New twist on an old favourite

Congratulations to all those that actually made it to the Exotic Garden last weekend, you all deserve a prize for making your way around the diversions set up to get you here! For those who don't know, the road surface is being renewed on a several hundred yard stretch outside the entrance to the garden at 126 Thorpe Road.

Tomorrow will be the final day resurfacing the road, though access to the garden will be maintained throughout the day. Access to the Exotic Garden will be from an easterly direction (A1242) into the city where Thorpe Road forks left into Carrow Roads one way system and then signposted into Cedar Road which comes out opposite the entrance to the garden.

Good luck! It may be nearly mid August and the evenings are defiantly drawing in, but the garden goes from strength to strength and is now exploding with riotous colour thanks to all the rain and comparatively mild days over the last week or so, though I know a good dose of sun wouldn't go amiss.

Replacing plants can be a very expensive business, so this year I have planted lots of annuals which usually cost no more than a couple of pounds a packet, often having several hundred seeds in each, far more than you would ever need for your garden and a cheap and colourful way to cover large areas quickly.

Well-chosen annuals look good all summer long and can be planted around newly-planted shrubs to fill the gaps while they are growing giving more or less instant colour and often fabulous foliage.

In late May I planted out several drifts of Amaranthus, an easily grown annual that I have used en-masse to fill in some of those large holes left by perennials and shrubs that didn't come through the big freeze in December.

A good old Victorian favourite of the cottage garden style has to be Amaranthus caudatus more commonly known as 'Love-Lies-Bleeding'. You might not think it goes with exotic plants, but it really does.

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From spring sown seeds this lovely old favourite easily grows from 3-4ft tall flowering from June right through until first frosts flopping delightfully all over the place. It produces long weeping tassels composed of thousands of tiny flowers forming tightly packed racemes 2ft or more long in intense crimson-red.

Next to this I have planted an equally attractive form with similar-sized leaf green tassels making it a really good contrast to the red form; in fact you can buy them in mixed seed packets from Thompson and Morgan.

Both of them make excellent summer container plants where the long tassels can be enjoyed for months cascading over the sides to the ground look very tropical indeed.

I have also planted drifts of a much taller form – Amaranths paniculatus 'Hot Biscuit'. I haven't grow this one for at least 10 years . I'm not sure why as it's absolutely gorgeous and will be on my seed list again this autumn.

'Hot Biscuit' is a tall plant easily growing to 4ft plus in one season with floppy green leaves topped with huge warm, rusty orange branching plumes, some standing upright while otherwise bend crazily in all directions.

Another good one is Amaranthus Caudatus 'Fat Spike', with its highly attractive erect fat spikes as its name implies, held well above the foliage in deep purplish-red, tapering from 3 inches thick at the base to 1 inch at the top, as if standing guard like sentinels 2ft or more tall.

I have planted this Amaranth next to Dahlia 'Fascination' which also has purple-flushed foliage topped with semidouble, pinkish-purple flowers on dark, upright stems – the two working together really well.

Staying with a purple theme, Amaranthus paniculatus 'Marvel Bronze' is a very statuesque annual that looks good as a dot plant or planted enmasse for explosive results. This charming cultivar grows from 3-4ft tall with eyecatching bronze foliage and stunning deep red plumes all summer long.

Two Amaranthus I haven't grown this year but nevertheless want to include here as they look so darn tropical looking are Amaranthus 'Illumination', a form of Amaranthus that will challenge any tropical flower for brilliant colour. Growing to about 2ft tall, it has purplebronze foliage topped by modified leaves which are scarlet and yellow much like a poinsettia.

The other is Amaranthus 'Early Splendour', another highly colourful variety, with dark bronzy foliage with modified top leaves in brightest scarlet giving a ridiculously over-the-top display through high summer.

There are of course many other Amaranthus worth trying in the garden to really brighten up the second half of the year, so my suggestion is get a seed catalogue where you can happily drool over the many forms.

Seeing as I have been talking about cheap ways to cheer up the summer garden – I must tell you about a purchase I made at a well known shop that sells everything for �1! I bought several bags of the small bulbous plant Oxalis 'Iron Cross'. This little gem has the appearance of a large 3-4ins wide four leaf clover with a very distinct dark brown centre to each leaf hence its common name.

At this time of year it is covered with five petalled pink flowers when the sun comes out otherwise they close up like rolled up umbrellas on dull days. These are really dainty plants to have in a full sun to dappled shade position. In some gardens it can become invasive so probably best grown in a pot.

If you want to keep your garden in flower over the months to come, dead heading (removing the faded and withering flowers) is very important – If they are left on, they will go to seed and stop flowering. This afternoon I am going to do just that.

Have an excellent weekend in your garden – let's hope it's a good one!

•This article was first published on August 13, 2011.