Hydrangea 'Annabelle' at Driftwood Garden

My 5 top plants at Driftwood that give the garden that ‘Wow’ factor!

In a garden that is brimming with plants and colour how can you choose 5 that stand out for longevity, wow factor and interest? Here I select 5 that have worked well for me at Driftwood over the last 10 years. You might wonder, were they initially selected as part of a planned colour theme across the garden or simply chosen because I loved them and was determined each would fit in somehow! I explain below in each of the 5 cases.

Acanthus

This majestic plant has a common name of “bear’s breeches” although I’ve never been fully able to understand why. It is a bright green, leafy perennial, fully hardy and evergreen in mild areas and grows to just over a metre tall and across. They will grow in sun or shade, the one pictured is in full sun in my beach garden but it grows in part shade too in the garden at the back. It flowers more in the sun but the leaves will look bigger and darker and shinier in the shade. The tall spikes of purple-hooded white flowers appear in high summer and look truly magnificent over several months.

Acanthus ‘bear’s breeches’. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

I remove the old flowers and damaged leaves as it can look a bit sad for itself through the winter but it recovers wonderfully well as soon as the temperature rises in the spring. In terms of colour, I did set out to create a sea of mauve and yellow in the beach garden so this fitted in well with that palette.

Coronilla glauca

Also in the beach garden, augmenting that mauve and yellow colouring is a wonderful shrub, Coronilla glauca. It will light up a sheltered position with an abundance of lemon-yellow, pea-like blooms. Supposedly flowering from December through to mid spring, the sweetly scented blooms make this a useful shrub for bringing colour to those dull winter days. The small blue-green foliage is evergreen, providing a fine backdrop for its fragrant display. Mine is prone to flowering in the summer too. This versatile shrub is perfectly hardy in most UK locations, but performs particularly well in a sheltered, sunny spot, even in difficult coastal areas like mine. Its compact, rounded habit makes it ideal for borders and patio containers. Alternatively train it as a wall shrub for a spectacular upright display. It is certainly a plant I highly recommend to my garden visitors for its longevity of flowering.

Coronilla glauca
Coronilla glauca. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’

Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle is a stunning, large flowered white hydrangea, often producing football sized flower over 10” in diameter. The enormous, densely packed heads of creamy-white flowers appear from July to September above pointed, dark green leaves. Up until last Summer I had mine in a container but it has been placed in the ground for 2022.

Unlike the better-known blue and pink hydrangeas, Annabelle blooms reliably every year even after severe pruning or intensely cold winters. The huge, white ”drumstick” blooms will appear in profusion without fail. I’ve had mine for 3 years and it has not let me down. No logic here in colour, it was bought because I wanted it and heh, white will go with anything!

Hydrangea 'Annabelle'
Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Some people plant ‘Annabelle’ as a hedge, since it can be cut back severely in the winter for a tidy effect. Deciduous and with an upright growth habit, hydrangea Annabelle makes a gorgeous feature for a partly shady border with moist, well-drained soil. It will also be happy in a roomy patio planter, provided it is kept well fed and watered in the growing season. The large flower heads can also be cut for use in a vase, and are particularly suitable for dried flower arrangements too. What’s not to like?

Alstroemeira ‘Indian Summer’

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ is a simply breath taking plant for any garden, forget trying to blend into you colour palette and just got for it. Its vibrant flowers, set against its unique rich bronze foliage guarantee it will work wherever you place it in your plot. I have 2 clumps of them, one in a container and one in the ground. These hardy Peruvian Lilies are compact with an upright habit, ensuring that stems are still a good length for cutting in you want a few for a vase indoors. I love them so much in the garden, I rarely cut for the house. The perfect perennial for borders and patio planters where it will flower continuously from June to November and beyond in my garden.

Alstromeira Indian Summer
Alstroemeira ‘Indian Summer’. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Aloe Striatula

Aloe striatula is native to the mountains of South Africa, where summers are hot dry, and winters are very cold. It’s therefore an incredibly hardy aloe, which can be grown outside all year round in most parts of the UK. It has a sprawling, scrambling habit and may even climb if given support. Its fleshy leaves are striped different shades of green.

I have 2 large clumps of them in my gravel garden at the back of the house.  I just fell in love with them when I first came across them 6 or 7 years ago. A perfect fit in the garden amongst other greenery in the plot. The big bonus in the summer though are the tall, dramatic flower spikes, not dissimilar to those of kniphofia, and it eventually forms a branching, woody trunk. It’s perfect for growing in a dry, gravel garden, where you don’t have to worry about getting it through winter. I was very wary at first and fleeced them but now they are left to their own devices and are perfect.

Aloe stratula
Aloe striatula. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

They should be grown in free-draining soil in full sun. I deadhead the spent blooms at the end of the summer and have cut both plants back recently as they had really grown. Never be afraid to be harsh in cutting back as it soon recovers for the next year. In very cold winters the foliage may shrivel but it quickly puts on new growth in spring.

I could go on but if pushed these would be the 5 I would recommend you get for your garden.

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