Black Sun…

The sunflowers I grew last year were so successful, this year I decided to try another variety. I went for something a little different. This is called ‘Black Magic’…

I have to say, I’m not entirely sure about it. The plants grew strongly, with darker stems and leaves than the yellow sunflowers, and the blooms are certainly impressive. But they don’t stand out. This is ‘Soleo’…

It’s everything we’ve come to expect of a sunflower – bold and bright, you know as soon as the first flower is out. There’s no missing it. Whereas ‘Black Magic’ crept up on me by stealth, and there were half a dozen flowers out before I even noticed. Most of the blooms are a dark, chocolatey brown, but some of them have some orange in the petals…

I’m not sure why sunflowers are so at home in my garden. The soil is loose and dusty, and I’m fortunate not to have as many slugs and snails as I’ve experienced in previous gardens. I have memories of having to nurse the sunflowers through their early stages. There’s that difficult time after planting out, when they spend a couple of weeks putting their roots down and acclimatising. That’s when they’re vulnerable. If you can keep the molluscs off until the sunflowers start into growth, they should be safe – they might lose a fewer lower leaves, but the plants can avoid any more serious damage due to the spectacular rate of growth, and the strong stems.

The central flower is generally on a short stem, so no good for cutting. But the varieties I’m growing produce lots of side shoots with smaller flowers on longer stems, and it’s these that can be cut and brought inside, where the beauty of the flowers can be appreciated close up.

Elsewhere in the garden, the ligularias around the pond are starting to produce their bright orange-yellow daisy flowers…

This is one of three self-seeded plants brought from my last garden. They are Ligularia dentata ‘Midnight Lady’. This is small as yet; the mother plant was around a metre across. It seems amazing to me that such an impressive plant self-seeds freely, giving you plants for free.

White hydrangeas will play a large part in the design. So far there is only one – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’…

It too is only small as yet, but it should grow into a large bush, perhaps as much as two metres by two metres. The flower heads are just about fully out now, and they really glow in a shady spot. They’re long lasting too, gradually changing colour as they age. Eventually they will dry out, but should be left on the plant over the winter (unless you want to cut them for a dried flower display) because they’re still very attractive. I took cuttings of this plant around a month ago, and roots are poking out of the bottom of the pot now, so it looks like a success (a relief, as I’m ashamed to admit my strike rate with cuttings is nothing to boast about). I’ve also got a cutting from previous years (and my last garden) of Hydrangea quercifolia (oak-leaved hydrangea), which is waiting to be planted, once the area has been prepared.

I brought three plants of a white phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Peacock White’) with me from the last garden, and just like the sunflowers, they too seem to like the soil here…

Lastly, this combination is a happy accident. The grass (Phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey’) tends to reproduce freely. I threw this piece into some spare ground by the pond. I used the same area to plant out some seedlings that were seriously stressed from having been left in their seed tray for far too long. It took a while, but eventually they came good. They are Phacelia; often used as a green manure, but the flowers are very pretty, and great fodder for pollinating insects; it would be a shame to dig them into the soil before they flower.

The Phacelia are a one year only crop; the grass is a perennial; I might even leave it where it is…


text & images©Graham Wright 2021

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