Guiding Star

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Think there’s nothing to plant at this time of year? Think again: laurentia is an absolute star that’ll intrigue visitors to your garden all summer, but need sowing now

Every gardener takes pride in making their garden look its best at the height of summer, those long, lazy weeks when the sun (somehow) seems to be shining despite the best attempts of British weather. But getting your greenery in tip-top shape isn’t a case of simply paying attention to your garden when the weather starts to get better: you need to start thinking – and planting – now.

It doesn’t require much effort, but a little work in these dormant winter months can reap big benefits when it’s your garden’s time to shine. And among the brightest flowers that you can start sowing now to see in full flourish by summer is a little star called laurentia.

Laurentia (also known as isotoma) were first described in an 1826 botanical book, after they were spotted growing wild in a cow pasture near Sydney. Although the climate of the southern hemisphere differs significantly from our more bracing weather in the North East, these bright blue, pink, purple and white plants can still survive well in our region, and flourish at the height of summer provided they’re first planted as the new year begins. The plant belongs to the campanula family, which means that many gardeners may be familiar with its closest relatives, but stands by itself for the quality of its stellar petals, splayed out like a starburst. 

Laurentia are amazing container plants that can add drama to a summer display, or can be used to bulk out a border with a spray of colour. In short, they’re the ideal all-rounder, able to tie together disparate parts of your garden and to easily add some intrigue at the time when your garden will truly look its best. But how can you get laurentia in your own garden for summer? 

It’s easier than you might think. A half-hardy plant, laurentia doesn’t need an awful lot of care and attention, though you’ll want to be starting off its growth now. Plant it indoors in containers filled with loam-rich compost, or moist but well-draining soil, then place it in your greenhouse window: the flower, particularly in its early weeks and months, will want regular, consistent sight of the sun. Make sure that your greenhouse or indoor space is heated: laurentia need frost-free conditions to thrive. 

Once winter’s frost has passed, start acclimatising the plant to the outdoors by bringing them out during the day in their pots and allowing them some time in the open air. Do this for a week or so, so that they’re able to fully adapt to the vagaries of the great British weather, then transplant them where you want them to flourish. 
This could be in borders or beds alongside your lawn; or it could be in a container (we’d recommend tall, slender pots, full of earth that accentuate the laurentia’s vertiginous growth). Once they’re bedded in, they require remarkably little work: simply deadhead them two or three times a week in order to keep new growth coming, and make sure to water them regularly. 

Doing all that will ensure you see the benefits of laurentia’s bright glow throughout the entirety of summer – and even into early autumn. You can even overwinter them in a heated greenhouse or porch, and take your own cuttings when spring arrives, continuing the beauty and wonder for another year.

 

OTHER GARDEN SUPERSTARS

We love laurentia, but here are five other eye-catching plants to be sowing and growing now

BEGONIA
Begonia are notoriously slow to flower from seed, so you’ll want to give them a headstart by starting them off indoors now.

LOBELIA
Another fantastic flower that can be utilised in bedding, baskets and containers. Treat lobelia in much the same way you would laurentia.

PANSIES
Inject some colour into your summer displays with pansies, which can be started off indoors now for full growth by the summer.

SWEET PEAS
Sweet peas are able to withstand the colder weather slightly better than some other flowers, but you can sow them directly into the ground when the frost lifts. 

CARNATIONS 
Like begonia, carnations can be sluggish to start their growth, so providing them with a warm indoors will reap benefits in the long run.

Published in: January 2018

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