Spoiled for choice

At this time of year we’re spoilt for choice by the sheer variety and volume of seeds and young plants for sale, it’s hard for inexperienced gardeners to know where on earth to begin.
A trip to any garden centre or a quick flick through a catalogue is evidence enough that traditional bedding is as popular as ever and eye popping colour mixes that have me reaching for my sun glasses are still there, but suppliers know we’re a bit more sophisticated now and offer mixes in enticing shades like ‘moody blues’,‘sunny yellows’ and ‘pretty pinks’ and it’s a recipe for success. Most plants for summer schemes are chosen for flower colour alone and for bedding in containers that’s fine, pots can be filled with perfect compost , placed wherever the species dictates and fed and watered to their heart’s content.

If the plants are going into the border though, the way we make our choice needs to be more thoughtful. Soil type and aspect should be the first consideration and if you aren’t sure what sort of soil you have look at the wild flowers growing in it for clues.
Buttercups and lady smock like to keep their feet wet so if you have lots of them then your soil is probably heavy and moisture retentive, forget me not and wild violets prefer dry free draining soil but if you have docks and nettles which like it rich and fertile then you’re lucky, most annuals thrive on it . But all is not lost if you don’t have perfect conditions, the wild flowers that like your particular garden might have flamboyant relatives if you prefer something fancy. Foxgloves have been bred to give bigger flowers, more compact plants and more colour variations but they will still tolerate fairly dry semi shade. Aquilegia are available in lots of colours now and are still happy in moist shade and for open sunny places what could be lovelier than the annual poppy, not just the vibrant red of cornfields, but in all shades of pink too.

We’re all aware of the plight of bees and other pollinating insects so they need to be taken into consideration too and the more pollinators in the garden the better our crops of fruit and vegetable will be so it makes sense to grow flowers to help them. Single open flowers like Cosmos and mallows are great as are daisy look alikes Rudbeckia, Aster and marigolds. Flowers in umbels like Achillea and Ammi are wonderful for insects and add diversity in shape and form as well

There is more to choosing summer bedding than which colour petunias this year and as for my choice it’s wild flowers every time, not for me the formal single species blocks the Victorian bedders were so fond of, but native species happy and healthy in my soil, the bees love them and so do I.