Summer

A Summer Nuisance – Dealing with Mosquitoes

It’s a little bit baking, isn’t it? After that winter of constant rain and not a frost in sight (certainly for us Londoners, anyway), we’ve finally got a decent summer. However, that’s not without its own complications, and I’m currently watering like crazy – particularly the pots, which are very prone to drying out. I’m lucky to have a south-facing garden but boy, does the soil really dry out on these hot, muggy days.

One thing you’ve probably noticed this year is the gargantuan amount of critters about. You might’ve been thankful for the lack of snow during the winter, but we really could have done with some…even if just for a week. Those frosts, cold tendrils and blankets of snow creep into the ground and kill off pests. Without them, the bugs can survive and start breeding earlier. The result? An even tougher war between pests and gardeners.

Froggie

My pond has a tiny frog population.

A particular problem area for me this year has been the pond. As readers of the blog will know, my pond is a simple affair; a large black plastic tub that’s more often used for planting young trees in, that’s sunk into the earth, filled with water and a few plants thrown in. It keeps a tiny frog population happy enough, acts as a mini-oasis for passing mammals and birds and, on the whole, adds the ambiance of the garden. Unfortunately, this year, that ambiance is the buzzing of mosquitoes as they hatch and exit the water. I’ve had various ways of dealing with this over the years, including changing out the water and getting a few fish to reduce the larvae numbers. Unfortunately, a noxious bonfire from my neighbour two doors up spouted vile black fumes across my garden which got into the water and killed the three fish. Yes – I called environmental health on their arse!

This year, as I’m soon moving, I don’t really want to start buying new fish, so I’ve decided to go for a pond pump. On the allotment I use a thin layer of vegetable oil on top of the water barrels to stop the females being able to lay their eggs into the water. In a pond setting, that’s not possible. Mosquitoes don’t like moving water; the stiller and more stagnant the better. Luckily, Swell UK have got some great pond pumps for sale (there’s also a free delivery offer on at the moment). I’ve used the company before when I was setting up my vivarium and I can attest to the good quality of the products. I’m hoping that by using a pump, the mozzies will stop laying and, as a result, I won’t look like a pin-cushion. Though, every time I walk the dog in the forest I’m attacked too so I doubt I’ll evade getting bitten entirely. Pond pumps are ideal for larger bodies of water too and in addition to providing filtration, can create a great water feature that not only looks good, but sounds great too.

So, if you’re having trouble with these blood-sucking bugs, there are various options. Get a few fish, start agitating the water, and keep a fly-swatter close by!

The Importance of Garden Rooms

How is it mid-June already? This year seemed to take an age getting started, but now it’s rushing away, we’re already in summer and crops are ready to picking (yep, those main crop potatoes can start coming up soon). 2014 is a strange year for me as it’s probably the last year I’ll have in my current garden. I’ve had to roll back my plant spending, not only because there’s nowhere to put anything, but because it won’t have a chance to settle in before it’s lifted and moved on next year. I’ve already got an immense number of plants I’ll be taking with me, so I really don’t need to add more!

A sweeping path draws you round.

All the talk of new gardens, and the fact my sister’s just moved and got herself a new oasis, has once again started me on the track of garden design. I don’t think my sister will mind if I say that when it comes to gardening, she knows about as much as I do about knitting; and that’s nothing. So, faced with a longish garden with mature, wide borders on both sides and a trellised archway dissecting the lawn, she was about ready to rip it all out and roll out the grass. “NO“, I cried. “What about the gorgeous plants? What about the story this garden’s leading you on? You’ll end up with a barren brown tundra.” She didn’t really understand what I was talking about regarding the garden’s story, until I explained that with the dissecting trellis, there was a path, a journey, somewhere to explore because it was slightly hidden. Take that away and you’re just left with a green field that, knowing my sister, won’t get mowed properly and will end up becoming a wasteland.

The gates, even they lead nowhere, create a sense of adventure.

The whole topic got me thinking about how important garden spaces and rooms are. Of course, you can just plonk a lawn down, cut a border either side and be done with it. But where’s the fun, where’s the adventure in that? By creating a space that’s just out of view, that’s not clearly seen, there’s a natural need to explore. The trellising in my sister’s garden isn’t even swathed in plants and you can see beyond, but there’s still the lure to wander and discover what lays beyond the arch. If you’re not very good at creating natural garden spaces, then you can opt for a garden room such as those offered by Frog Garden Rooms. Even if you don’t disguise the room in any way, it’s still a destination, it still provides somewhere to go to when you step outside. Alternately, using curved borders, arches, and meandering paths to offer a few surprises when people explore.

Luckily, I have managed to get my sister to realise the importance of leaving the trellising and archway up, even if she simply lawns the entire other side. The sense of adventure is so important in any outside space, helping to create that charming, interesting and sometimes surprising environment that we all love. Rip down all the structures and lay out a bowling green and I expect you’ll rarely venture out. But, create a series of rooms, of hideaways and little nooks with glorious flowers to discover, and I’m sure you’ll be drawn back to nature each and every day.

Cutting gardens provide the perfect home-grown bouquet

I truly believe that to have a healthy mind, you have to invite the outdoors inside. This is relatively easy in the summer, when you can throw open the windows and doors and let fresh air bring life into your home. I don’t even mind if curious hen peeks her head in, or a bee gets slightly disorientated and takes a lap around the kitchen. Bringing flowers inside, or utilising houseplants on windowsills makes that passage between inside and out more subtle. But you don’t always have to head to the florist as some of our favourite blooms can be grown at home.

Cutting gardens were once extremely common, and remained the only way of really getting hold of flowers for colourful inside displays. Of course, as soon as modern technology arose, florists flourished, and they still thrive to this day with millions of people buying bouquets on a regular basis. Now, as people recognise the importance of bringing life into cities, towns and homes, awareness about the positive effects plants have on us is growing. Companies, such as Benholm – Floristry, now provide far more than a vase of vivid roses or scented lilies, but can create living walls, still life displays and colourful indoor planting landscapes. Okay – so great swathes of green on your walls might not be everyone’s ideal situation for their living roombut using the principles of living amongst plants is something everyone can do.

Beautiful lilies can be easily grown at home

Beautiful lilies can be easily grown at home

During the growing season, there are plenty of plants with stunning blooms that be grown at home, not only saving you the expense of a florist, but giving you the opportunity to go into the garden, snip some flowerstems and create your own displays. Lilies are one flower photo (32)that cost the earth yet are ridiculously easy to grow. Coming as a simply bulb, they’re best grown in pots if you want to use them for cutting. Simply place them in a sunny position and then snip the stems when they’re ready to bring inside. Gerberas can also be grown at home readily. Alternately, you could substitute these blooms with flowers from rudbekia or similar species. Meanwhile, if you want to bring some greenery into the home, it’s best to stick with specific houseplants. One common mistake with Bonsai is that they’re kept inside. They’re still trees and are best grown on a bench or table outside where they can thrive. You can bring them in on occasion, but should ensure that they spend at least some of their life in the great outdoors.

We’re always going to need florists if we want fresh flowers throughout the winter months (though you can make some stunning displays with winter seasonal bloomers). But if you want to bring a bit of nature into your home, then starting a cutting garden, even if it’s a few containers of lilies and daisies, is an extremely rewarding experience.

Three tips for watering during summer hot spells

99_ice_creamHeat. Cor Blimey, it’s hot. Let’s be honest, at this time of year none of us really want to do a lot of gardening. Lounging around in the garden? Yes. Getting amongst the plants and getting a sweat on? Not so much. I can tell you, after being tied up this afternoon digging out a dead ceanothus and then laying some patio slabs, I’d have FAR preferred to be slurping a Callipo with my feet in a bucket of cold water.

Whilst you might give the garden the green light to do its own thing for a few weeks, one thing you mustn’t miss out on watering. Whether you’re environmentally friendly or just don’t want to see the water metre whizzing by, there’s a few things you can do to ensure that your plants get the water they need without wastage.

Water in the evenings

If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve seen people with sprinklers on in the middle of a summer’s day, I’d be pretty rich. But it’s SO uneconomical. Tonnes of that water evaporates before it even gets a chance to soak in, and what little moisture that does penetrate the hard soil won’t do a lot of help to plants unless you leave the hose going for hours. By far, the best time to water is in the evenings after you’re home from a hot day at work. If you’re using a sprinkler, take care to place it correctly so you get maximum spread of water and quench your plants thirst with a long drench. It’s better to water heavily once or twice a week, than for just a few minutes every night.

Eradicate or reduce your lawn

I did mention that it’s hot and sticky, so you might not want to actually do this now, but reducing or getting rid of your lawn completely, is a good option. ‘Oh no‘, I hear you cry as you think of rolling green suburbia. But look out your window. Is your patch a lush green bowling green, or has it turned to a brown mess with rampant weeds that takes too much maintenance? Lawns really are dead garden spaces if you love plants, and whilst they offer structure to the garden, the tiresome task of looking after them is often too large.

Instead, think about reducing your lawn size by cutting additional flowerbeds or a veggie patch in. Install a beautiful pergola or archway to grow climbers up and create a sense of intrigue, or build a small patio that catches the evening sun and deck it out with garden furniture from Hayes Garden World. Smaller lawn, less work, less watering. Then you can relax on your patio furniture to your hearts content. Sounds good to me.

Mulched strawberryGo on a mulching frenzy

A lot of people seem to get confused by what mulch actually is. All it means is that any exposed soil has been covered over to deter weeds and hold in moisture. You can use bark chips, shingle and wood clippings in ornamental gardens, and if you’re on the veggie patch and don’t mind things a little messier, grass and straw also work well. Combined with evening watering, this will lock a lot more water into the ground, allowing plants to thrive despite the blazing sun. It will also do harvests like strawberries a lot of good as it helps protects soft fruits from rot and pesky bugs.

So, if you’re looking ahead to the weekend and trying to put off those gardening tasks, opt for a simpler water based chore instead. By making a few changes to your garden and routine, you can relax on that balmy summer’s night without worrying that your plants are fading away.

Four easy plants for contrasting foliage

It’s just started to pour – quell surprise. At this time of year my cottage garden is filled with perennial geraniums, poppies, foxgloves and roses, all throwing their flowers up to the sky. But even at this time of year, when petals and buds are everywhere to be seen, foliage remains every important. Of course, you don’t HAVE to have contrasting foliage, but you’ll find that your plants stand out all the better.  So, if you want to spend more time relaxing on your rattan garden sofas from Internet Gardener, and less time rummaging amongst the borders, here are four easy to grow plants that’ll offer great contrast.

© Geoff WakelingStachys byzantina

This fantastic plant, also known as Lambs Earsstroke the leaf and you’ll discover why – has a beautiful silvery foliage. Furry flower spikes appear at the beginning of the summer and provide the added interest of purple blooms rather akin to nettles.

They’re easy to grow, spread quickly and require minimal maintenance other than cutting back the flower stems as they fade.

 

 

 

photoHeucheras

I’m a HUGE fan of Heucheras. They thrive in shady patches, so you can use their diverse range of foliage to brighten up all but the darkest areas in your garden, but you can also find specimens that love direct sun, allowing you to fill all areas of your borders with these wonderful plants. Long flower stalks develop during the spring and summer months, with small bell-like flowers a welcome added attraction of these plants.

Heuchaeras come in a huge variety of colours, from light greens and striated yellows, through to deep dark purple.

 

 

 

 

 

photo (1)Dianthus (Carnations)

Dianthus come in an extraordinary range of colours, but I’m more interested in their foliage than their flowers. Many of the cultivars have silvery grey thin leaves that when clustered together, can be extremely striking.

I’m not a huge of the large blousy blooms, but I do like the larger foliage that they come with, so I generally cut the buds when they’re about to open and use them as cut flowers. Then I get to enjoy the foliage without the petals taking all the glory.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAjuga reptans

I love this little plant and think it should be utilised more in gardens. The deep purple foliage of Ajuga reptans makes it ideal for contrasting with border specimens. It’s extremely low growing, so is perfect ground cover for the front of borders or in pots. Also, mid spring sees Ajuga throwing up small spikes covered with blue flowers that the bees absolutely adore, making it a seasonal interest plant that’s also wildlife friendly.

One of the nice things about the above plants is that their foliage will prevail around the year. This ensures that you’ve always got some contrasting leaves even in the depths of winter. They also need very little maintenance, allowing you to sit back and actually enjoy your oasis – on sunny days, of course.

A summer of gardening

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to gardening, I like to do the least amount possible so that I can actually enjoy my space. It’s one of the perks of loving the cottage garden type style; natural growing structures and sprawling edges are actually encouraged. We British are notorious for talking about the weather – constantly. But who can blame us? Much as the meteorologists attempt to give us a forecast, it often seems as if the weather’s doing its own thing. It’s no surprise, therefore, that at the slightest hint of sun, we’re into the garden quicker than a bird snaps up a caterpillar. It also means that when the barbecues come out, the sun loungers are thrown onto the lawn and the suntan lotion’s slapped on to promote a good tan, we want our gardens to look as good as possible.

I love plants, but I also love making my oasis look as perfect as possible in a short time. So, if you’re hovering by the door, barbecue sauce in hand and waiting for the clouds to pass before you can party, here’s a few simple tips to get a great looking garden in no time at all.

Cut the lawn

This might sound obvious if you’re having a party, but cutting the lawn makes a huge difference to the garden. Simply mowing the grass instantly gives any wild oasis a maintained and cared for look. In addition, the smell of freshly strimmed grass is an extra sense to enjoy, and will mix with that barbecue smoke to create the perfect summer atmosphere.

Ophiopogon contrasts against BergeniaEdge the borders

Seriously, if you want to save time and are trying to disguise the plethora of weeds in your flowerbeds, edge the borders. Don your gardening gloves and simply using a strimmer or hoe along the edges. Turn over the first few inches of soil as you go, and you can instantly create the mirage that you take great care and effort over your garden. So what if there are a few weeds amongst the border! For the keen gardener, maybe they’re supposed to be there. And, chances are, many friends and family won’t even realise they’re weeds at all!

If you have time, edging paths, lawns or borders with bricks  (right) or stones also works well as a natural barrier which doesn’t need upkeep.

 

Deadhead your plants

Whether they’re annual or perennial flowers, removing the spent buds will prolong the flowering season and ensure that your garden stays looking healthy and well looked after. A sharp pair of secateurs or a little nifty pair of deadheads do the job very easily, and if you snip faded blooms every day, it won’t take very long. The best thing about removing fading flowers is that it often spurs plants into producing yet more blooms for you to enjoy.

Divide your garden to reduce workload

Lets be honest, gardens can take a lot of work to maintain. If you’ve got a newer garden, or have a rampant and overgrown patch that’s in desperate need of taming, consider splitting the garden into sections so it’s manageable. You can do this physically by putting up fencing or pergolas to split areas, or simply draw out a sketch so you have something in your mind to work too. By breaking the work down into manageable portions it makes it a little easier to develop and maintain your garden. It’s also less expensive up front as plants cost a lot of money. And, if anyone asks, then you can keenly say that you’re developing a wildlife area in the patch you haven’t yet touched! ;)

Honest SeedlingCollect, Snip, Divide

As I’ve just mentioned, plants cost a lot. It might not seem it, especially when you’re picking out a few pots at £2.99. If you’re like me, however, you get to the till with those said pots only to discover that you’ve spent almost £100.

The fantastic thing with plants is that you can snip them, divide them and collect seeds to bolster your stock. If you have friends with gardens you admire, ask if you can take some cuttings and collect seeds. When you’re buying plants, look for pots which have two or three main stems, indicating that you might be able to split them into more plants. And, if you have the time, patience and a nurturing character, buy a few seed packets and actually raise your own specimens from the very start.

Top flowering plants for summer planting

This weather we’re having in the UK might be somewhat turbulent, but there’s no getting away from the fact that summer’s here – even if it doesn’t feel like it. At this of the year, many of the gardening jobs are actually done. Seeds have been sown, germinated and are ready to be planted out. Veggies are thriving away. It’s one of those times that after you’ve mown the lawn and dead-headed a few flowers, there’s actually time to sit back and relax.

Geranium-300x275I’m not sure how it’s quite occurred, but my garden becomes rather flowerless during the summer. It’s vibrant green, yes, but the blooms of spring have faded away and I lack the plants to keep the orchestra of colour continuing throughout the hot months. I have some spotlight plants – a couple of gorgeous perennial geraniums (left), peonies and the tropical extravaganzas that are agapanthus – but they only offer a gem-like splash to an otherwise foliage driven background. Not that foliage is boring, but I do like flowers!

I suppose, part of the problem I’ve had is snails. Some of my favourite summer plants, including rudbekia’s and echinacea’s, are easily eaten when they’re seedlings, so it’s vital to ensure that they’re safeguarded against pests. Echinacea’s quite like well drained soil, and I found they work well in large pots, so my next attempt is to grow a variety of plants in containers and place them into borders, hiding the pots with ground cover plants. With so many plants that produce multiple flowers in bright hues, it’s a good idea to backdrop these plants with dense shrubbery. Shrubs that have already flowered for the year, such as cotinus and camellias, are particularly useful. And, if you really want to set plants off, planting lambs ears (stachys byzantina) at the base is a wonderful combination.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther great plants for the summer, especially if you’re creating a cottage garden or developing herbaceous borders, are achilleas (right) and penstemons. These fantastic plants offer vibrant blooms in their dozens, allowing you to really bring that summer feeling to any patch. Again, setting plants off against a neutral background of carefully placed shrubs, whilst using coloured foliage plants, such as ajuga or ophiopogon, helps to make the entire plant really ‘pop‘ out of borders.

In my opinion, it’s never too late to rush to the garden centre and buy some goodies. With much of the summer still ahead, you can still get plants into the ground and develop your borders for the sunshine and barbecues ahead. And, if you want to plan for the future, avoiding annual bedding plants and opting for longer lasting perennials instead, will provide you with many seasons of relaxation for years to come.

Prepare for a summer drought

Okay, so the meteorologists can never seem to make up their minds so we’re never quite sure what kind of summer we’ve had. The winter has been long, the spring has been late, but though the cold’s been rattling at my bones there’s one thing that’s been all too obvious, and that’s the lack of rain.

You might think, rain? but we’ve had LOADS! In fact, here in London, we really haven’t. I’ll agree…there’s been some very wet days where a lot of rain has fallen in a relatively short space of time. But, certainly in my garden, dig beneath the surface of the soil, and the moisture has quickly drained away. Three days of sun, and my plants are already starting to look rather parched and I’m expecting to put the hose system on tonight to give them some welcome relief to their thirst.

There’s no doubt, that a hot summer is on everyone’s wishlist and we’ll all be very happy sitting out on our porches, verandas and lounging around in garden log cabins (if you have one of the latter, I expect an invite). But what of our plants?

If you’re looking for inspiration, then my Four Ways to Protect Plants from Drought is worth having a quick read. Watering in the evening is the most economical way to water, whilst watering long, hard and infrequently encourages deep roots for prolonged plant health. Changing your plants, too, can help, and using silvery leaved varieties helps to create a drought resistant garden. Mulching heavily around plants can lock moisture into the ground so that you don’t have to water so frequently, whilst ensuring that seeds are planted in-situ, instead of being transplanted, can help with establishing young plants quickly and ensuring that less watering’s required.

Of course, we’re not yet into the summer, and who’s to say that we won’t have yet another complete washout? But, with the hot days of spring arriving, taking the time to ready your garden for drought now, will provide dividends in the coming months is blissful days arrive. And, by watering, mulching and protecting your garden now, all that awaits on hot summer days is a glass of Pimms and a lounge chair on the patio.

A new fragrant find

You know how I went to the Hampton Court Palace Garden Show a few weeks ago? How I prevented myself from buying a lot of plants? How I only bought the perennial Cosmos? It may have been one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

I normally only grow annuals from seed. I don’t see the point in paying out a lot of money for plants which will only last one season before bowing their pretty heads and fading to brown. You can get a lot more for your money with a packet of seeds and a little nurture. Therefore, my growing of Cosmos has largely been retained to annual varieties which are invariably nibbled to within an inch of their life by slugs.

© Geoff WakelingCosmos ‘Chocolate’ has a gorgeous tone and fragrance

However, Cosmos ‘Chocolate’ is a half hardy perennial with a beautiful flower that, apparently, ‘smells’ of the very thing it’s named after. I was dubious. Especially as all but one of the flowers on the stand were still in bud form and the thousands of stretched out noses must have wafted all scent away for I could smell nothing. However, now that this beautiful plant has begun to flower, I can guarantee that it does, indeed, smell of chocolate!

Whether you’re an annual lover or not, this half hardy perennial is a wonderful addition to the garden, both in its colour and scent. Now, I’m off to have tea and drink in the smell of my own little chocolate factory.

Could an opportune seedling save have created a new rose?

Last year I discovered a random rooted rose shoot in the compost heap. I was almost certain that it would be a wild rose, seeded by birds, which had taken the opportunity to grab a foothold where possible. However, it had ‘that look’ about it and rather than discard it, I potted it up and nurtured.

It’s grown strongly over the past few months and started to form a bud. Here we go, I thought, a single petalled pretty wild rose about to come my way. Then the bud unfurled and, to my astonishment, revealed a beautiful pale pink flower.

I have absolutely no idea where this rose came from, but am going to nurture it with great care over the coming months. Have I created a new rose variety? Probably not, but I’m not going to scoff at a new freebie plant for my collection.

© Geoff WakelingA new rose? Who knows, but it’s certainly a free rose for my garden.

UPDATE

Final Flower

Welcome to The Guide to Gay Gardening's new look!


Living in the grey smog of London utopia, I forge my little existence in a slightly loopy, hermity, hippy manner, sharing my life with the hens, cats and other menagerie that have somehow taken over my life.

If I'm not enjoying the great outdoors with my netbook in hand, I'll be snipping, pruning, planting, cutting, propagating, shovelling, or just plain admiring. You can even catch the occasional glimpse of me on the TV now and then!

Take the weight off for a while. Sit back, relax, read, send me feedback, but mostly just take a moment and look around you.....mother nature is beautiful.


Geoff Wakeling

Mail Me: geoffwakeling(at) theguidetogaygardening.com


















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  • Ophiopogon contrasts against Bergenia

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