Warm enough yet? Posted on July 2, 2016

All summer long

I wish I had kept count of the number of plants that were considered exotic, or treated as tender, when I started gardening, and are now seen as mainstream. I remember, for example, planting my first agapanthus. It must have been about 1972. I waited until June, dug a hole in the sunniest and driest spot, buried crocs and gravel, and tenderly tucked them in. “Headbourne Hybrids” were supposedly the only strain with a good chance. In October I covered them with slates on bricks to keep off the winter rains. They are still flowering, as far as I know, forty five years later.

Is it acclimatisation, breeding, know-how or climate change? Possibly all these things. London, of course has been practically sub-tropical for years now. Remember how we once marvelled at the old olive tree in the Chelsea Physic garden? Now blue and white agapanthus (‘Blue Storm’and ‘White Storm’) line a wall in this Kensington garden, shaded for most of the day, and flower well, if not lavishly. The trick, I find, is to be generous with water and a high-potash feed in spring and summer. Our best plant is ‘Northern Star’; tight-filling the same large pot for five years; it has six tall stems on the point of flowering. I keep its saucer half-full all the time. This year’s new treat is a variety called “Queen Mum” I bought from Hoyland Nurseries from Yorkshire at the Chelsea Flower Show. The flowers on long stems are white, but each petal starts off blue; more of a specimen for a pot, I think, than a border.

Trachelospermum jasminoides (‘Star Jasmine’) was thought doubtfully hardy until quite recently. Now smart London is full of it, and last year we discovered Jasminum polyanthum, which doesn’t seem even to have an English name yet, has moved convincingly outdoors. Fuchsias in the open no longer surprise us. London-centric I may be, but how many things have you found can dispense with customary winter protection?

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