weak grower but worth it for the captivating fragrance. Today there are many “blue” floribundas to choose from with clusters of lilac-purple-grey flowers. These have a more relaxed style and are great mixers with silver foliage, lavenders and a pastel palette of garden flowers. Some of the more compact varieties are also excellent in pots.
In the world of cut flowers I mentioned astrantias. These pincushion flowers with their papery petals and prominent stamens are long-lasting border beauties in colours ranging from white through pink to deep red. They are delightfully old-fashioned and really give the appearance of embroidery in the border. On light soils they seed freely and are easy to grow. In larger beds and borders I regard these as drifters that should be allowed to grow randomly amongst shrubs and other perennials.
Linaria, the perennial toad-flax is another drifter; essential in an open ground vintage scheme. Tall slender stems with grey-green leaves topped with tiny snapdragon flowers. Linaria ‘Canon Went’ is the one to grow if you want sophisticated faded beadwork on the border. The flowers are soft-grey pink – far from bright and garish.
One always thinks of garden scabious as the large flowered Scabious caucasicus, cultivars such as the lovely blue ‘Clive Greaves’. However there are a host of smaller flowered scabious hybrids with fine wiry stems that rise above the border with delicate pincushion flowers. These are always wildly attractive to bees and butterflies so are a good choice for any wildlife friendly garden. The dark coloured varieties such as ‘Beaujolais Bonnets’ are lovely. But so are some of the pastel colours in the new Desert Series. I loved this one with the seedheads of Allium cristophii.
To soften paving or steps or to grow in gravel or containers nothing is more charmingly vintage than the charming Erigeron karavinskianus. Fine stems, pretty leaves and masses of delicate golden-eyed daisies in shades of white and pink. Some gardeners complain about its ability to seed and find a home in the most adverse of conditions. How typical of the gardener to complain about something that grows and thrives without nurture. Grow it in an old bucket or galvanised bath for vintage heaven!
Everyone knows the shasta daisies; those tall single daisies so often seen in cottage gardens. Today there are plenty of new varieties with different flower forms and colours but they all seem to retain that wonderfully old-fashioned charm. None more so than Leucanthemum ‘Victorian Secret’, a delicious creamy daisy with a golden centre and a ruff of fresh petals. The foliage is grey-green and more attractive than most. Try it with purple foliage or to add an accent of larger bold flower form with more delicate subjects.
I said that various umbellifers were popular with floral decorators and they have certainly been the darlings of the garden designers at flower shows. RHS Chelsea 2014 positively sank under a sea of black cow parsley. Later in the season other subjects such as the lovely Selinum wallichianum come to the fore. Every head is like an intricate lace doyley above the finely cut fern-like foliage, It grows well in gravel and dry conditions and works in both contemporary and vintage planting schemes.
Honeysuckle is another cottage garden favourite of soft, subtle colouring that will add magical fragrance to any vintage planting scheme. Grow it through a willow obelisk or over a wall or fence to extend the scheme upwards. There are of course lots of different cultivars, personally I prefer Lonicera periclymenum that looks as if it has found its way from hedgerow to vintage border.
By midsummer you will only have the grey-green leaves of aquilegia, granny’s bonnet. However they are an essential if you want that informal cottage garden effect. These are another great drifter. Let them seed and spring up to add light height to the planting. They do cross pollinate and even if you start with clear-coloured specific varieties they will soon produce plenty of bruised pink and soft blue progeny. These are vintage aquilegias at their best.
I blogged about hydrangeas recently and they have certainly been magnificent this year. The flower market was full of them yesterday and I was quite bewitched by the glorious aurora of Hydrangea Alpine Glow: blue, pink, purple, green and almost iridescent like oil on water. In my garden I’m pleased with Hydrangea ‘Zorro’. This has strong foliage and black stems so can look rather contemporary. However in the garden against a dark cotinus it is flushed with pink and purple and pure vintage. Wonderful