I have been considering the success of the summer bedding, now that summer is squarely here. I don't do much bedding, and only in pots since we really don't have the sort of borders where you can slip ephemeral half hardy annuals into the gaps for extra late summer colour. I've tried it and it didn't work. They all died of drought, or were eaten by slugs, snails or rabbits.
Top prize goes to the traditional Cosmos. I am growing a white strain called 'Purity' and a mixture of dark and mid pinks called 'Sensation Mix'. These are the two varieties most commonly given away with gardening magazines, and as the open packets keep well from year to year I never feel the need to buy any additional seed. The plants are attractive in all their parts, with feathery foliage in a bright shade of mid green, and the simple pink and white flowers are carried abundantly over a long season. Indeed, I may have fed some of my pots too generously, as some plants have formed monster bushes almost a yard tall and are taking their time getting into their full flowering stride.
Cosmos seed germinates quickly and is easy to grow on. As long as you keep them frost free the seedlings are tolerant of being allowed to dry out or accidentally over watered, and fairly forgiving about when you prick them out and pot them on. I always sow too much seed, forgetting what good-natured plants they are and worrying that I won't raise enough to fill all my pots. The resulting overcrowding on the greenhouse bench of course makes failure that bit more likely.
New for the first time this year I've grown Cosmos sulphureus 'Bright Lights'. It has slightly more substantial foliage than the pink and white sorts, finely divided but less feathery, like lightweight flat leaf parsley. The flowers are a little smaller than the other, in a slightly more orange shade of yellow than I was imagining, and very generously carried. Again, germination was rapid and the growing on was trouble free. I have them grouped with various frost tender permanent inhabitants of pots, all flowering in shades of orange and yellow, and find the whole combination cheerful. I like orange and yellow flowers, in moderation and provided they are the right shades of yellow, and do not subscribe to the school of thought that takes banning them from your garden as a marker of good taste. I wouldn't go so far as to put them with pink, though.
Altogether less satisfactory was Zinnia 'Purple Prince'. This was another magazine freebie, and since the stiff, double, daisy like flowers in a bright shade of purple looked rather jolly on the seed packet, and would go nicely with the pink Cosmos and pink dahlias I was planning to stand outside the garage, I gave Zinnia a go. They have a reputation for being tricksy, and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they germinated. However, losses set in from the potting on stage onwards, with plants collapsing overnight as their stems developed brown dead patches that buckled under the weight of the top growth. Those that made it to be planted into the final display pots have an annoying habit of dying back at the tips, while individual leaves further down the stems have crisped and browned. The purple flowers are fun, reminiscent of the cut Gerbera flowers beloved as table decorations by chains like Pizza Express, but there are not nearly enough of them to compensate for the grotty leaves and general difficulty of cultivation. I presume they are unhappy with my watering regime, but I have a lot of pots to get round. I need plants that will be happy just to get some water, thank you. There isn't time to heft every pot each time and put every one on its own individual diet.
A few Ricinus communis 'Impala' have made rather skinny plants after not being potted on as fast and lavishly as they would probably have liked. At least, I think that's the problem. Maybe they will surprise me and keep growing on through the autumn to end up as large as the ones I've seen bedded out in London's parks. What there is of them is pretty, and the pink of their flowers and pinkish-grey of their leaves goes very well with the pink Cosmos flowers.
All the other pots contain tender perennials or sub-shrubs. I am pleased this year with Dicliptera suberecta, a grey leaved shrubby little thing that sends up vertical shoots with dark orange, tubular flowers. I was immensely taken with one I saw at a garden we visited in Worcestershire a few years back, but Dicliptera is not the easiest thing to get hold of. Then I found it on the list of a nursery in Lincolnshire I was using for hardy plants, and snaffled one up. It lived for its first year in the conservatory, and was not awfully happy, so this year I moved it to a bigger pot in case it needed more space to encourage it, and stood it outside for the summer so that it would get more light. Lo and behold, it sprang into growth and is looking much better and flowering much more. Some plants seem to need a minimum pot size to get them going, examples that come immediately to mind being Salvia confertiflora, Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata, and Begonia luxurians. Maybe I will tell you about them another day.