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DRAMA comes to the garden as the summer heat arrives. The months of May and June are filled with genteel roses and pastel herbaceous flowers, but in July things heat up.

It's great to move into a different mode in the garden with some excitement, colour and exoticism. This might come in the shape of the flowers, architectural foliage, strong scents or vibrant colours.

Here's my choice of some summer spice to add to your garden whether it's in a container on a balcony, a pot in a courtyard or borders by the lawn.

Ricinus communis is the castor oil plant. This will create an instant jungle feel with its handsome foliage and scarlet flowers. It will look at home among cannas and dahlias, and although it will grow in tropical areas to become a small tree, here we grow it as a half hardy annual.

To grow it, soak seeds overnight and sow indoors in a heated propagator (set to around 220C) in February or March and plant out in late May after the risk of frost has gone. But be warned - it's highly toxic, particularly the seeds, if ingested as it contains ricin. This is the poison allegedly used in an umbrella tip to assassinate dissident Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov in London in September 1978.

Salvia Hot Lips is a bushy ornamental sage, which can grow to around 90cm in height. It has eye-catching bi-coloured flowers, which are white with a red lip. But for many gardeners it's bit of a Marmite plant - they either love it or hate it. The love camp like its floriferous exuberance, size and delicious aroma as you brush past it. Other gardeners prefer to stay with calmer blue and purple single-coloured sages.

It's easy to grow if in full sunshine although it might be a little tender the further north you go, in which case bring indoors if in a pot or cover in horticultural fleece for the harsh winter months.

Lilies bring exotic beauty and are ideal for small gardens as they do well in pots and containers. Lilium 'Black Beauty' is a wonderful example - deep red turks cap flowers with black stamens and stems. This can reach over 1.5 metres in height but if that's not dramatic enough for you, try a tree lily.

These are sturdy creatures which grow as tall as 2.5 metres, with one bulb producing as many as 30 scented blooms.

Available from Thompson and Morgan, there are three varieties in shades of pink, yellow and gold - 'Pink Explosion', 'Yellow Rocket' and 'Starburst'. Lily bulbs are best planted in autumn, or spring if your ground is very cold and wet during winter.

But a warning to pet owners - both lilies and day lilies (hemerocallis) are toxic for cats. Even brushing against the pollen which they later lick off and swallow can cause them problems.

Phlomis tuberosa Amazone (Jerusalem sage) is an easy-to-grow perennial that will tolerate drought once it's established itself. Perfect for a sunny border, its unique selling point is the spikes of mauve flowers that are arranged in tiers all the way up the stem.

My final selection is the Red Hot Poker, Kniphofia, which brings African warmth and colour into borders. Surprisingly hardy for such a exotic looking plant, they don't like to have wet feet so it's a good idea to add some grit to the soil before planting. However, it is recommended in harsher climes to tie the leaves together over winter which helps protect their core from frost.

There's quite a range of height, from the compact Little Maid at 60cm high to varieties over 1.2m.

The RHS conducted extensive trials on which were the best performing and they recommend 'Jonathan' which has cherry-red flowers, coral-coloured 'Timothy' and 'Fiery Fred' with its bright orange blooms.


Salvia 'Hot Lips'

The stunning castor oil plant's seeds are highly toxic

Red hot pokers provide warmth
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 7, 2016
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