Blaze of glory

Helenium
Helenium
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From Californian poppies to red hot pokers, tagetes to African daisies, cannas to crocosmia, and the ever-popular everlasting flowers of Xerochrysum bracteatum, orange is the colour of summer.

But for real heat, a blazing, vibrancy you’ll never forget, it has to be heleniums. This particular variety, ‘Waldtraut’, pictured in wonderful profusion at Harrogate’s RHS Garden Harlow Carr, is so hot that it could almost be used to heat the house in winter.

Right now, however, it grows in profusion in one of the sunniest spots of the RHS garden where it thrives in the well-drained soil. It’s worth a visit just to see ‘Waldtraut’ in its summer glory.

It’s just a shame that few people grow this stunning perennial, which came to the fore in Edwardian times when its predecessors were much in vogue as stars of the late-summer border.

Bees love it, using the flower’s domed centres as landing pads from which to scour for nectar. The impressive number of blooms make the beds as busy as the runways at Heathrow.

So, heleniums , which somehow fell from grace fell from grace during the second quarter of the last century, are now a buzz word for bees and discerning gardeners.

Numerous new varieties from the Continent have helped to revive interest in sun-lovers , and ‘Waldtraut’, with its intense orangeness, is likely to become the favourite of a new generation of gardeners. At 120cm (4ft) high, it fits in remarkably well at the middle or back of the border, and when packed together, doesn’t need staking.

It looks fantastic planted in bold drifts like these at Harrogate. Plants usually take a year to acclimatize to their home. So don’t expect newly-planted specimens to reach their full height until year two.

To keep them under control, cut them back to about 30cm (1ft) tall in May. 
This not only reduces their final 
height but will also delay flowering 
by a week or two. To propagate, 
divide established clumps every two 
or three years in spring. Dividing in autumn isn’t such a good idea as the small plants produced tend to die during the winter.

Heleniums look a bit like small sunflowers, and in some parts of the world they are actually known as the swamp sunflower – and sneezeweed because their leaves were once used to make snuff.