It has been a long time since I last posted. Lockdown is tough and the weather has been pretty awful. When the wind and rain stopped it has been cold! The ground is so wet it is difficult to do much gardening. I do not want to ruin the grass or destroy the soil so I am keeping off it. I have been ordering lots of plants so there will be lots of new posts about those but pots of dormant herbaceous plants do not have much visual appeal – though they do provide me with lots of excitement, of the kind that holding and shaking a pack of seeds provides.
I have been working my way through old photos and, unsuccessfully, attempting to organise them. So, with that in mind, and the hopes for spring and a summer of colour, along with greater freedom, I am starting a series on annuals. We can all look forward to sowing annuals and enjoying their bright and cheerful flowers. I have been ordering seeds too and now have them all organised in alphabetical order, ready for spring. In this first, and the rest of, the posts I will refer, for reference, to ‘The English Flower Garden’ (1883) by William Robinson, to give an Irish flavour.
And we will start, like my seeds in alphabetical order, with Ageratum.
Robinson wrote ‘The dwarf ageratums are among the best, but all are greatly over-valued, though they are among the most lasting of summer bedding plants,’ ‘The very dwarf kinds are disappointing; they flower freely, and the growth of the plants is so sparse that they always appear stunted.’
This suggests either that he had a grudging respect for them or that he could not decide if he liked them or not! And in this regard I have to admit that I feel the same. In their wild state they are short-lived pernnials or small shrubs and although Robinson recommends propagating from cuttings we tend to treat them as half-hardy annuals, sowing in spring and planting out in late May. But commercial young plant companies increasingly sell cuttings-raised plants which tend to bloom longer than seed-raised kinds.
The beauty of the plants lies in their fluffy flowers – they are commonly called floss flowers – and although in the daisy family (Asteraceae) the flowers do not have ray florets. Most dwarf kinds make dense mounds of flower, rather like blue caulifowers, and I dislike them intensely, but they do have their place. As they grow the new flowers open above the old, so the withered, brown blooms are generally disguised. In wet weather it is worth deadheading the plants to keep them neat.
We always think of ageratum as blue but they are also available in a dusky pink and white. The whites are troublesome because the old flowers are brown and ruin the display. But a mix of all three is pleasant. I prefer the tall mixes which can reach 60cm high. They are much more elegant than their dwarf cousins and also make good cut flowers.
Ageratum are pretty easy to grow from seed, are not as worried by cool temperatures as some other half hardy annuals and bloom for ages. At their best in full sun, they will also tolerate a little shade. The informal look of the tall kinds makes them good mixers with herbaceous plants and among small shrubs. They look especially good with silver-leaved plants such as lavender, santolina and Senecio (Brachyglottis) greyii.
Oh, and bees and butterflies love ageratum.