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OUT OF THIS WORLD; It may be a bit of an old favourite but never underestimate the sheer power of the cosmos - it could easily become the centre of your universe.


I want to sing the praises of cosmos. Though it is a familiar plant, there's nothing old-fashioned about it.

On the contrary, it seems to be constantly re-inventing itself with extra petals and new colours, some with picotee edges.

Most are forms of Cosmos bipinnatus in shades of pink and crimson and pure white.

For me, single forms are the best, because they provide easily accessible pollen and nectar for insects.

Without doubt, the taller selections are the most elegant, making branching plants spangled with large flowers among soft, feathery foliage. If you're not into pastels and "like it hot", there are red, orange and brilliant yellow forms of Cosmos sulphureus that are just as easy to grow from seed.

Sow seed in February. In a warm place with plenty of light, it will germinate fairly rapidly and as soon as the seedlings have true leaves, you can prick them out individually into modules or small pots.

They can go out in the garden as soon as the danger of frost has passed.

For something even more striking, there's a perennial cosmos sometimes called the chocolate plant. Its proper name is Cosmos atrosanguineus and its petals and centre are almost black.

Cosmos is splashed throughout the garden at Glebe Cottage this year.

We've used it in containers and planted it directly into the ground right through Annie and Alice's borders and in the bed below. There are plants in the raised beds lower down the garden, too, mingling happily with a host of perennials.

Many of them are white C. bipinnatus 'Purity'. They lend cohesion to these parts of the garden, though I would not want them anywhere near the hot beds or brick garden.

Some gardeners think adding a dash of white is a good way to avoid colour clashes. It is a cowardly way out. Better to use white for itself.

It isn't always easy - white reflects light and is difficult to concentrate on in bright sunshine.

Although cosmos has showy flowers, they are held on branching stems and mixed with fine, fuzzy foliage, which helps them have a light, lilting look rather than creating a sheet of white.

It's not too late this year - many garden centres still have plants, which when you plant in your garden should flower for the rest of the summer and on into the autumn. Whatever cosmos you choose,to keep them flowering, regular deadheading is essential.

Many gardeners use secateurs but I always use scissors or little Japanese fruit pruners. Accuracy is needed.

Each flower and its supporting stem is trimmed back to the main stem from which it emerged. With judicious deadheading, they should produce flowers right through to the first frosts.

Not all plants need such finesse when cutting back. Many herbaceous plants produce only one flower or a spike of flowers on each main stem.

Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum', a crimson thistle, makes a little clutch of flowers at the top of each stem.

Eventually, they change to thistledown, but there is no seed among it, so it is not worth keeping.

At the first sign of disintegration, I move in with pruners and cut the stem back to the ground. It's pointless to take individual flowers.

The same is true of many campanulas - better to allow all the flowers to open then fade before cutting down the stem, but when that has happened, cut it down completely.

There are some flowers I don't deadhead. Many plants are prized as much for their seedheads as for their flowers. Often this is an aesthetic consideration, but sometimes it is because I want to save the seed or leave it for the birds.

Once planted, all herbaceous plants need occasional maintenance to stay in tip-top shape. Thin, weedy shoots should be removed and, unless you want to collect seed or enjoy the decorative seedheads some produce, deadheading should be an ongoing activity. Removing spent flowerheads enables the plant to devote energy to further flower production.

In the case of flowers like dahlias, always cut back to another flower bud rather than nipping off the bloom.

When flowers are produced in a spike, the whole stem can be cut back to ground level.



FRAGILE FRAGILE Delicate flowers of a campanula

HOT Dahlias need careful pruning but are vibrant

STAR: Cosmos bipinnatus 'Purity'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 10, 2014
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