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Think tall for bold and bright look this siummertime.

For adding excitement and interest to flower borders, there's nothing to beat tall, vivid perennials. Carefully selected, they can ensure there's a range of shapes and colours to catch the eye through the summer.

Many are spikes or spires but there are blooms of many other shapes ( circular, spherical and trumpet-like. Here are some of the best...

Lupins, flowering in June, range in colour from deep purple and crimson through blue and lavender to pink, yellow, cream and white. Some are bicoloured and others fade to a paler shade towards the top of the flower spike.

They make an impression whether grown in groups of one colour or mixed.

Russell lupins were the most famous strain ever produced, though better weather-resistance and longer flowering is claimed for more modern kinds such as Band of Nobles and Sky Rocket, both of which can reach 1.2m (4ft).

However, the Russell series, with 90cm (3ft) spikes is still available and includes Chandelier, yellow; My Castle, brick red; Noble Maiden, white; The Chatelaine, pink; The Governor, navy blue; and The Pages, carmine.

Delphiniums, the finest tall flowers in blue, are at their best in mid-summer.

The most spectacular, the Elatum group, have spikes up to 2m (6ft 6in) tall. Excellent varieties include Centurion Sky Blue (pictured), with large, pale florets each with a white eye; Chelsea Star, violet with a white eye; Fanfare, very tall with mauve blooms; Langdon's Royal Flush, pink; and Sandpiper, white with a brown eye.

Pacific hybrids are similar to Elatum delphiniums but are grown as annuals or biennials. Blue Jay has deep blue flowers, Cameliard is deep purple and Percival has white florets with a black eye.

The native British foxglove with its purplish-pink bells looks charming and informal in the countryside ( and just as effective in the garden, in herbaceous or mixed borders, in early summer.

The foxglove is a biennial which means that seeds sown this spring will flower next year and die. Then the plant can be left to perpetuate itself by self-sowing.

A little interference with nature will give the best displays ( dig up the best self-sown plants in autumn and group them where you want them. The spikes generally grow to 1.2m (4ft).

Plant breeders have produced other kinds.

They include Excelsior hybrids, with large blooms in shades of white, yellow and pink crowded all round the stem so they stand out horizontally, and Foxy hybrids with flowers in a mixture of darker hues on stem only 90cm (3ft) tall. Sutton's Apricot is more subtle and blends well with other plants.

Giant onions in the flower border? Why not? Allium giganteum makes an impressive landmark ( and a change of flower shape from spires.

Well over 1m (3ft 3in) tall, it carries large spheres of deep pink flowers 15cm (6in) across. Despite its height, it needs no staking and the dried seed heads can be used in floral art.

Most poppies are small but the oriental types are real eye-stoppers with large, bright red blooms on 1m (3ft 3in) stems in early summer.

Some, like the variety Beauty of Livermere, have a black blotch at the base of each petal.

They associate well with the traditional, scarlet-and-yellow red-hot poker (kniphofia) with its bottle-brush stems of similar height.

Hybrids of both are available in other colours oriental poppies in white or pink and kniphofias in shades of red, orange, salmon, yellow and cream. Some kniphofia varieties flower later and are good for extending the season.

One late-blooming type, Percy's Pride, is greenish in bud, opening cream. If you have space, grow some red-hot pokers from mixed seed and enjoy the various colours of the flowers, which will be produced in the second year.

Perhaps the most elegant flowers among tall perennials are lilies. Lilium auratum grows 1.7m-2.1m (5ft-7ft) tall with numerous flowers 15cm (6in) or more wide, white with crimson or yellow spots. It is a lime-hater so, even on neutral soils, plenty of peat or leafmould is needed. Lilium candidum, the Madonna lily, has white flowers and grows 90cm-1.5m (3ft-5ft) tall. It should be planted shallowly in August, which is its only dormant time. Lilium martagon, the Turk's cap lily, with turned back petals can be from mauve to maroon and grows to 1.9m (6ft), while Lilium regale reaches a similar height and produces white flowers, smoky-red on the outside, with a heavy fragrance.

Tallest of all are hollyhocks which can tower above 2.4m (8ft).

They are hardy perennials but are often grown as biennials or annuals to avoid their worst enemy ( a fungal disease known as rust. This causes yellow or orange spots to develop on leaves, which then fall, spreading spores in the soil that attack subsequent plantings.

Rust is worst in damp summers. Prompt attention ( removing affected leaves and spraying with fungicide ( gives the most effective control.

There are 60 species of hollyhock but the main garden favourite, thought to have some rust resistance, is Alcea rosea, with flowers of purple, pink, red, white or yellow.

Superior varieties of this include Happy Lights, said to be extra-resistant to rust; Zanzibar; Chater's Double, with peony-style blooms in both bright and pale shades, including pink, apricot, red, white, lavender-blue, yellow and purple; and Peaches 'n' Dreams, free-flowering with double blooms in shades of peach, cream and pink.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 10, 2004
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