For many of us it’s the time of year when we think about planting up those pots, containers and hanging baskets for added summer colour in the garden. Whether you like seasonal bedding plants or not, there is no denying that they liven up the summer garden, making their greatest contribution in mid to late summer when many shrubs and perennials are very green. Because of their popularity and the demand for them there is a great influx of new varieties every year. Breeding is constantly improving and selecting for flower power, drought tolerance, disease resistance, habit and new colour breaks. Bedding plants are subject to fashion: some colours and varieties are in for a season, then on the sale rail. Others, like bacopa enjoy enduring popularity.
Unlike other plants, bedding plants exist on brand names rather than correct botanical nomenclature. For the purpose of this blog I am going to avoid mentioning too many named varieties; there are so many similar ones out there to choose from. Hopefully I can give you a few ideas and pointers to help you avoid the common mistake of buying a bit of everything and putting it all in together. My number one tip is to restrict your colour palette: you will then create containers with real impact.
Nemesia aromatica has been around for a few years now. Delightful, slightly sprawling plants carry heads of tiny snapdragon-like flowers. As the name suggests these are sweetly, often strongly fragrant. The plants start to flower early and go on for a long time. You may need to cut them back during the course of the season and of course the more you dead-head the more they will bloom. The blue shades are particularly useful, they mix with any other colour and they are good at joining other colours together.
I often team them up with violas and sometimes heucheras for foliage effect and long-lasting results. I particularly like the red flowered Nemesia aromatica, I’ve a feeling it calls itself scarlet but to me it is more terracotta. It is lovely in traditional clay pots and bowls and looks great with pale blue. Here I’ve teamed it up with another of my favourites: Viola Endurio (think this one is called ‘Sky Martien’). This is a semi-trailing viola with fragrant flowers that just keeps flowering as long as you pick off those seed capsules as they develop. As you can see I never use pots of bedding (or bulbs) in isolation. I group them with pots that are permanently planted with shrubs and perennials; that way the whole container group works as a planting scheme.
As in any planting scheme in the garden, foliage holds the show together. There are more and more exciting varieties of foliage plants available for seasonal bedding every year. These can add a different dimension to your containers and the leaves add those bold shapes to the planting scheme giving it bulk for the small flowered subjects to embroider. They are also brilliant if you want to create exotic effects with cannas, hedychiums and colocassia. I love the velvety leaves and rich colours of coleus. In my experience the smaller leaved varieties are better outside and they do need a warm sunny spot to thrive.
Orange is the colour of the season, so I am told. That suits me because I love those warm sunset shades. Callibrachoa, sometimes called “million Bells” is a member of the petunia family. With small leaves, small flowers and a tumbling habit it makes a great addition to any container or hanging basket and there is always a colour to suit. The terracotta forms are particularly lovely and would work well with coleus, heucheras or anything blue. Unlike petunias the flowers die gracefully and the plants just keep on blooming.
Colour mixes using subjects with similar flower form are a trend on both sides of the Atlantic using callibrachoa, diascia, nemesia, bacopa and others. The terracotta callibrachoa above would mix beautifully with a soft blue variety. The one referred to as “lavender” would be perfect, again in a terracotta pot or maybe a blue-glazed container. Callibrachoa is also a good choice for wall pots and hanging baskets.
In a good year petunias do put on a splendid show. The surfinia trailing varieties have become some of our most popular container plants for their vigour and flower power. They can become straggly during the course of the season so you have to be prepared to cut them back and start again. In the past couple of years new colours in the petunia palette have become very trendy: black and lime. These look good together if you want a really sophisticated partnership. Everyone loves the idea of black flowers; I grew them last year and liked them close up, but found they disappeared in the garden picture.
The same cannot be said of portulaca, a succulent like bedding plant that you see a lot in the Mediterranean. It likes it hot, dry and sunny and is very drought tolerant. New strains of portulaca offer floriferous plants with silky, tissue-paper blooms in neon shades. Plant in terracotta pots on a sunny patio for a stunning sunny shores effect; clashing pinks, oranges and purples are the order of the day. You could add some deep blue heliotrope for fragrance.
I am always being asked which bedding plants succeed in a shady spot, especially since the demise of impatiens, bizzie lizzies, which were such a staple for many years. The two flowering subjects that work are fuchsias and begonias. The latter now offer amazing variety of leaf shape, colour and flower form. They flower throughout the season, clean themselves well and would certainly be my choice for a pot or hanging basket in shade.