This Month in the Garden – July & August 2023

The show gardens at Chelsea this year proved that you can have a lovely garden and still encourage wildlife.  This was also borne out in the fabulous gardens in Biddenham that were open in June in aid of the Red Cross.  I noted with interest the wild areas and the bug hotels in these stunning gardens some of which have been cultivated for more than a 100 years.  Many thanks for the hard work of the owners of these lovely gardens – you gave us such pleasure on a brilliant sunny afternoon. There were more so called “weeds” in the less manicured show gardens at Chelsea this year …

In my own garden I have always celebrated weeds and allowed many of them to grow with other plants just seeding around them.  We now seem to be in a time when we are trying to be more sustainable, when we value biodiversity and do not seek to control everything.  Encouraging the insects that pollinate our plants, decompose waste, take nutrients down into the soil and provide food for birds and animals is something which we in Biddenham should certainly seek to embrace.  We can do our bit by providing a source of water, however small, growing single flowered plants (better for the pollinators) holding back on chemical sprays and not being too tidy in the garden.

July and August are the peak flowering months for most gardens when containers and hanging baskets come into their own and salad crops and summer vegetables abound.  Keep deadheading the plants – its an almost daily activity isn’t it.  I try to use it as a peaceful time of “mindfulness” for a few minutes each day and then I don’t feel stressed at the end of the week when it becomes overwhelming – little and often is certainly best.  As well as enjoying my own garden I have been out and about visiting other gardens.  The Elizabethan garden at Kenilworth Castle was such a delight a few weeks ago.  You will be aware that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, created the garden to impress Queen Elizabeth 1 when she visited the castle in 1575. A letter survives which provides an eyewitness account of the garden by Robert Langham at the time of the Queens’s visit …
“the fruit-trees, the plants, the herbs, the flowers, the change in colours, the birds flittering, the fountain streaming, the fish swimming, all in such delectable variety, order and dignity….”  In 2009 this letter together with the findings of extensive archaeology and research was used to recreate the garden which had been lost over the centuries.  Brought to life again it now provides one of the most complete pictures of an Elizabethan garden.  In the centre is a fountain showing ancient symbols of power and immortality.  In early Elizabethan gardens the emphasis was on sweet smelling flowers, pinks and carnations and sweet Williams and the planting in the garden reflects this.  If you are in Warwickshire Kenilworth Castle is well worth a visit.

Closer to home I have been catching up on the walled garden at Moggerhanger Park.  The volunteers have worked so hard to bring this round and when I visited in June the bearded iris were in full swing.  During July and August, when the flowers have faded is a good time to divide iris.  Ease the plant out of the ground with a fork, pull the clump apart and throw away the oldest pieces from the middle of the plant.  Divide up the healthy young material and cut the leaves down to half their height.  Plant them back into the ground so that the rhizomes lie horizontally along the ground with only the roots and lower half buried.  The top half of the rhizome needs to be exposed to the sun otherwise the plants will grow leaves but no flowers.  Bearded iris need, of course, a warm position where they will be baked by the sun.  Agapanthus are also looking fabulous at this time of the year and need fertile, well drained soil in a sunny spot.  With the long summer evenings it is lovely to be outside enjoying the evening scent of the Lilium Regale. I always grow these for their brilliant white blooms which shine out in the moonlight.  Honeysuckle planted near the house and nicotiana provide more scented delights.

July and August are busy months in the garden.  Give plants in containers and hanging baskets a weekly feed with a high potash solution.  A liquid tomato feed is good but dilute it to half the strength recommended for tomatoes.  Stop outdoor tomatoes by nipping out the very top of each plant leaving 5 trusses of fruit to continue developing and of course, continue to pinch out the side shoots.  I guess your wisterias are like mine – running wild – cut back the whippy tendrils to 15cms long.   This encourages the plant to build up lots of short, flowering spurs ready for next year.  Prune lavender as soon as the flowers fade or you have harvested them for lavender bags – do people still make these?  I remember making them with my grandmother when I was a child and I made them with my grandchildren.  Word of warning – take care not to cut into the old wood of lavender bushes – if you do they die – I know from experience – one of my many disasters!  Now is the time to start taking cuttings of tender perennials – salvias, pelargoniums and penstemons.  An open, gritty compost is good for this and keep them out of the sun whilst they root.  Well lots to do – but whatever you are doing – whether it be tending your plot and hoping your efforts will bring success at the Biddenham Show, relaxing with friends or visiting some of our stunning gardens locally or further afield have a lovely summer and I will see you again in September …                                                                                                 Linda Truscott

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