For an evergreen focal point you can’t go wrong with a phormium. These spiky plants with sword-like leaves are also known as New Zealand flax, as the Maoris actually used it for making a kind of linen clothing once upon a time. Phormiums need full sun and (like the All Blacks) are very hardy.
Most grow to between two and five feet although Phormium Tenax can grow to about 10 feet. They are available in a number of different colours and can be used in place of grasses in a mixed border. They do well in wet heavy boggy ground and accordingly thrive in my garden.
I have had to take the garden shears to some of them to curb their enthusiasm. For best results I leave this kind of job for when I am in a bad mood. It’s surprisingly therapeutic.
For instant gratification, plant a small one in the centre of a good sized pot surrounded by cyclamen with some trailing ivy and place directly outside your front door. When the time comes to replant the pot with summer plants the phormium can be planted into the ground at the back of a wide border. Do give it plenty of room and it will produce flowers in time. These can look amazing later on in a tall narrow urn inside the house. The leaves from phormiums are useful for winter flower arrangements too.
Nerine Bowdenii (pictured) is a fabulous autumn flower and will brighten up your garden in the dullest of days. Plant the bulbs in spring leaving their necks slightly above ground. They do not like being moved so plant in a permanent spot if at all possible.
Give them plenty of fish meal and bone and place in a warm sunny spot. Enjoy their foliage during the summer and wait. They will flower at the end of the season from September to November, just when every other flower is about to give up. They will keep going for about two weeks when cut for indoor decoration also. Although the flowers look more like lilies, nerines are in fact a member of the amaryllis family just as snowdrops and daffodils are too!
Muscari armeniacum also known as grape hyacinth should be planted now for flowers in April and May. Muscari are great value as they come back year after year and naturalise really well at the front of a border. Looking equally beautiful in a container with tulips or dwarf daffodils, their reliability and beauty makes them a must for every spring. I saw a slide of Dermot O’Neill’s garden at Clondeglass at the recent seminar at Fota showing a pathway leading up to a doorway lined with purple muscari. I spent a good few hours on Saturday trying to copy him.
The ground is really softening up these days with all the rain we have been getting so there is no excuse for not digging like crazy to plant as many bulbs as possible. There has never been so much competition among retailers so shop around for the best bargains in your bulb buying and get down and dirty, you will be so happy next spring!