Great Companion Plants For a Cottage Garden: Astrantia

Astrantias at Arley Hall

First, What is a companion plant?

Plant society members often think of their ‘pet’ plants as the stars of any border: flowering perennials, shrubs, trees and climbing plants that are guaranteed to turn heads. Think of peonies, roses, hydrangeas, day lilies, dahlias, delphiniums, hollyhocks, or even topiary as in the picture of Arley Hall, above.

Companion plants are the ones with more of a supportive role. They are chosen to complement the feature plants, contrasting or harmonising with them, in colour, texture or form. I can’t imagine a traditional herbaceous border without companions to fill in the gaps and create a harmonious  tapestry. While companions add to the richness and diversity of the garden, they will not compete too aggressively for the limelight or for resources such as food, water or space. They create a healthier ecosystem by attracting beneficial insects.

Many of my favourite companion plants are long-flowering, allowing the garden to transition seamlessly from one season to another. You might have overlooked every one of the companion plants I’ll be highlighting in this short series of posts, but I believe they’re worth their moment in the spotlight.

Astrantia (masterwort)

Red astrantia

Astrantias are such useful, trouble-free companion plants that you’d be hard pressed to find a major English garden without them. Masses of small umbels are held airily on wiry stems like a profusion of stars, as their Latin name suggests. The intricate, lacey flowers are encircled by papery bracts of varying lengths.  Continue reading

Cheerleading For Frilly Flowers: Double Peonies

Pink peony

If ever a flower looked like it was wearing a petticoat, this is it. It’s hard to believe this bloom is only partially open. The yellow petals in the centre will gradually become more prominent, but I like the flower at this stage while the outer petals are still a pure pink, and are forming a protective cup around the inner petals.

White peony

The second peony has it all for me: I love the pearly character of the creamy white petals and the way those yellowy petals create an inner glow.  Continue reading

Hidden in Plain Sight: Primrose Hearts

Common primrose | Primula vulgaris

When I saw these common primroses hidden under a shrub in the gardens at Bridgemere Garden Centre yesterday, I marvelled that each petal is a heart. They looked so dainty and exquisite that I wondered if I was looking at one of the latest new cultivars.

I’d been admiring the Victorian-style, gold and silver lace primulas and some ruffled, rose-like doubles on the garden centre benches just a few minutes earlier – and, I confess, wrinkling my nose at a couple of the less dainty cultivars that are being offered this season.

Checking online, I see that every common primula (Primula vulgaris) has heart-shaped petals. How could I have forgotten in just a few months?  Continue reading

Young Designers at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show: Coastal Garden

Coastal Retreat

The Royal Horticultural Society is working hard to encourage young talent into the gardening profession and it’s great to see their efforts paying off. The gardens that caught my eye at this year’s RHS Tatton Park Flower Show were created by designers under the age of 28, competing in two newly launched categories that extend the RHS’s influential Young Designer Competition.  Continue reading