During my experience of designing and planting gardens in London and Hertfordshire; many of the people I have met seem to dislike certain plants existing in their gardens. I am the same; there are certain plants which I feel really do not earn their place in a garden; for example the common Forsythia.
However some of the plants that seem to get bad press are actually very good for specific problem areas. I like to call them the Marmite plants of the Garden design world.
I have listed a few of these so called Marmite plants that I have used several times in my planting plans and schemes.
Bergenia – Elephant ears is probably one of the most disliked plants that I have come across.
To be honest, I can see why because more often than not it is neglected, ignored and looks terrible.
It is a great plant in the right place and offers much needed year round foliage and colour in early spring. It does require a tidy up throughout the year but combined with other plants such as Phormium, Euphorbia, Paeonia, Hellebores, Brunnera m. ‘Jack Frost’ and bulbs such as Snowdrops, Muscari and miniature daffodils it can look enchanting in flower. It is a tough ground cover plant and is useful at the base of shrubs in dry conditions.
I have used various Bergenias in my planting designs. The purple leaves are a wonderful contrast beneath the small silver leaves of Cotoneaster franchetii especially front of border by paths or paving where the soil tends to dry out. The cerise flowers of Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ in early spring adds a much needed dose of colour which is accentuated by the silvery matt leaves of the Cotoneaster and used sparingly and with sensitivity can create a very successful combination.
From a garden design point of view Bergenias are incredibly useful at accentuating curves. They are a useful evergreen perennial which helps to hold a garden scheme together in the dull winter months in a country garden with long, sweeping, curved borders or in a London shady courtyard.
There are many to choose from and some are more appealing than others.
Bergenia Overture – has rich purple leaves tinted red/purple in autumn and winter, wonderful cerise flowers in spring.
Sedum spectabile – is another frowned upon plant and although easy to grow it has this habit of sprawling and flopping in a very untidy manner towards late summer when in flower.
There are reasons why it does this; firstly it does not like over rich, wet soil, so keep the organic chicken pellets, other fertilisers and mulch away. It needs to be baked in full sun not part shade.
I have taken to cutting it back in May by a quarter; this seems brutal but lends itself to a much bushier, shorter plant and significantly reduces ‘the sedum flop’. The flowers appear a little later and are smaller, but a much more compact look is achieved.
Slugs can also ruin a perfectly beautiful sedum, so keep an eye out for them.
I have used this plant many times in planting plans especially in poor soil in a sunny garden. It is a vibrant plant which bursts into colour in late summer, a much needed splash of varying pinks in a border combined with Lavender, Japanese anemones, Verbena bonariensis and Stipa gigantea. It is much loved by bees and butterflies; so a must for a wild life garden.
Aucuba japonica – Spotted laurel – This gets a really negative reaction, some call the variegated cultivars ‘the sick bush!’
I have used it in a few planting schemes as an evergreen backdrop in a shady area to show off other more exciting plants. It is a great foil for white flowers and can cope with really tough conditions especially dry shade. Planting companions such as Choisya ternata, Hellebores, Acers and spring flowering bulbs are very successful in a dry shady border.
As a Garden designer, I try to use plants that will be successful especially in tough places and think about the planting scheme as a long term project, not instant gratification.
Please note that if you do have a dry shady border, an annual layer of organic mulch (Horse manure based if possible) will greatly improve the soil, retain moisture and give your existing plants a new lease of life and new plants a better chance establishing.
Vinca – Periwinkle – I am often told it boring and invasive; however variegated Vinca offer excellent ground cover with lovely white or purple flowers intermittently.
It is another tough, low maintenance, evergreen plant which copes remarkably well in dry shade and establishes very quickly. Avoid the major varieties as they are a true garden thug unless you have a large area that needs ground cover and stick to Vinca minor ‘Argenteovariegata’. I have designed and planted a few troublesome borders in dry shade with companions such as; Hellebores, Cyclamen, hardy ferns and spring flowering bulbs.
Roses – High maintenance is the most common complaint. Many people are nervous about putting roses in their garden. They do require feeding regularly, preventative sprays for black spot, mildew, aphids and the rest. If you are a keen gardener they are such a delight and offer colour and scent especially in July and August which can be lacking in interest as other plants are getting ready to bloom in late summer.
I also find that people tend to plant them alone; they do need companions to disguise their sometimes leggy habit and to set off their flowers. Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurscens’ and Alchemilla mollis make great front of border plants with shrub roses, some grasses work really with the shrub roses such as the Pheasant tail grass and Deschampia. Shrub Roses are well situated in the middle layer of a mixed border.
I like to use Climbing roses in my planting schemes as they are really useful combined with various Clematis and Wisteria for vertical successional flowering.
An annual layer of Horse manure or compost mulch in early spring will greatly improve the growth, health and flowering of roses.