The best colours for spring & summer garden planning

Posted on: 07 April 2010 by Mark O'haire

In the style of the best fashion reviewer, gardening expert Maxine Farmer shares her favourite colours from this year’s gardening catalogues.

The new season’s gardening catalogues tend to arrive on my doormat – or more frequently these days, in my email inbox – around the same time as spring and summer clothes catalogues. And it struck me this morning how much they have in common:  both have lots of traditional favourites, but equally, tempt us with some new introductions to ring the changes. So today, in the style of the best fashion reviewer, I’m going to share my favourites from this year’s pick of the catalogue crops and suggest a few that readers might want to try. 

I’m going to start with some edible ideas, largely because I’ve been very impressed with some of the new additions I’ve seen this year.  Chiltern Seeds’ The VegBook (also online) is packed with mouth-watering examples, including an array of ‘oriental greens’.  As their name suggests, these are typically green leaves for stir fries or salads and depending on the variety, can grow pretty quickly from seed.  Many people will be familiar with pak choi, but this is just the tip of the iceberg: why not see if Chinese amaranth, edible burdock or mustard greens pep up the palette? Most varieties can be grown outside in the warmer months, in the same way as lettuce.

Like many of us, I’m a huge fan of cherry tomatoes, so I’ll be giving new introduction ‘Black Cherry’ a try, which allegedly has a very dark red skin with blackish hues and is a prolific fruiter.  It should add a dramatic twist to my summer salads.   I also like the sound of: Lemon Coriander (just to be different);  dwarf French bean ‘Safari’ because it is apparently a good performer and truly stringless; and runner bean ‘White Lady, as it has pure white flowers which I think will look fabulous when grown as annual climbers weaving their way through my herbaceous flower borders, with the added bonus of an edible crop.

Of course, we’re running tight on time to grow many plants from seed in time for the summer season, which is why plug plants are such a great invention.  However, I know from personal experience that it pays to get your booking in on time, as popular varieties can – and do – sell out.  Chili pepper lovers may be interested in Unwins’ selection, which includes the notoriously fiery Scotch Bonnet and the popular Giant Jalapeno.  For something rather cooler, I’ll be ordering ‘Sweetcorn Swift’, which has tender, juicy cobs, unlike some other varieties which become tough in our UK climate.

For something more decorative, an old favourite of mine is the J Parkers catalogue, which always has a bounty of highly colourful images, displaying lots of good-value old cottage garden favourites and even a few exotics.  I’m particularly taken by the look at a new hydrangea paniculata – the ones with the ‘lacy cap’ flowerheads.  Vanilla Fraise has delicious blooms of white and pink, although it is hard to make a choice between that and the ‘Limelight’, which is white with a green tinge to the petals. 

Despite the annual battle against the red lily beetle, I do think that oriental lilies earn their place in the garden, especially when grown in pots because they can then be moved around to create drama in otherwise dull gaps.  J Parkes has some giant lilies, the result of hybridising oriental and trumpet lilies to create plants that allegedly produce 20-30 fragrant flowers per bulb.  ‘Miss Lily’ is a striking dark maroon with white edges so it will be given a chance in a sunny spot in my garden this summer.

Another fragrant plant that seems to encourage new named introductions each year is the wonderful sweet pea, surely one of  the quintessential flowers of the British garden.  “Hero” (available from Unwins) has blooms of an unusual navy blue and a delicate fragrance.  They are sure to be remarked upon, especially if cut and put in a vase somewhere very visible.

But if you are a bit jaded by the traditional, why not grow something rather more exotic?  Jungle Seeds provide a range of seed kits for beginners, so that novices can experiment with a variety of different plants.  Bear in mind that some will need bottom heat, so check the details on the website carefully and do your homework.   If you want to skip the seed stage, then sister site Jungle Gardens has an enticing range of young plants available for ordering online.

But even if I don’t get around to growing half of these plants, for me a lot of the fun is in the ‘window shopping’.  Just looking at those pictures of Technicolor-bright plants, is enough to help me see beyond the grey skies and look forward to sitting in my garden in a few months time, congratulating myself on my seasonal purchases!


By Maxine Farmer

Maxine FarmerMaxine Farmer: Garden Writer & Consultant

Maxine Farmer is a professional writer and garden designer, and has had articles published in The Daily Telegraph, Housebuilder & Renovation, and the RHS’ members magazine, The Garden.

She developed her passion for making the most of challenging gardens by moving to a riverside plot that not only floods regularly, but is often bone dry in summer.  Since the mid-1990s, she and her husband John have experimented with plants that are able to survive these extremes.  The garden has been featured in national newspapers and magazines.

Maxine has also created a website for fellow gardeners who have gardens that flood:  She occasionally provides gardening consultancy and is available to speak at garden clubs.

To ask Maxine a gardening question, please email

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