A perennial is a plant that continuously grows throughout its life. Therefore grass, ferns, bamboo and even shrubs and trees are technically perennials. Steve Lovell, who came to talk to Ticknall Garden Club in November, concentrated mainly on what would be called herbaceous perennials. Steve Lovell came from Lincolnshire to pay his return visit to Ticknall. With considerable experience as landscape gardener and one-time president of the Lincolnshire Hardy Plant Society he is always full of practical advice and illustrates with superb photographs. His inspiration as a young boy were the magnificent twin perennial borders at Arley Hall in Cheshire which have been in continuous cultivation since 1867 and are the oldest in Britain. Also, a big influence were the well-known TV gardeners Geoff Smith and Geoff Hamilton. He admired their practical, down to earth approach to gardening which is very much reflected in his own philosophy.
In planting herbaceous perennials, he advised starting with thorough preparation of the soil and allowing plenty of time to make sure no troublesome weeds remained in the ground. He makes copious use of recycled waste local authority compost by digging it in for aeration and mulch. Plants need to be chosen to suit their location. He quoted Essex as having on average 18 cms of rain yearly compared with Snowdonia experiencing as much as 64 cms each year. Dry conditions suit plants with grey, silver and felted leaves. Rodgersia, aruncus and ligularia need wet ground. Bear in mind that generous spacing needs to be taken into account as close planting for instant results was not recommended. Supports need to be in place early in their growth whether it be chicken wire, canes, twiggy branches or commercial supports. Steve loves to grow plants to attract wildlife. Allium, phlox, veronicastrum, eryngium and achillea for bees and butterflies were suggested.
Steve reviewed some of his favourite perennials that can be planted throughout the year; all illustrated with his own beautiful photographs. Epimediums and hellebores need an early cutting back of leaves to show off their flowers in Spring. Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ gives a continuous display of flowers for months. Dicentra is a very hardy early flowerer in the year but needs marking as the leaves die back in summer. Lungworts attract bees and if cut back will flower again. Peony, astrantia, lupins, delphinium and scabious are all summer favourites. The vast range of colours found in heucheras, made possible by advances in tissue culture in America, give foliage chance to shine at the front of a border. Late season plants include echinacea, rudbeckia, helenium and kaffir lily. They will all attract insects and the seed heads left in winter provide shelter for them. Thyme, oregano and thermopsis are indispensable as ground cover to attract insects and butterflies.
Steve Lovell’s love of plants and wildlife was infectious. To add to his talents, he now leads mini-breaks which would appeal to anyone with a love of nature and bird watching.
Find out more at Steve Lovell Green Spaces