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Book Extract | What Gardeners Grow

‘What Gardeners Grow’, a new book published by Bloom, collects into one encyclopedic volume the most treasured plants (and the stories behind them) of more than 250 gardeners. Ahead of the book launch at the Museum on Tuesday 16 May, we’re sharing an exclusive extract from the book, in which garden designers Isabel and Julian Bannerman, and community activist Ron Finley share their chosen favourites:

Isabel and Julian Bannerman

Garden designers and builders, Somerset, UK
Bannerman Design

Philadelphus (mock orange)

Julian and I both cherish childhood memories of this plant, especially of its sensational orangey and heart-warming smell in early summer. The first to flower is usually Philadelphus coronarius, a native of southeast Europe with abundant, creamy, star-like flowers and a scent that can catch you by surprise metres away. Philadelphus used to be a staple of all British cottage and country gardens, but big round shrubs have become less popular since the fashion for grasses and perennial plantings came in. Nevertheless, we always include them in our designs because they give body, form and, in this case as in that of many others, scent to a garden. The leaves are not distinguished – except perhaps those of golden P. coronarius ‘Aureas’ – which makes for a small, intensely fresh green shrub that does well in part shade. Most varieties are hardy, except those from the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, and there are also some evergreen ones, such as P. karwinskyanus, though we have never obtained or grown it.


Height and spread will vary depending on species and cultivar. We don’t prune our philadelphus plants much – we like them as big, wild looking bushes. Occasionally we want a particular shape, such as a fountain in a flower bed, which means keeping varieties such as P. ‘Starbright’ tight at the stem to allow other border plants to grow, and encouraging them to spill out high up with lots of flowers. Some varieties such as P. ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ just naturally form small mounds – useful as froth at the front of a border. Others, such as the delicious bubblegum-scented P. mexicanus, need to be left alone as they resent pruning.

Ron Finley

Gangsta Gardener,
Los Angeles, California, USA
The Ron Finley Project

Helianthus annuus (common sunflower)

Sunflowers are such a special plant. No one can look at a sunflower without smiling. They are beautiful and come in a ton of different sizes, colours and varieties. They can be 12cm tall to several metres tall, and each flower can be 3cm to 60cm in diameter. Hundreds of thousands are planted in Fukushima, Japan to pull radiation out of the ground. They feed you and they feed pollinators (bees, butterflies and so on). I plant them in my parkway garden year round to make people smile. They drive by, they walk by, and they can see them from the Metro train. When they drive by they slow down like they are in Disneyland. It’s my social experiment.


What I do is start the seeds in a 7cm-deep tray or dresser drawer. I put cardboard or newspaper at the bottom, mix soil and compost, add the seeds very close together, and cover with more soil. Once they start to sprout, I use a spoon to take them out and plant them where they will live. This is because sunflowers do not like to be moved once they get to a certain height.

They are typically a spring/summer flower, but in some places you can grow them year round. They do well in an open space. Sunflowers like full sun and will follow it, but can also grow in part shade. It’s best to keep them in moist soil, as they are not a deep-rooted plant. You might want to stake them early for support.

We’re celebrating the publication of What Gardeners Grow at a panel discussion with some of the book’s contributors – Matt Collins (Head Gardener at the Garden Museum), Errol Fernandes (Head of Horticulture at the Horniman Museum), Sara Venn (Founder of Incredible Edible Bristol), Juliet Sargeant (Garden Designer and RHS judge), and chair Zena Alkayat (founder of Bloom).

Join us Tuesday 16 May, 7pm. Either attend in person or watch online: book tickets

Illustrations by Melanie Gandyra
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