There is nothing so satisfying as growing things – a sentiment I heard recently and I would add to that – and watching the rain fall gently on the things that are growing. Not a day to be gardening today but a day to be in my office starting on my article for July. As I write this contribution during the first week of June I am reflecting that it is now six months since I took up the baton from Jeremy …In February I was delighting in the swathes of snowdrops in my own and other peoples’ gardens. We were also enjoying the very first narcissus – Spring Dawn is always the first to appear in my garden as early as late January and knowing that there would be a succession of narcissus ending with the delicate Pheasant’s-eye in April/May, a very old variety with a beautiful scent which brings back memories of my parents’ garden where they had been planted in the 1940s and 50s in great profusion. As we were deadheading our narcissus we were looking forward to the first tulips and then onwards to alliums and now we have an abundance of roses – what a splendid time and all the while the shrubs, hedges and trees have been doing their thing and providing wondrous habitat for birds. This year the bird song seems better than ever and I have had so many bird visitors to my garden including, this morning, a pair of goldfinches who put in fairly regular appearances. Sadly I no longer hear the sound of the cuckoo in Biddenham. When we came here in 1982 we heard their call for a number of years – but not now. Great excitement though when I was in Suffolk a couple of weeks ago we heard the distinctive call as we walked across Dunwich Heath – what a fabulous sound. So back to the garden – last night I staked my peonies – good thing as the heavy rain today would certainly have taken its toll on them. What joy the roses are giving us at this time of the year and so easy to pick just one bud for the house and create an instant uplifting effect. I have Shropshire Lad growing up the side of the house and I sometimes wish that we had bought St Swithin’s instead as it is very similar and our granddaughter was born on St Swithin’s day eighteen years ago. However, about ten years ago a rose sprang up in our back garden gravel path, nowhere near any of our other roses, and so we assumed a bird had dropped a seed. We transplanted this small rose into the garden and trained it up an obelisk and it has provided an abundance of June blooms ever since. We were told that, as it was a new rose, we could call it what we liked and so, as our granddaughter was named Beatrice Rose, after her two great grandmothers, we named our rose Rosa Beatrice Rose (I have attached a photo for the BGA website). My other favourites are Rosa Bonica and Rosa Queen of Sweden – which I first saw at Easton Walled Garden in Lincolnshire – a garden I would so recommend for a visit at this time of the year especially if you are as passionate about sweet peas as I am – they always have a magnificent display. Prune climbers and rambling roses after they have finished flowering. This long deadheading – cutting back quite hard to a bud leaves the plant looking tidier. The actual amount you remove depends on the vigour of the individual variety. A strong growing rambler that makes a lot of long growth will need quite long pieces cut back to say 15cm or so from the main framework of the plant, smaller, slower growing varieties may only need 15cm of growth removed.
Excitingly my Lilium Regale are all in bud getting ready for a lovely display in a few weeks. On a July evening they provide a wonderful scent. I feel sad each time I pick off the beautiful red lily beetles but without my intervention the leaves are decimated and I haven’t come across anything that predates these beetles. The buds on my agapanthus are also appearing. They are now very pot bound, I must repot them next year. Agapanthus do produce more flowers if their roots are confined but the time does come when they need dividing and June is a good time to do this. Like all plants, if grown in pots, when repotting just repot into the next size up – plants like only a small amount of compost to grow into.
Each month as well as enjoying the here and now gardeners are always forward planning and July is the month when it is possible to extend the life of or increase ones’ stock of plants. Now is the time to divide and replant bearded iris. Carefully lift the rhizomes, discard the oldest bits from the middle of the plant and divide up the healthy young material. Cut the leaves back to half their length, work some general fertiliser into the soil and lay the rhizomes horizontally along the ground and with only the roots and the lower half of the rhizome buried. Bearded iris do like to be baked by the sun unlike the Siberica varieties which favour a damper soil. I do like geraniums or cranesbills and have many varieties in my garden. I noted that, at Chelsea Flower Show this year, a new variety Geranium Intense was introduced and I have ordered this – it is a vibrant pink, is short and compact and provides good ground cover and can cope, apparently, with dry soil and partial shade. I will let you know how I get on with it – it won’t be with me until September. A geranium I can whole heartedly recommend for shady conditions is Geranium Phaeum. Joe Swift had them in his Bee garden at Chelsea. It has dusky purple flowers and has been a magnet for the bees in my garden. It will be starting to go over soon and, along with all the other geraniums, I will be cutting it back to ground level. This tidies things up a bit as geraniums can get straggly and they will spring up anew in a few weeks time and provide a second flush of flowers. Do cut back your lavender as soon as it has finished flowering as this enables the plant to regenerate ready for flowering next year but do not cut into the old wood – if you do the plant will be finished.
I have been planting ferns this year. When I was visiting Cambridge Botanic Garden in May I came across Polystichum Setiferum – the soft shield fern. A fern that was new to me – it was just unfurling and was a lovely combination of green and brown and silver – so delightful. Ferns need to be planted with other plants for best effect – bergenia, hostas, heurcheras all provide a good foil. But best of all is a stumpery where the ferns are nestled in pockets of soil in upended tree roots from trees that have fallen or been brought down by storms. Have you seen the one at Ickworth House? I visited with a friend a few weeks ago – oh to have a vast garden with room for a stumpery and gardeners to manoeuvre the upended tree stumps into place – I can only dream!
Were your cosmos awful last year? Mine were – they grew to six feet tall and didn’t produce any flowers until September, several friends faired the same with theirs. I heard on a Sarah Raven podcast that the problem lies with the climate of the country where the seed is produced. She recommends that once the plant has three pairs of leaves one takes out the growing shoot in order to make a bushy plant that will produce more flowers. As Sarah says “If in doubt, pinch out” I have done that this year to all of mine so I live in hope of a better display. I am currently taking soft wood cuttings of lavender, rosemary, salvias. Chose a non flowering shoot, as soon as you have cut them put them into a polythene bag straight away to stop them wilting, take off the lower leaves, cut the stem to just below a leave node and insert the cuttings into a free draining compost mix (half potting compost and half horticultural grit or Perlite) water and cover with a polythene bag to keep in the moisture, place in a light, shady place and in a few weeks time you will have rooted cuttings ready to pot on. As soon as the first flowers appear on tomato plants start a weekly feeding regime with a high potash fertiliser. It is important to water consistently – irregular watering sometimes leads to the fruit splitting and, of course, take out the side shoots as soon as they appear. In late July up until mid August “stop’ tomatoes i.e pinch out the growing tip if you have five trusses or so. This prevents the growing stem growing further and diverts all the plant’s resources into swelling and ripening the remaining fruit. In dry weather keep runner beans well watered and spray the flowers with clear water to increase the humidity around the plants – this helps the beans to set. July and August are the months to enjoy the fruits of our earlier labours – whether it be flowers, fruit or vegetables. The sun is now shining so I am going outside to start picking the first of my red currants. Happy gardening and happy harvesting.