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Byline: gardening WITH Diarmuid Gavin

Ispent the past week garden gazing in the city of San Francisco where the sun shone and the flowers dazzled.

The reason for the trip was to explore Alcatraz, the former prison in the bay where some trusted inmates of the island jail sought redemption of the soul by creating a garden in a penitentiary. Their long-abandoned endeavours have been recently rediscovered and restored by volunteers and are an inspiration, defining the notion of gardening against the odds.

But my favourite garden in the city was also in an unexpected place the most crooked street in the world!

Featured in films from Vertigo to What's Up, Doc, Lombard Street winds its way through a garden of hydrangeas, high on a hill, taking eight twisty turns, almost allowing drivers time to smell the blooms!

Now's It's fantastic fun, a true delight, a road in a garden that makes people smile. And the colour comes from shrubs - dependable, there every year and a staple of our gardens. good time shrubs to a bow So, why are these plants so important to us? Well, it's their well-earned reputation as low-maintenance performers. This combined with an abundance of flowers, foliage and fragrance, with interesting shapes such as the arching stems of buddleias, neatness of choisya and pittosporums and the erect drama of mahonias help to create the basis of many beautiful borders.

And many shrubs look their best from spring right through the summer, so now is a good time for them to take a bow of appreciation.

Among the ones I love are: Philadelphus The mock orange has white flowers in June and July that have a stunning fragrance.

Lavatera The mallow tree is excellent for maritime areas. Grow at back of a border due to size.

Arborescens Annabelle Round globes of cream flowers are a true delight.

Clethra alnifolia The sweet pepper bush needs acidic soil and features small white fragrant flowers.

Choisya ternata Mexican orange blossom evergreen. Occasionally beautiful and always dependable. Its leaves omit a savoury scent when crunched. Grow in sun or shade and prune lightly if needed after flowering.

Lavandula angustfolia Hidcote This is my favourite and is a must for every garden I design. Compact, but needs annual shearing back, leaving a small amount of last year's growth or it will become very straggly.

Cistus x purpureus The rock rose is low growing, tactile and produces the most glorious papery type flowers but it needs loads of sun.

Cotinus coggygria The smoke tree has large plum clouds of flowers in June and July. It provides good autumn foliage as well.

Carpenteria californica The tree anemone is an evergreen with large white flowers and is easy to grow, while being unusual.

Hydrangea paniculata A late summer white flowered shrub. More refined than its showy San Francisco cousins.

Buddleia davidii White Profusion Has beautiful white flowers or the clear blue of blue horizon and rich hue of a black knight.

Hibiscus syriacus Oiseau Bleu The rose mallow is a deciduous bush with violet flowers.

Fuchsia This is a much-loved species and it's hard to single out just one or two. But try Mrs Popple or Whiteknights Pearl has beautiful pale pink flowers. They love sun and a feed to help their flowers.

Philadelphus Belle Etoile These have flushed maroon centre. Prune after flowering.

Lavatera Burgundy Wine Semi-evergeen with deep pink flowers may need winter protection in some areas. Prune right back in spring.

ask Diarmuid I love the look of the orange ball buddleia but some claim it is now illegal to plant.

Is this true? I live near a railway line.

THANK YOU GARY COKAYNE VIA EMAIL HI GARY, The invasive buddleia is B. davidii. With its lilac flowers, you see thickets of it along railway lines and urban areas - sticking out of buildings and chimney pots.

It's not all bad as it is a plant that is very attractive to insects and is widely known as the butterfly bush. But it does compete with our native flora and cause damage to buildings.

The orange ball buddleia, B. globosa is not invasive and it is not illegal to plant this. With its beautifully scented orange flowers, it's a valued ornamental plant. But it does grow quite big so make sure you have sufficient space.

BEST WISHES, DIARMUID news The Sheffield branch of the British Cactus & Succulent Society is holding its annual show in the city's Botanical Gardens on Saturday, June 1 from noon until 5pm and then on Sunday, June 2 from 10am to 4pm.

Admission is free and rare and unusual plants will be available to see and buy. See

plant of the week Columbines A cottage garden favourite, Columbines have a distinctive flower head of petals and long spurs, often in contrasting colours. With Aquilegia canadensis it is red and yellow, while with Bluebird it's a soft blue and white. Look out too for the graceful long spurs of Aquilegia longissima. Columbines are a herbaceous perennial and their flowers are just about to blossom. They grow best in fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun or dappled shade.

Diarmuid's jobs for the week 1 Clip evergreen hedges such as lonicera, privet and box. You will probably need to do this monthly to keep formal shapes trim.

2 Sow herb seeds such as dill, parsley, fennel, and coriander outdoors. Continue successional sowing of salad leaves and spring onions.

3 Tie in blackberry and other fruiting canes.

4 Prune spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, kerria and ribes when they have finished flowering.

5 Plant up containers and hanging baskets with tender bedding plants - they will be ready to go outside shortly. Allow them to acclimatise to our cold May weather by leaving them outside during the day for progressively longer periods.

Now's a good time for shrubs to take a bow as


HYDRANGEAS: Lombard St in San Francisco
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 18, 2013
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