In his book ‘The Well-Tempered Garden’ the late Christopher Lloyd discusses giant plants for borders, and at the beginning of this section he laments the lack of giant plants in nursery catalogues. He suggests, correctly I feel, that the garden media and the nurseries assume that nobody has any room for giant plants, and “…to list a plant as growing higher than 5ft/1.5m puts the average customer off.”
To me, and to many more expert gardeners I’m sure, these giants for the border are to be loved; they bring drama and height to a garden. Yes, they need careful placing to get the best from them, and yes some of them can be ‘big’ outwards as well as upwards, but we’re rewarded for our bravery with huge statement plants. By necessity many of these border giants come into their own in the autumn. This is simply a matter of timing; a plant that was able to make 5ft/1.5m from ground level by late spring, let’s say, would grow at a terrifying speed!
Many of the giants that are available could, it could be argued, fall under the umbrella of ‘posh weeds’. These are the Eupatoriums, leafy giant Dahlias with tiny flowers compared to the rest of the plant, even the giant grasses that have become very fashionable. OK, ‘weeds’ isn’t quite the right word, but these plants all possess a rustic charm that appeals to a certain kind of gardener, namely that type of gardener who prefers plants ‘as nature intended’.
I can’t really describe Leucanthemella serotina as having a ‘rustic charm’ without having to apply the term to the rest of the herbaceous border. This plant comes into flower in early autumn and arrives with great style. Large pure white daisy flowers (we’re thinking like a large Leucanthemum but later) are borne over a period of several weeks, depending on weather.
Leucanthemella serotina is a plant for a sunny spot and a soil that doesn’t get too dry. The difficulty in placing it is due to its height and late season; the question is can you find a spot for it in the garden where it is unseen during the height of summer but can then come into its own during the autumn? It’s quite a strong plant, potentially even possibly a plant to naturalise in long grass, so give it space. It can be susceptible to tortrix caterpillar damage in spring but quickly grows out of it and seldom shows any problems later in the season. Oh, and another thing to bear in mind when you’re finding a place for it… the flowers move to follow the sun, so plant it somewhere you can see it from the south or it will spend its entire flowering season looking away from you with the air of a moody teenager!
L. serotina was introduced to the UK from Hungary in 1771 but has never really taken the gardening world by storm. Maybe it’s simply not been publicised enough in all that time, or maybe the reluctance to grow giant plants isn’t a modern thing?! It’s certainly not a good nursery plant; being a late flowering plant it roots well into a pot but hates confinement, and is usually seen as a few thin stems at full height with some daisies on top- thoroughly uninspiring! Don’t be put off by the fact that it looks so terrible in a pot… in the ground this species will delight you for years to come, and hopefully it will spread enough for you to share some with your more discerning gardening friends.