Head gardener at West Dean Gardens Tom Brown picks the best blooms for July, including a dwarf sunflower and echinacea. Here’s what to plant to make sure your garden is looking colourful in July, along with tips on how to care for each plant. Why not also read our piece on the best summer flowers for even more inspiration?
The best flowers for the month of July
I’ll be the first to admit that I was very sceptical when I heard that the RHS was trialling new Echinacea as I’d always dismissed the coloured cultivars as novelty and lacking in perenniality. How wrong I was. Five years after the trial began, many have not only survived but thrived at RHS Wisley, putting paid to my concerns about their garden worthiness. This one is particularly tasteful, delivering buttermilk flowers during July and high summer, which fade to leave a typical conehead as added interest. Try mixing with purple sedums and bronze grasses. Height 50cm-1m. Origin Garden origin (species from Eastern and Central North America). Conditions Best performance in reasonably deep soil; full sun. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 3a-8b. Season of interest June to August.
Helianthus annuus ‘Ms Mars’
Throughout the summer of 2015 I trialled more than 100 different forms of sunflower and became totally enamoured with the dwarf cultivars. These delivered stems that were long enough for cutting but which required no staking. One that stood out from the crowd was ‘Ms Mars’. Its distinct, pink and claret-coloured flowers are produced profusely on knee-high plants. Like all sunflowers, they give a much-needed boost of colour to our gardens when the heat of July and summer has drawn some of the vim and vigour out of our displays. Height 50cm-1m. Origin Garden origin (species from USA and Central America). Conditions Moist but well-drained soil; full sun. Hardiness RHS H4, USDA 2a-11. Season of interest July to September.
Among the plethora of penstemons currently at our disposal, this classic cultivar is one that has stood the test of time, and rightly so. Tubular, dark-purple flowers appear throughout July and the summer and into the autumn and the intensity of the flowers contrast well with vibrant reds, such as Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ or Achillea millefolium ‘Red Velvet’. If your garden is in something of a cold spot, strike semi-ripe wood cuttings and overwinter in a frost-free place to ensure successive garden performance for years to come. AGM. Height 50cm-1m. Origin Garden origin (species from America and Mexico). Conditions Fertile, free-draining soil; full sun. Hardiness RHS H3, USDA 6a-9b. Season of interest Summer until first frosts.
Nigella papillosa ‘Delft Blue’
Once you’ve tried growing Nigella papillosa cultivars you may not want to return to the more familiar Nigella damascena. The beauty of the papillosa nigellas plant lies both in their exaggerated flowers and their subsequent seedheads, which are simply stunning in their own right and look great in borders. The flowers are unusual with bicoloured blooms of white and deep blue on sturdy stems. Nigellas can be equally successful directly sown into a border or started off in modules and then planted out when the plants are large enough. Height 50cm. Origin Garden origin (species from Spain and North Africa). Conditions Reasonable soil; full sun. Hardiness RHS H3, USDA 2a-11. Season of interest June, July until August from a spring sowing.
Surely this plant is due a garden revival? It baffles me why people currently don’t grow it more often. Limonium is very tolerant of drier conditions and exposed sites, for those of us who struggle with such conditions. I first encountered sea lavender, many years ago, as a cut flower, and saw its potential to associate with a number of other garden plants. I now use it among roses at the front of the border throughout July, where its purple, firework-like flowers shroud the roses’ bare bases. As its blooms fade, they leave a graceful seedhead, which does not need to be hastily tidied away. Height 50cm-1m. Origin Asia, southeast and central Europe. Conditions Free-draining soil, tolerant of chalk in sun or partial shade. Hardiness RHS H7, USDA 3a-9b. Season of interest July and August.
Waterlily types of dahlia make great subjects for cutting and garden display in July: their long stems provide continuous blooms from summer right through to the first frosts. ‘Gwyneth’ provides a symphony of burnt orange, bronze and yellow tones in its flower, which I find really appealing. I would recommend cutting stems to a strong pair of buds just as they are freshly opening, a technique known as live-heading, to stay on top of your dahlias. This way you’ll improve the flowering performance, ensuring plenty of stems for cutting – and a well-presented garden plant as a result. Height 1.5m. Origin Garden origin (species from Mexico and Central America). Conditions Fertile, well-drained soil; sun. Hardiness RHS H3, USDA 7a-10b. Season of interest July until first frosts.
Originally bred for the Dutch cut flower trade, this is an excellent addition to a cutting garden or border. I adore the rich purple flowers that can work with most colours throughout July and the summer, offering a sultry foil to other plants. Alstroemerias are incredibly generous flowerers. To ensure rapid regrowth, pull the stems rather than cut them to stimulate growth. Alstroemerias will flower from early summer until the frosts but need a little protection with a bark mulch for their first winter. It’s well worth seeking out this cultivar – I’ve grown it and been happy with it for years. Height 1m. Origin Garden origin (species from South America). Conditions Organically rich, free-draining soil; sun. Hardiness RHS H4, USDA 5a-9b. Season of interest Early summer until first frosts.