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COLOUR OF SUMMER; gardening.

Byline: WITH Diarmuid Gavin

With these Arctic temperatures we've stopped dreaming of hot summer days so we have to start planning for them. But let me tell you why this country is very different to so many others for gardening.

We enjoy a temperate climate. In effect it means a lack of extremes, of hot or cold or wet or dry - not that you'd think so this week!

Here we can grow plants that have originated all across the globe - that's a massive variety.

This can lead to complications, confusions and therefore planning is required.

So today what are we planning for? Summer colour because for most of us that is what gardening is all about.

We achieve that in lots of different ways through bedding plants such as marigolds, salvias, through shrubs that have been bred into high performance flowering balls - think fuchsia - but also through bulbs.

"What?" I hear you shout. "Bulbs? Summer?" Indeed. While outside the daffodils, grape hyacinths, crocus and soon tulips are pushing up through the top few inches of soil, (with the misguided notion that it's warm out there!) there are other bulbs that are waiting to go in the ground to provide truly dramatic displays as they burst through herbaceous plants and ground covers or in your packed pots, troughs or hanging baskets.

Ladies, gentlemen and little gardeners, quite soon it's summer bulb planting time so let's get planning, choosing and buying our supplies together.

Let me give you my top choices for what constitutes a great summer bulb collection for the garden.

Some of these plants you won't believe come from bulbs but they do.

First, what is a bulb? It's simply a plant which stores its energy underground as swollen base leaves, for example an onion.

However, in gardening practice this also includes plants that are corms (such as Gladiolus) which are swollen stem bases, rhizomes (such as Cannas) which are swollen underground stems, and swollen root tubers such as dahlias.

Some bulbs that flower in summer are hardy and are planted in the autumn, such as crocosmia, lilies and alliums, although these can also go in the spring.

But many are tender and need to be lifted out of the ground for the winter and stored somewhere dry. Or you can treat them as annuals and just plant fresh bulbs in the ground every spring.

While you won't plant these out until the danger of frost is past and the ground warmed up, you can get things started in the greenhouse.

So cannas, dahlias and begonias could all be started off indoors but won't go outdoors until May.

Let's start with one you know. Morrissey, he of the Smiths, used to wave these around on stage. Elton John hates them while Dame Edna is more than fond of them.

Gladioli, of course.

These will go straight in the ground when it heats up to about 13C.

A little bit of horticultural grit (a sharp stone mix) will keep their bottoms dry.

Plant deeper so they won't need as much staking and in succession, ie every week or fortnight to keep up a constant supply of new flowers through the summer.

Top choice here? Gladiolus Purple Flora - really dark rich purple velvety flowers. Dahlias have been subject to the fashion trends of gardening but were reinvented single handedly by Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter where he banished roses in favour of a flaming late summer colour red and orange border, dahlias being one of the star performers.

The Bishop series of dahlias - Llandaff, Canterbury and Auckland - are all elegant flowers set against a dark foliage.

Cannas were also a feature of these hot borders and are a wonderful choice if you want to create a tropical effect or enjoy architectural style planting - big banana-like leaves and very vibrant flowers in sizzling oranges, reds and yellows.

You could be starting these off now in a heated greenhouse, but they won't go out until the last frost has gone in late April or May.

I'd recommend Canna Wyoming with vibrant orange flowers and luscious purple leaves, Canna Black Knight for its stunning scarlet flowers and Canna Durban for some very striking striped orangey green foliage.

Complete your jungle paradise with Tigridia, the tiger or peacock flower. It's a tender bulb that is just gorgeous - try Tigridia pavonia Lilacea which produces hot pink flowers.

So our lesson for today is that we broaden our idea of what bulbs are and when we plant them.

A profusion of colour can be achieved at other times of the year through these ready made flowers, these envelopes of promise.

Dahlias can be started off indoors to go out in May and week ask Diarmuid HI DIARMUID, Could you please tell me the name of this plant? I saw it when we visited Bosworth Hall and wondered if I could get seeds or plants. Would it flourish in Wales? Thank you very much.

ANNE ROWLANDS VIA EMAIL HI ANNE, Yes this is Eranthis hyemalis, the winter aconite.

Acid yellow cup shaped flowers (it belongs to the same family as buttercups) sit aloft bright green leaves and when naturalised will form a dazzling carpet beneath trees.

It's best planted in the green so now would be a good time if you could get your hands on some - check local nursery and garden centres for stock.

It should have no problems flourishing in Wales - once it gets going, it self seeds and you can also lift and divide plants in the green.

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Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 23, 2013
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