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Gardening with Gael - Easier care shrubs to replace annuals


Gael McConachy profile image-5A splash of blue in the garden during the heat and humidity may not have the same effect as a swim in the sea, but the colour certainly goes a long way to cooling the brain.

Teamed with white, blue flowers glow in a border at this time of year. The wildflowers and annuals in my roadside border are definitely past their best and the blue cornflowers I enjoyed during the heat of the summer have finished. In their place I intend to plant shrubs, which remain year after year and are less work than the annuals. A white carpet rose is still valiantly flowering and I thought something blue would be nice with that.

Jill Parsons, a local gardening enthusiast who provides local organisations with a variety of plants, came to visit my garden, arriving with two little pots containing Chinese Plumbago. I am very familiar with Plumbago auriculata but not the Chinese Plumbago, Ceratostigma willmottianum, named for Ellen Willmott, the first person to propogate  Ceratostigma willmottianum successfully.

plumbago royal cape-29More than sixty plants have been named for her or her home at Warley Place, once a famous garden. A passionate horticulturist, she is one of only two women to receive the Victoria Medal of Honour (the other is Gertrude Jekyll). She sounds a thoroughly colourful figure whose spending on her garden left her penniless. Not hard to imagine how that could happen! Chinese plumbagos, ceratostigmas, were found wild on the hot dry slopes of valleys in China.

They tolerate drought and dry soils although a good dose of compost encourages good growth and a profusion of rich cobalt blue flowers. Growing to about a metre in height I plan to plant mine either side of the white carpet rose and will prune them both back in the late winter, ready for a show next spring. Both plants flower all summer and into the autumn.

Chinese Plumbago-934The more common plumbago, Plumbago auriculata, is a hardy scrambling shrub, which can grow to around two metres. I once grew a hedge of these because of their hardiness in the sand, their drought tolerance and the profusion of phlox-like flowers which cover the bush from spring to autumn. I kept it well trimmed to prevent a ‘leggy’ appearance and to curtail its tendency to sucker.

They also make excellent container plants. An interesting fact, not necessary for us, is that they are deer proof. My son Nick has just sent me pictures taken by his security cameras of deer, trotting into his garden during the night and savaging his plants. Unfortunately plumbagos only tolerate light frosts and would never survive his winters. My favourite is Plumbago ‘Royal Cape’.

Rowie had some at the market last week. Similar in most ways to the regular plumbago Royal Cape has flowers of a more intense blue. It is slightly less vigorous than the common blue one and does not seem to sucker. Like the others this also flowers from November to May and can grow to two metres making it an ideal background plant in a border. Once again it teams well with white. Maybe my border needs another couple of white carpet roses. 

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