From tiny pompons to blooms the size of dinner plates, the dahlia is back in fashion.

Dahlias are perfect for adding zest to a flagging bed

Dahlias are perfect for adding zest to a flagging bed

Polyanthus: dig them up when they finish blooming.

BRIAN KIDD: on how to save polyanthus and potted roses

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I had a letter from John who loves his flower borders. But like most of us he realises that nearly all the herbaceous plants flower for about three weeks then leave nothing but foliage. He tells me he has overcome this problem by choosing plants such as hostas, lady’s mantle and rodgersia because the foliage looks wonderful on all those plants and he uses irises alongside each of them as the foliage then contrasts. What he would like, however, is a border with flowers all summer and wants to know what I would suggest?

I admire the ideas you often see in show gardens such as those at the Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows.

It is possible to add plants to a border of perennials by adding some annuals. These are sown from seeds in February in the greenhouse and planted out at this time of year.

One of the finest is called salpiglosis. This is a glorious annual, about 18in high with flowers almost the same as petunias but striped with rich blue, mauve and yellow stripes and patches. It is rarely seen these days yet it is more glamorous than an orchid.

My favourite is cosmos also known as cosmea. It is important to ensure the eventual height of the plant is understood because plants range in size from about a foot to three feet.

At home we have a scattering all through the border so there are blooms every day from now right up until the frosts arrive. Cosmea are available in pots at garden centres. They are in bloom now so the right colours can be chosen. They will be tall and are simply knocked out of the pots and planted in between the herbaceous perennials.

I did see a cosmea in one of the show gardens at Chelsea. It looked wonderful in what could have been a boring garden.

My final suggestion is dahlias, the single types grown from seeds are the cheapest, costing between 75p and £1 per pot. The heights vary and the plants flower well all summer as long as the dead blooms are picked off regularly.

They are very good for cut flower arrangements indoors too, but if you go to your garden centre there are varieties in pots, in bloom, right now. They range from the tiny pompon blooms right up to flowers as large as dinner plates. I love the water lily type blooms best of all and after that the cactus-style ones, but as I often say, choose the ones you like the look of.

Were there any dahlias at Chelsea? Yes, hundreds in one huge display. It got a gold medal.

Tip of the week

You’ll have noticed hedges of all types are growing like mad. Try to cut them before the new growth becomes woody. Please make sure there are no birds nesting.

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