Garden in Umbria - a view across the front gravel garden in May 2020

Design - Second Act - April 2023

Last November, during a very strange year for weather, the climbing rose Banksiae lutea come into bloom. And not just in my garden – I saw Banksiae flowering in many places in our area at the same time. I found this most disturbing: it normally flowers in April. What did this mean? Would we see a second flowering in April? Or had the seasons been turned upside down for ever?

Rosa banksiae lutea

Well I am delighted to say that the Banksiae lutea has returned for a second act. And I would not be without its exuberant gush of foliage and flowers that threatens to engulf an entire building every April.

Rosa banksiae lutea in April 2022

But even more exciting is the return of the poor, battered Banksiae lutescens which the olive pruners heartlessly hacked down last year. It is not yet back to its full glory but the lovely delicate blooms and sweet perfume are still as before. Welcome back!

Rosa banksiae lutescens - simple flower
Rosa banksiae lutescens - graceful branches

The return of these species roses for a second act gets me thinking about our expectations of plants and how often they should perform for us on the ‘stage’ that is our garden.

Classic roses such as the famous Paul’s Himalayan Musk ‘only’ bloom the once, but what a display. People often tell me that they can’t give it garden space because it doesn’t repeat. But I cannot think of any modern rose that can compare, either in the scale of the plant or the sophistication of the blooms. One dizzying performance and I am happy to wait for next year.

Rosa chinensis ‘Old Blush’ flowering at the top of a Holm Oak tree in March

However any rose that is closely related to the China or old fashioned Tea rose will re-flower in autumn – ‘Mutabilis’ is a good example. In fact the ‘Old Blush’ climbing rose is often flowering in mid winter, its silvery pink blooms showing the whole height of a Holm Oak tree.

Abelia ‘Edward Groucher’

There are some plants that flower twice even in our climate: Abelia is very welcome in both spring and autumn. There are various varieties but the white Abelia x grandiflora and the pink ‘Edward Groucher’ are both good shrubs.

Choisia ternate in October

A useful evergreen shrub that keeps a neat shape is Choisya which has white flowers in April and October.

Centranthus ruber pink and white forms

Centranthus ruber is a lower growing perennial that self-seeds but has flowers in both spring and autumn; it comes in different colours too, from basic (wild form) red through pink and mauve to white.

Rosmarinus ‘Corsican Blue’ in December

Even the old stalwart of mediterranean gardens, rosemary, has the often overlooked attraction of flowering in autumn and spring, often in mid winter too.

Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’

Also with winter and spring flowering, Teucrium fruticans (the so-called ‘weed of the Mediterranean’) is unbeatable. Particularly striking is the variety ‘Azureum’ with intensely blue flowers which seem all the more dazzling in winter sunshine. 

Tulipa clusiana ‘Chrysantha’ and Tulipa saxatilis naturalised in the garden

We tend to regard tulips a one-hit wonders but if you choose the species tulips they will come back year after year. They are not so big and showy as the over-bred Dutch varieties but they bring joy to the spring garden. In my garden the Tulipa saxatilis has taken centre stage.

The photo at the top of this page shows rosemary ‘Majorcan Pink’ blooming in November

Many of these articles first appeared in the Castiglione del Lago monthly newsletter “Qua e là” edited by Priscilla Worsley

All text and photographs © Yvonne Barton unless stated otherwise

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