Charlie Wilkins


with Charlie Wilkins


Advice on gardening should be like a gentle fall of snow, not like a driving storm of hail. It should descend softly and not be uttered hastily. It should inform without overstating and be of interest to the newcomer and horny-handed alike. If it comes as a hands-on experience from man or woman who gained their knowledge from working with plants rather than from books, then all the better.
Just now, the pleasing moments at ‘Villa Marie’ continue with the arrival of June, and flowers now start to come and go in great succession. I never mind this constant change of scene; the ‘here this week, gone the next’, for it marks the time and the seasons better than any calendar or man-made timepiece. It’s not all change of course. I still have permanent shapes and what I like to call ‘imposing structure’ so the garden also contains a cast of reliable shrubs and sword-shaped ornamentals, which help maintain an air of permanence and solidity to the collective scene.
Believe it or not, the real pleasure in summer gardening comes from stolen moments in the very early morning (for example) long before the rest of the family even consider rising, for then, plants which have worked up your anticipation over a number of weeks are liable to suddenly ambush you with their youthful look, all fresh-leaved and innocent! 
Last week this happened with some English irises (they are not in the least English, however), showy bulbous plants with lavender blooms spotted yellow atop blue-green foliage of a modest nature. These come and go in under three weeks, but their fleeting beauty only makes my desire to see them again next spring all the more intense. Not so with the huge range of Osteospermums may I add!
In spite of their grand name and exotic South African origin, osteospermums are merely daisies-the simplest of flowers. The spirit or simplicity I assure you is a great magician. The form which it takes in the gardening world are infinite in number, and when it comes to Osteospermums, it works in many delightful guises. Get to know any named form and you’ll end up hooked on their willingness to perform for months and months on end. From a planting made this week or next any variety will settle in warmed, hungry soil, more easily than you or I would settle in a cosy bed during winter. In no time they’ll have bedded in and started the business of forming hummocks of foliage that grow winder as the season advances. By mid-July, expect a profusion of wiry stems to rise up from these mounds and to display elegantly poised blooms in a stunning range of colours. These blooms can be white by day, blue later (as in Silver Sparkler for example) or deep dull red on top and silver-pink beneath or yellow and bronze respectively (Buttermilk).
The priority with these will always be putting them in full sun and deadheading as it becomes necessary. It surprises me how many keen gardeners ignore the latter or begin to give up from late August onwards. For perfectly sound reasons, the removal of dead heads (especially on annual flowers) have the most marvellous results. They are frustrated in their main aim of setting seed and dying back. They have to set buds and start flowering all over again, usually within 20 days of their seed-bearing efforts being interrupted. In short, it’s a sort of floral contraception!

Osteospermums on roadside

A local planting of Osterspermums at Glanmire grace the roadside year after year adding charm and character to an otherwise grassy bank

In the open garden, or in large sized terra-cotta pot try a single plant of Osteospermum ‘Silver Sparkler’ and be totally satisfied with mats of large daisy-type blooms radiating in pure white from dark blue centres.  This variety has variegated foliage as well and this adds immeasurably to the plants appeal. It grows to just under two feet in height and it associates well with dark shrub roses earlier in the summer and with yellow and orange composites later. To appreciate its beauty fully, it should perhaps be grown with other whites.
Be aware now that there are plenty of variations on the pink and purple theme among the many other varieties on sale, but my favourites are both the deep coloured ‘Port Wine’ and gracious ‘Sunny Sonia’. Either will satisfy no end provided they get what sun is going and a spot of liquid feeding every now and again. When it comes to the soft yellow and brown of ‘Buttermilk’ you’ll delight in how it blooms non-stop from about the time it is bought, right up to the very first frosts. Cheap, reliable, easily sourced, and ideal for those hot sunny positions on the patio or exposed border, Osteospermums in any variety are a must for the adventurous gardener and newcomer.
To close, let me remind you that even the best variety will insist on a place in the sun and very precise drainage. Given their place of origin it follows that shade and water logging are not part or parcel of their lifestyle so choose carefully and you may have them for more than a couple of years. In the best of situations and in hungry soil (too rich a setting will have them producing far too many leaves) they will continue happily into old, old age.

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