‘Summertime and the livin’ is easy’, so my tasks for you this time are of the more relaxed kind – a little gentle seed-collection, pruning the rambler roses, some feedback from earlier topics…. Nothing too demanding, I trust – you’ll have time to relax and enjoy these all-too-fleeting days of high summer…
SEEDS FOR SAVING
Lots of plants will be going to seed now, and it feels almost criminal not to be collecting this marvellous free harvest. I’m thinking of things like foxgloves (Digitalis), love-in-a-mist (Nigella), sunflowers (Helianthus), Cosmos, Allium, honesty (Lunaria), Aquilegia, Verbena bonariensis, poppies (Papaver), Primula.etc. Seeds from ‘species’ plants will reliably result in plants very similar to the parent plant, but seed from cultivars (when a species plant has been given a specific name) will be much more variable. You’ve enjoyed the lovely flowers and now they are giving something more – the means to make more gorgeous plants!
This might seem a hopeless proposition given the forecast for this weekend (!) but you need a dry, windless day for this job, and the seed-pods need to be ripe, which generally means they have changed from green to brown. The trick is to collect them when the seeds have ripened but before the plant has dispersed them. I hold a paper bag or an envelope underneath the seed-pod and give it a tap. If a few seeds fall out, they are ready to harvest. Don’t use plastic bags for seeds because you want any remaining moisture to dry up and in plastic, seeds can easily rot. Then I snip off the entire seedhead and let it drop into the bag. Do scribble on the envelope what plant you took the seedhead from – I have an embarrassing number of bags of seeds from…who know where!
Once I’ve collected a few bags-full, I leave them in a dry airy place for a week or two to dry out completely, and then on a comfy seat at a table, I sift out the seeds from the pods, bits of stem and chaff. If you leave this on, it can be another way that the seed is affected by damp or mould. Primula seed can be sown fresh, but otherwise I transfer the seeds to neat little white envelopes, LABEL THEM (!), and store them in a wooden box in a dry, cool, dark place until springtime. If you have a lot of seeds, please do think about donating them to a seed-distribution service like the one run by the Cottage Garden Society.
FEEDBACK – COMPANION PLANTING ETC.
I thought I would give you a bit of feedback on some ideas I put forward earlier in the year.
Firstly, I planted some French marigolds (Tagetes) and pots of mint among my greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and chillies to put off pests such as whitefly who dislike the aroma. Each day, I have run my hands over these companion plants to release the smell a bit more (I don’t like the smell of Tagetes either – perhaps I’m a whitefly at heart!). Now, this may be beginner’s luck, but (so far) I haven’t spotted a single whitefly in the greenhouse.
The enormous tomato plants seem to be more interested in making more leaves than ripening all the fruit, so I must keep going with the high-potassium feed, thin out the leaves, and cut the stems at the top to concentrate their minds a little more. We are harvesting more cucumbers than you can shake several sticks at – can I recommend the variety ‘Beth Alpha’ to you: it appears to be a great choice for totally ignorant new greenhouse owners.
The chillies seem to be very happy in big pots on capillary matting; they are ‘Fresno Mix’, ‘Orange Wonder’, and ‘Padron’ and they are gratifyingly laden with flowers or little fruits, so fingers crossed.
Another thing I tried this year was growing sweetpeas on their own pyramid of metal rods instead of amongst other low climbers. Apart from looking rather wonderful, it has had the added advantage of being able to find and snip off the faded flowers easily and quickly, before they start to hold up the development of new blooms. But I didn’t site the pyramids sensibly next to a main path, so their wonderful fragrance can be properly appreciated. Something to remedy next year.
REINING IN THE RAMBLERS
I grow some fabulous rambling roses such as ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’, ‘Veilchenblau’, ‘Alberic Barbier’, ‘Kiftsgate’ and ‘American Pillar’, and August is the time to tackle them.
Some of these are huge plants – indeed the big ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ when in full and glorious flower this June, brought down the ancient lilac tree it was colonising (no loss actually, and the rose is going to happily ramble on into a bay tree now). The point of pruning them now is to rein in their size a bit but leave them the wherewithal to put a good display again next year.
Prune a third of the largest stems right out and then tie the remaining shoots into the framework. You can deadhead all the flowered shoots as well but in fact I personally don’t do this, because the hips of these rambling roses are often very attractive in autumn (just like mine, I’m told!) and the birds love to eat them in winter.
* Can I make a quick plea to be careful when you are gardening in hot weather – use a high-factor sunscreen even on cloudy days and remember a hat and sunglasses. Drink lots of water and put your feet up in a shady spot during the hottest part of the day – great excuse for a siesta!
* Has your clay soil cracked in the dryness or heat of summer? Before pelting rain closes them again, how about turning a negative into a positive, by pouring grit or fine gravel into the cracks, which will massively improve the drainage and porosity of a clay soil? Failing that, at least fill the cracks with good compost which will aid the soil composition.
* Keep tight lids on water butts or they will become havens for breeding mosquitoes. Some gardeners even put a thin layer of washing up liquid over the surface of the water to deter them.