Finally some inspiration for the front bed

As seen in the last update, I've been feeling pretty inspired and enthusiastic in my efforts to turn my barren, shady back bed into a lush woodland floor. Somewhat paradoxically I've paid almost no attention to the sun-catching front bed; in fact, literally nothing since sticking in some "3 trays for a fiver" cheap summer bedding plants from Asda at the start of the June. Despite the fact that every visit to the garden centre seduces with far more choice of plants that might thrive there than the modest array available in the shade house.

In fact, I know it's because of the greater choice. It was always the same way when I wrote music. Tell me write something, anything and I'd have no ideas. Force me to write something in 6/4, phrygrian, and I'd be happily on the case.

In contrast to the paranoid babysitting I've been giving my tiarellas, when I noticed slugs eating the cheapo flowers, I couldn't really be bothered to defend them.

Eaten by snails?

And in contrast to my savouring of every fleeting beam of sunlight that hits my dicentra petals, when the Asda stuff -- mostly begonias, I think, and/or possibly petunias -- finally started fully flowering, I could only really shrug.

Begonias (?) flowering in front bed.  Meh

Sure, they were cheap, and maybe I was primed to care for the others because they were... less cheap, but this apathy was something a bit more than that. They're boring. Generic. And they don't fit.

At this point, I may not have worked out what my vision is for this bed yet, but I know they don't fit it.

I was slightly more interested and charmed when this flower appeared without me putting it there:

Agrostemma githago (I think) Agrostemma githago

It took me a while, but I eventually identified it as a common corncockle. Unsure if it's a weed or a former resident's planting, as it is both a native self-seeder and a cottage garden choice. It's very nice but a little bit of bad weather gave it a battering and then the willowherb took over:


But I don't want to go ripping that out for the sake of 'weeding' when I've nothing better to replace it with.

Meanwhile the lavender is a complete mess but the internet tells me I have to wait before I start trimming that back. So the front bed sprawls with neglect.

It is only when these blue-and-white lobelias join the Asda cheapo party, and I'm surprisingly pleased with them, that it clicks into place why the begonias/petunias have inspired just an overwhelming "meh".


It's not just that they're generic nan flowers, it's that I don't want red. And I don't want pink. I'm doing whites and reds via pinks in the back bed - subconsciously, I suppose this palette had been set from the moment I chose the tiarella 'Pink skyrocket', because although I hadn't really been thinking in those terms, everything else I'd put in had either been white (sarcococca, dicentra 'Aurora') or pink (dicentra 'Luxuriant') or red (Japanese quince).

So the front bed should be all white and blues. Whites and blues, via lavender - but strictly no pinks or red.

Next time I'm at the garden centre, a few weeks later, I stride around the sunny plants with purpose for the first time! Give me something beautifully blue, the bluest blues you have...

My standout pick is a salvia, but it says "sheltered site" and "half hardy" and I um-and-ah over whether it will do OK in my garden. My general philosophy has been to try and plant things that are fully hardy. Stuff that, if the next tenant here neglected the garden for x years, would still be chugging away. Perhaps not everything would survive, and those that did might not be looking very neat, or as flower-heavy as they might be with attention, but the beds would still be filled with something. This half-hardy salvia was seriously making me query my own rules. But I don't have a greenhouse to winter things in, and to be honest the whole idea of planting out things that can't survive the British climate indefinitely seems a bit silly to me.

So I forced myself to leave it there and subsituted a Felicitara blue daisy instead. In many ways, a rather ludicrous decision, in that this too is labelled half-hardy, so I managed to neither stick to my philosophy nor get the plant I was really keen on.

Felicitara Blue and lobelias Felicitara Blue and lobelias

However, the little daisy was half the price of the salvia, so I told myself it was less of a gamble to see whether or not a plant that is officially given half a chance of surviving in the uk could do so in my quite-far-south, urban-heat-island garden, which surely tipped the odds a bit over fifty-fifty, right?

That evening, I did a little bit of further reading on half-hardiness, and searching for nice blue-flowered things, and found that salvias really owned that category, and told myself that I could always put it into a pot and bring it indoors, or in the shed, or something... and I had already got the daisy, so, in for a penny, in for a pound... and went back the next day for the salvia.

Saliva patens

Isn't it lovely? For me, next to the lavender, that's a perfect "anchor tenant" to set out the stall of what I want from this bed, palette-wise.

Saliva patens

Something rather strange, though, is that my pot was labelled Salvia patens 'Beyond blue', and if you google that, you get.... absolutely no matching plants. There's a 'Cambridge blue' and a 'Patio sky blue' which both look very close to what I have, but google knows not any variety by the name of 'Beyond blue'.

Regardless, it's already going a tiny way to creating my blue spectrum, in combination with the lavender and lobelia:

Lavender, lobelia and salvia

Of course, the lobelia won't be back next year, so my challenge now is to find (hopefully) hardy perennials to do the same sort of job (in terms of height and so on). Ideally something with a similar-ish blue but one that's more definitely, well... blue. These are a little bit purpley and while I can't really argue lavender is also sort of purpley, and the lavender is a given here, I'm wanting to steer away from anything too pinkish and keep the spectrum firmly within blue blues as much as possible. Sky blues, sea blues and icy white antarctic glacier blues.

In this spirit, my current plan is that I will ultimately remove the (pink) willowherb and herb robert and (yellow) herb bennet and dandelions from this bed, not for being weeds per se, but for being "off-brand". The red and pink Asda stuff, as I understand it, will die and not reappear, anyway. The Mexican fleabane I planted in this bed has apparently died, already: I had since read that they do better from seed than division/transplanting plants, so I wasn't terribly surprised, and now with the "no pinks" rule in mind, I found myself strangely relieved. Much as it's nice to have a plan, it would be a shame to go killing/removing thriving plants just for the sake of an arbitrary colour decision.

On which note, the corncockle, well, I don't quite have the heart to rip it out just yet. I can allow the odd rule-breaker for now, surely; maybe in a year or two if my white/blue theme planting is all thriving and really looking on-point except for a corncockle spoiling it, I will man up to that harsh choice and remove it. Until then I'll continue to err on the side of a plant being better than no plant.

With that mental audit of non-blue plants complete, a look at the flipside: what existing blues to encourage? In the photo above you can see the Nigella from my parents growing enthusiastically in the side bed, right where it meets the front bed, so I'm hoping that will self-seed over the gap; if not, I'll definitely be looking to get some Nigella throughout there some other way. Be that seeding or planting. There's also some plumbago from the great parental tranche, which I'm fairly sure will be blue, as and when it flowers.

Beyond that, I'll have quite a lot of space to fill. I definitely want a good dose of white flowers and silver foliage in there to create the light, glacial look I have in my head. Early googling shows lychnis coronaria 'Alba' to be just the sort of thing I'm talking about, while various Echinops look awfully exciting too....

So, I'm finally getting inspired for this front bed, which is probably a good thing, because with the discovery of vine weevils, the back bed and the side bed are not having the best July...