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.
I’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.
Other 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s my favourite time of year, a time where my godmother wishes me adieu and where my hermiting REALLy excels. It’s the two weeks of Wimbledon.
One of Britain’s most quintessential fruits, and one that is synonymous with Wimbledon, are strawberries. These exotic looking fruit ripen just in time to be swathed in cream and topped with sugar for the mid June tennis. Last year my crop in the front garden was stolen after dark, a burgeoning crop of red jewels that disappeared into someone’s nimble fingers and eager mouth. This year, however, they seem to have been left alone and I’ve just picked a great crop.
I fully believe that front gardens can be utilised for growing, and shouldn’t be smothered in paving and gravel. Of course, on some busy streets, there may be issues of car fumes and pollutants entering crops, but on my small residential road this isn’t something that I’m too concerned about. So, in my little front urban patch I grow herbs, strawberries and the odd tomato plant from which to pick tasty crops from when I arrive at my front door.
The strawberries are planted alongside the main path to my house, and I’ve found that the paving works wonderfully in taking up heat and ripening fruit quickly. It also stops fruit from laying on the soil and becoming rotten. Strawberries are very easy to grow, and fruit very easily – the hardest part being actually ensuring that fruit get enough sun to ripen and are protected from rot and slug damage. I fully encourage you to try so that next year, whilst I’m once again engrossed in Wimbledon, you can enjoy strawberries too.
There are many ways that you can add scent to the garden, and last year I played around with adding a beautiful lime green nicotiana which filled the garden with perfume during the warm summer nights. Night scented stock is another wonderful plant to add an extra dimension to dusky sunsets, whilst using a jasmine on the porch or patio is ideal if you want a swathe of white, pumping out nectar smells into the night.
This year I was fortunate enough to be given a dianthus for my birthday. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of pinks and whilst I have some double petalled pinks providing colour by the back door, I’ve largely overlooked this species. They’re a bit too ‘busy’ for my liking, and fall into my general distaste for plants which looked overly hybridised. However, the reason I first liked this gift was because the flowers reminded me of the sweet williams that I used to grow as a child, giving me a little moment of nostalgia. And, it wasn’t until after dark that I realised the huge benefit of this particular plant.
My mum told me that it was lovely at night, but I hadn’t realised quite how strong this delightful scent was going to be. Planted in a pot by the back door, great clouds of perfume now fill air and particularly on still nights (of which we haven’t had many), the scent filters through the cat flap into the house. Toby, my very damaged and disabled cat, managed to claw his way over the dianthus within days of me first receiving it. However, popped into water, the blooms are still giving me colour and perfume in the house several weeks later.
Though you may not, like myself, be completely enamoured with pinks, they certainly can offer a great fragrance to the garden. If you want a pink with great colour and smell, then I can highly recommend variety’s of ‘Super Trouper’. Planting them in pots is ideal, and they’ll certainly provide you a bouquet of scent through the year’s warmer months.
I love this time of year in the garden. Far from being the dry wasteland that early 2012 predicted, abundant rain means that plants are thriving. Once again, my garden has burst in vibrant life, with oriental poppies, lupins and iris putting up flower stems. The winds have caused some damage, but I’ve managed to tie everything in so that snapped stalks were minimal.
After the beautiful geums faded from last month, they’ve been replaced by single petalled and elegant geraniums. I love planting numerous species of plants in different areas of the garden because of the burst of life you get at the same time. Whilst last month the marmalade and strawberry geums lit up the garden, now it is the turn of geraniums. A. T. Johnson is a great little plant which seems to double in size as you watch it. Positioned in partial shade by the chicken coop, and interspersed with daylillies, the soft delicate pink flowers will continue for many weeks and clash wonderfully of the orange lillies waiting to erupt. You can often force two flowerings of this plant, and by heavily cutting back when they start to fade, another crop of flowers can be induced for the late summer and early autumn.
Meanwhile, towards the front of the garden where poppies and peonies lay, sits a lovely purple geranium. It draws the eye out from the living room and into the garden where bees actively suck up the rick nectar that these flowers provide. Once again, it has an abundance of flowers and seems to fill the space with its thriving growth. Alas, unlike A. T. Johnson, I’ve never been able to force another flowering season for this, but it still lifts the start of summer magnificently well.
If you’re looking for plants which are incredibly easy to grow, abundant in flower, and will offer a great summer perennial starter, then geraniums are ideal. And, by utilising several species, you can ensure that you’re garden is filled for beautiful blooms at this time of year.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a plant collector. Even though I shouldn’t add more plants to my garden, I do, in every possible space. I also can’t help buying up those sad looking specimens that you seen in shops. I’ve bought French moult Budgies and bengelese finches with crippled feet before from pet shops too, just because I knew that no one else would. I’ve even rescued discarded orchids from bins and skips. I just can’t help myself. I think I was a hoarder in a previous life.
But, when you find a bargain, it’s joy. Especially when you know that it’s not tat, but something alive that can be rescued. Perusing Homebase yesterday I happened upon three very sickly looking venus fly traps. I, like so many other kids, was fascinated by these plants and they were one of the most intriguing species to me when I was young. I didn’t need robots, or action figures, or gadgets. I was just obsessed with the coolness of carnivorous plants – I still am. Did I need them? No. Did I want them? Yes. Did I need them for 10p – TEN PENCE – each? Definitely! These poor little things were in the houseplant section, being kept under artificial lighting and well away from sunlight. I expect that they were being watered with tap water too. And, I’m sure that every kid (under and over the age of 18) couldn’t help put prod one of the traps in an attempt to see it close – one of the most damaging things you can do.
The main reason for having a well-maintained and attractive garden is that it provides you with your own natural space in which you can relax, unwind, and recover your energies in our increasingly busy, complex, and demanding world. Admittedly, it does take time and effort to keep your garden well maintained, but if you follow a few basic guidelines you should find that your garden repays the effort you invest in it many times over.
In the spring, add grass seed to the lawn. Homeowners often forget that grass is a plant and that it needs to be well maintained, fed, and replenished regularly in order for a lawn to stay healthy and looking good. Feed your grass at least once a week, especially in summer, and cover damaged areas with plastic sheeting as it recovers.
Plant blooming flowers and other colorful plants in mid to late spring to allow them time to grow for the summer months when you really need them. It is best to weed regularly rather than having to do it all at once, in which case it can become a real chore.
Trim the edges on a regular basis. Not only will this keep the garden looking neat and tidy all year round but it will also encourage your grass to grow vertically rather than invade the edges and borders.
Tips and tools
Remember to only water the garden plants when the sun has gone down in the evenings. They will over-absorb and wilt if you water them in the hotter parts of the day, which will be counter-productive.
Get somebody to water your plants at night if you go away for a few weeks in the summer. If you just leave the garden to fend for itself when you disappear on vacation it will look a real mess when you return. More importantly, many plants will die and have to be replaced if there is a prolonged hot spell.
To give the garden more depth in winter and keep it looking good all year round, consider using potted plants and evergreen trees, bushes and shrubs, and take delicate plants indoors during bad weather, or move them into a greenhouse. You don’t want to be in the position of having to change all your plants as the seasons come and go.
Make sure that you have a good pair of pruning shears on hand for the autumn pruning, a trowel for regular weeding, and a good lawnmower for keeping the grass well trimmed; make certain that you sharpen the blades on your lawnmower several times during the mowing season, as dull lawnmower blades can damage grass. You should also have a good spade for the borders and for planting shrubs, as well as a fork for turning the soil and letting it breathe.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of preparing the earth properly and sowing grass seeds from scratch, or if your soil is not suitable for growing grass, consider opting for artificial grass. This, like artificial flowers these days, is as good as the real thing and will need very little if any maintenance. Purists may balk at the idea, but for people short on time and skills it can be an excellent alternative to a real lawn.
With the summer months almost here, it is certain that you will be spending more time in your garden. Whilst the spring may have been exceptionally wet, the one benefit is that your plants will have thrived in this important growing season. If you are looking ahead to the warmer and drier months of June, July, and August and want to ensure that your garden looks great, here are eight easy steps you can take.
Incorporate garden furniture
Whether you use your garden frequently to entertain guests or treat it as more of a private, family space, it is important to splash out and buy garden furniture, and particularly a garden table and chairs. This will enhance your enjoyment of your garden when the sun shines, and allow you to use it as an outside room.
Grass can sometimes be difficult to maintain, and one of the biggest reasons that it becomes unmanageable is because it is not cut on a regular basis. Faster growing grasses can overshadow and choke out slower growing strains within your lawn mix, resulting in tufts and rough specimens taking over. By mowing at least every ten days to two weeks, you will help to ensure that your lawn always looks magnificent.
It is all too easy to pop to the nursery, fill your garden with beautiful flowers, and then be discouraged when they don’t last. By deadheading – or removing – all of the faded blooms before they begin to form seed-heads, you will help to encourage new flower growth throughout the season.
With the warm summer evenings on the horizon, you can enhance both the look and the usability of your garden at night by adding garden lighting. There is a great range of solar powered products and torches available, offering an easy option for adding illumination to your garden without having to worry about electrical fixtures and fittings.
Trim lawn edges
If your garden is looking untidy, one easy way to spruce it up is to trim the lawn edges. Along with cutting the grass, this is one step which will instantly transform your patch. In many cases you will be amazed at just how big an effect keeping carefully manicured lawn edges can have.
Buy more foliage plants
Plants with great foliage are the backbone of any garden, providing colour and interest to the space. If you have gaps in your garden, consider buying foliage plants. Purples contrast beautifully with greens, whilst silvers will reflect the light and are generally more drought tolerant.
Buy more flowering perennials
Many of the flowers that you will see in the nurseries will be annual bedding plants. You can remove the need to buy new specimens every year by investing a bit more in perennial flowering species such as lavenders, rudbekias and geums (left). These will add vibrant colour to your garden year after year, and require very little effort to maintain.
Consider all the senses
Gardens aren’t just about their visual impact, and it is important to try and appeal to all of the senses. Plants such as jasmine will offer a bouquet of perfume to smell, whilst fountains and wind chimes will offer something for the ears. Using a range of textures in furniture, decorations, and hard landscaping will offer an interesting variety for materials to excite the sense of touch.