It feels as if this Summer has been a long time coming. What a wet, dreary winter we have had, followed by a damp and dull spring with those low night time temperatures. No wonder so many people are booking holidays abroad in search of the sun. But, hold on, the sun will yet shine on our British gardens, the temperatures will rise and our knees and elbows will come out of hiding and our gardens with a little work, will look glorious.

Easy to Grow Plants with a Long Season of Interest

With the winter wet some people may have had losses in their gardens. I have lost some Hylotelephium (used to be called Sedum) and some of my Mediterranean silvery leaved plants like Stachys (Lambs Ears) and Convolvulous cneorum (Silverbush) are looking very sorry for themselves. However, the Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ are now so rampant their spring growth has smothered anything trying to get through underneath. I need to make some changes, starting with removing some of the alliums.

Having a small garden means that anything I plant must have as long a season of interest as possible. Also I look for drought tolerant plants to reduce the need for watering my free-draining chalky soil.

There are many plants that have a long season of interest through the summer. Some of the best include:

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and G. ‘Kelly Anne’: cut these back in mid summer after the first flush and they will give you a second flush. They are great filler plants, covering up gaps in borders and hiding the lower stems of plants that have a tendency for  ‘knobbly knees’

Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’: drought tolerant, pollinator friendly, evergreen and sometimes continues to flower through the winter.

Alstroemeria, Buddleja, Coreopsis, Dahlias, Helenium, Nepeta (Catmint), Penstemon, Phlox, Rudbeckia, Salvia microphylla varieties and Scabious: Once these have started flowering, deadhead and they keep going until the frosts.

Achillea, Erigeron, Echinacea, Hebe, Hydrangeas, Lavender, Perovskia, Rosemary and Verbena flower for a long period, but do not require regular deadheading. Other than the Hydrangea all these are fairly drought tolerant too.

Climbers like Clematis and Trachelospermun (Star Jasmine) can flower over a long period and are great for clothing walls or providing vertical accents on pergolas or obelisks.

Abelia are versatile evergreen shrubs with lovely foliage and a long summer flowering season. They are also happy in most soils except extremes of wet and dry.

I think this year I am going to be adding the Geraniums ‘Rozanne’ and ‘Kelly Anne’ as excellent fillers, some Penstemon ‘Heavenly Blue’ which I adore the colour of and Erigeron ‘Sea Breeze’ for border edging. The penstemon I will have to keep an eye on for water in dry spells but the others, once established, should be able to cope with a good mulch around them.


Herbs are a must have in any garden, they are so useful for cooking and adding flavour to hot and cold drinks.  Many of these aromatic plants have beautiful foliage and also attract pollinators. If you don’t have room for a dedicated herb garden, you can grow oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme as part of a mixed border or plant them in containers on the patio in full sun. Parsley being in the carrot family, prefers to be in the ground as it has deeper tap roots. Mint is invasive so plant it in a large pot and sink the pot into the ground leaving the top few inches above the soil. It prefers to be out of the midday sun. Fresh peppermint tea is delicious and of course a glass of Pimms is always improved with a sprig of mint!

Basil and coriander are annuals so are easy to grow from seed in pots in the sun. Once the seedlings have emerged move coriander grown for its leaves, to a position in part shade. This prevents it from going to seed too quickly.

How Quickly Should My New Plants Grow?

We sometimes get enquiries from customers who say that they planted a shrub last autumn or a few weeks ago and it hasn’t grown, what should they do? I say be patient. If your plant looks healthy but has not grown much don’t be alarmed. How do you ensure your plants grow well from the start and what should you expect in terms of visible growth?

  • Firstly, choose plants appropriate for the situation, type of soil, sun or shade, ground or pot.
  • Secondly, improve the soil before planting by digging some compost into the area. Mixing it into the area is better than just putting it in the bottom of the planting hole, as you need to encourage the roots to move beyond the planting hole into the surrounding soil. Adding mycorrhizal fungi to the roots and planting hole will assist plants in making good root growth.

Expectations: When planting shrubs and trees, remember this rule: roots, shoots, flowers.

The first year after planting many shrubs will be concentrating their energies on developing a good root system. Keep the area well watered and mulched during this period. You may not see much growth but your plant should still look healthy.

In the second year with a good root system to sustain them, plants can concentrate more on growing their shoots and creating a framework. Therefore, expect to see more vigorous growth in the second year. Continue to provide water during dry spells.

In the third season the plant should be more vigorous and produce a better display of flowers because it has a strong foundation.

This three-part rule may take place over a longer period for some species (like Wisteria) or if you are planting large specimens. Large specimens take longer to establish a good supportive root system than young plants. Conversely, some shrubs and most perennials will establish more quickly over just two years. Perennials will generally be stronger and flower better in their second season.

How to Garden With Children in Mind

The Whitsun Bank Holiday Weekend is the start of Half Term and the beginning of National Children’s Gardening Week. Children love being outdoors and spending time in nature, National Children’s Gardening Week aims to capture their enthusiasm.

Growing plants is an exciting learning adventure for kids. They discover the secrets of plants and how they grow. Through gardening, they also see how seasons change and how everything in a garden is connected. Taking care of plants teaches children to be patient and responsible. It’s not just about plants; it’s about learning and growing together with nature.

Providing a safe space for children in a garden is important to help them nurture their interest but also to give a space that allows them to move about without damaging anything precious. This doesn’t have to be a huge lawn, creating pathways and destination is fine too. Circular and winding paths take up little space and you can add logs to balance on and maybe a hideaway or den in a corner. Give them a space to dig, make mud pies or grow their own plants.

Choose and position plants carefully in a garden where children spend a lot of time. Don’t worry too much about plants with prickles, like holly. Children will learn pretty quickly if it hurts when you touch something. But, be more aware of plants that are toxic or that can cause skin rashes. All euphorbias, for example, have milky sap which can cause skin and eye irritations, as do figs. Keep plants which cause skin irritation away from the edges of borders where they are more likely to come into contact with people walking past. Many ornamental berries are poisonous if eaten, teach children not to eat anything they don’t know is safe.

Great plants for a child friendly garden include Pennisetum grasses with their soft tickly flowerheads and Stachys byzantine with leaves as soft as lambs ears. Sunflowers, nasturtiums, herbs and strawberries are also great plants for children to be around. A large teepee of climbing beans not only provides food to eat but makes a great den for young children during the summer. Then after all that running around they (and you) need somewhere welcoming to relax.

I find it difficult to sit down for long in my garden. No sooner than I have sat down, I am up again as I have spotted something that needs doing – a weed to pull or an interesting bug to look at. Maybe if I had a more comfy chair to sit in I might actually stay in one place for longer.

The Deluxe Loungers look comfy enough for an afternoon snooze or a place to enjoy a good book and the Corner Sofa and Dining Sets would be great for a family to share together.

Or a simple outdoor rug and some cushions would make a great place for a garden picnic with or without the teddy bear!

All information correct at time of publishing May 2024.

Hazel Still Tates of Sussex Garden Centres
By our resident horticultural expert

Hazel Still