The Lazy Gardener’s Guide to Summer Colour

May 17th, 2014 Posted In: Gardening know how

Like most middle-sizers, I always have a bit more garden than I have time or money. I can ‘do’ one bed a year and the other two have to muddle along the best they can. For the last three years, I’ve focused on this bed below, but this year it’s looking after itself. I’ve probably spent about 30 minutes in total on it, mainly weeding, since January.

alliums, irises and wallflowers - summer colour

No-fuss summer colour: alliums, wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ and irises spread, come back every year and ask for very little attention.

In spring, it’s been full of daffodils and tulips, which I leave in the ground. Then the allium foliage covers the bare earth, and just as it’s beginning to die back, poppy foliage takes its place, followed by dahlias. Wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ seems to flower from April to November, plumping out over any gaps.

Self-seeders are the key to no-effort gardening

Not only does self-seeding mean less planting – it also means less mulching and weeding. Garden writer Stephen Lacey once told me that if you mulch in autumn, you cut down on the number of self-seeded plants you’ll get the next year. I’ve certainly got more self-seeders since I stopped mulching all the beds in autumn. Aquilegia, alliums, marigolds, parsley, smyrium perfoliatum, angelica gigas, foxgloves, euphorbias, nigella, cosmos, viola, nasturtiums and wild gladioli are some of the self-seeders that have saved me time and money this year.

Wild gladioli and lawn grass gone to seed.

I’ve been meaning to weed this front border for months – I’m glad I haven’t as I love the self-seeded wild gladioli and gone-to-seed lawn grass.

These bright pink wild gladioli have been self-seeding themselves in this garden for about 100 years, according to a friend who was born in this house in 1937. They’ve very obligingly lined themselves up between the nerines in the front garden.

Alliums and aquilegia

My friend, Emma, is delighted that these self-seeded alliums and aquilegia are so nicely colour-coded.

You don’t need big beds to allow self-seeding to do its thing. The bed above is in Emma Daniell’s garden, and it’s only about five feet by four, but this year she’s been able to leave it to sing its song, while she gets on with filling the pots and planting a new raised bed.

self-seeded sisirinkian
Self-seeded sisyrinchium – unstoppable but pretty. You can easily pull it out if it gets too much.

Plus plants that clump up or plump up

Plants that turn quickly into a big mound or clump save a lot of time and money. I bought one wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ about three years ago, and took two rooted cuttings. The original plant flowered from April to November, getting bigger and blowsier all the time, before pegging out. Now its two daughters are big showy clumps – so that was a £5 well spent. Iris sibirica has also clumped up from a couple of plants and we are now even taking some out. Day lilies, too, have spread liberally, filling gaps without needing any attention. And I put Nepeta Six Hills Giant into some pots in 2010, and didn’t even replace the soil until I took them out at the end 2013, though I did pop slow release fertiliser in.  They gave me two lavish displays ever summer.

Nepeta Six Hills Giant

A friend dropped a clump of Nepeta Six Hills Giant by my front gate and I left it there for months. Now it’s rooted and we really like it – but that is very lazy gardening.

My laziest gardening ever story is about Nepeta, too – a friend was digging some up and asked me if I’d like it. I said I would, but I wasn’t in when she dropped by. She left the clump of Nepeta by my garden gate (see above). For the next few months, I kept meaning to take it to the back garden, but by the time I actually got round to it, it had taken root. It looked lovely underplanting the ‘Bonica’ roses, so we have now finally taken the Nepeta out of the pots I mentioned earlier. We’ve divided the congested plants up and they’re now underplanting all along the roses in the front garden. A very hard-working £15 worth of plants from 2010!

allium, erysimum Bowles Mauve and euphorbia

This clump of ‘Bowles Mauve’ was the size of a coffee cup last year. Now it’s as big as a small table. Seen with the foliage of other clumpers and spreaders: allium, iris sibirica and euphorbia


There are a few plants in my garden which I have never planted. Either they’ve been blown in on the wind or dropped by some kind bird. Sisyrinchium is one – its creamy, sculptural clumps pop up all over the place. It will fill any gap you have and is easy to pull out if it gets too invasive.

self-seeded campanula

This has popped up in a surprisingly neat row beside the sundial. Could it be white campanula, and if so, how did it get here?

There’s the odd mystery guest….

The latest surprise guest has been this white flower (above) which has appeared in a very neat row along the south facing wall. Even my gardening friend, Posy, isn’t quite sure what it is, although I have gardeners coming to stay this weekend, so perhaps they will be able to tell me.

If you know, do leave a comment to say.

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8 comments on "The Lazy Gardener’s Guide to Summer Colour"

  1. Laura says:

    I love leaving certain parts of my garden to self-seed. It’s a vital part of the ‘cottage garden’ look! The random patterns of nature are always better than my arrangements anyway. Cerinthe, lemon balm, old english marigolds, poppies and geraniums all find their way into borders in which they didn’t begin.

    1. I like the ‘random patterns of nature’ – you are right, it is so much better than anything we can plan

  2. billy says:

    Just love your gardening ideas – i do the same thing each year in terms of focusing on 1 area of the garden. I love lupins and their colour and also peonies. i managed to grow more lupins in the greenhouse from tiny offshoots last year – another idea for free plants. Ive made a note of your recommendations….Thank you!

    1. Oh, I might try taking cutting from the lupins, though mine have been a bit nibbled by snails this year….

  3. Pat Mason says:

    Lovely photos. I’m a lazy gardener too when I can get away with it! What’s a weed anyway?? Most of the time I think they are quite pretty!

    1. There are certainly some very pretty weeds in my main border this morning – all this rain!

  4. I love those wild gladioli. I never have enough time to properly tend my garden. As a result I am a big fan of perennials and self-seeders and gardens that tend themselves as well.

    I can’t tell from the photograph but that white flower looks suspiciously weed-like. If it is the critter I suspect it is you might find it is both aggressive and/or virulent. I hope your gardener friend will be able to give you a more-informed opinion.

    1. I will get gardener friends to look more closely! I was just congratulating myself on how polite most of my self-seeders and spreaders are…

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