Seize the opportunity to plan a little wildly for the garden as you browse through seed and plant catalogues. Why have plain, when you could have stripes; or straight when there are twists? Joanna Cruddas suggests some favourite plants, but with a difference.
Every garden or patio should have a Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis). But they can be visually dull. Try a corkscrew stem and trim the leaves into a lollipop head; or a plant with several stems, split the roots and plait two or three stems while they are young and supple. They may look strange to begin with but will settle as they grow.
Let Bay trees be your sentries; place pyramid-shaped trees in pots either side of your front door.
Want to block out the neighbours? Pleached Bay could be your answer.
No need to stick with the common green: try the yellow-leaved variety (Laurus aurea).
The Corkscrew Hazel Corylus Avellana ‘contorta’ is a large deciduous shrub and fits well in a small garden. Its contorted and twisted branches make a striking sight in winter with showy dangling catkins at the approach of spring. Popular for winter flower arrangements, too.
Wood sorrel (Oxalis) is pretty with clover-like leaves and pink or yellow flowers but it can be a tiresome weed creeping across a garden.
However, Oxalis ‘versicolor’ is a stunning half-hardy alpine. The white funnel-shaped buds, striped with crimson, open to reveal delicate white flowers with pink margins. Ideal for a sheltered rockery or frost-free greenhouse.
The most common pale-blue Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascene) is a standard cottage garden favourite. A few years ago I branched out to the stronger Nigella hispanica variety for its dramatic seedheads. This year I’m going for a more exotic selection:
Nigella Papillosa ‘Delft Blue’ – a new variety with white and blue petals
Nigella Damascene ‘Persian Jewels Indigo’ – dark but bright blue petals
Nigella Damascene “Mulberry Rose – creamy white to a deep rose
A word of warning: the seedheads are beautiful, but hold quantities of quick-to-germinate seeds. Pull out seedlings in autumn.
Cosmos is another favourite annual for the cutting bed.
Cosmos Bipinnatus ‘rubenza’ is memorable for its fluted, velvety shell-like petals.
Saucy Psyche Rose ‘picotee’ has semi-double white flowers bordered with pink.
‘Candy Stripe’ is similar with simpler, single flower heads.
Cosmos Bipinnatus ‘dazzler’ lives up to its name with shocking crimson blooms.
Bring the moon to your pots
The hardy Hibiscus Luna variety are suitable for pots or borders and will bring a tropical and holiday feel to your garden. ‘Pink Swirl’ has a wheel of pink flowers around a deep red eye and cream stamen. The red eye of the ‘Luna White’ contrasts against pure white petals.
Fuchsias give patio gardeners an excuse to go wild with their exotic shaped and coloured flowers. The choice is vast but sometimes I like to keep it simple. The purity of hardy Fuschia ‘Beauty Queen’ is a favourite for me. It boasts the largest blooms of any hardy fuschia and will give you a show throughout the summer. Suitable for pot or border.
Joanna Cruddas lives in London and gardens at her plot in Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments, on her balcony, and in her window boxes. She is the author of The Three-Year Allotment Notebook with photographs by Edwina Sassoon.