It is easy to become drunk on plants at this time of year, wandering around the garden half-dazed with all the wonderful growth! But there are still some useful tasks to do such as sowing some biennials, planning companion planting and making some more of your favourite clematis cultivars:
Biennial plants germinate and establish in their first year and flower in their second year. They can often then become short-lived perennials, but in my experience, will never flower as well as in their second year. I’m talking about such beauties as wallflowers (Erysimum), Canterbury bells, foxgloves and sweet Williams…They are all early summer glories, and just as they are in their prime is the very moment to start sowing their seed for next year.
Find a little bit of spare ground and make a shallow trench with a bamboo pole (I lay it on the soil and walk along it to press it in, and then pick it up again). Water your shallow drill before sprinkling your seeds along it and rake some dry soil over it. Job done, though you may well need to thin your seedlings to the recommended spacings once they are coming through nicely. You will plant them into their final flowering positions in pots or borders in the autumn, ready for lavish flowers next May/June.
THE GOOD COMPANION
There is a strong school of thought, which really rates ‘Companion Planting’ as a brilliant idea. This is when you grow ostensibly very different plants close to one another, with the qualities of one helping the growth of another. I definitely haven’t investigated this theory enough, so I am intent of having a better go at it this year.
Very often it is a case of the scent of one sort of plant deterring the insects that attack another. So, French marigolds amongst the tomatoes to deter aphids, chives amongst sunflowers, garlic amongst roses, spring onions among carrots to deter carrot root fly, etc.. Once you’ve planted them, a good tip is to brush over them every few days to release more of their aroma. Apparently, if you plant leeks among carrots, the smell of the leeks will deter carrot root fly, and the smell of the carrots will deter leek moths – how cool is that!! Most of the unwanted insects hate mint, but do be careful to keep that confined to a pot, or it will be everywhere as soon as your back is turned. Many other herbs such as sage, chervil and coriander will do the same job.
Then there are the easy annuals such as nasturtiums that you can sacrifice to blackfly, aphids or cabbage white butterflies to save such crops as broad beans, runner beans and cabbages. Another idea is to plan to plant tall crops such as peas and sweetcorn where they will shade crops which are prone to bolting in strong sunshine, like lettuce or spinach.
So let’s give the idea a go this year and see if we can help our plants in a lovely natural way, rather than piling on the chemicals!
MORE CLEMATIS PLEASE
I am crazy about the cultivars of the late-flowering Clematis species like viticella but let’s face it, clematis are never cheap, so here’s a way to make more of these enchanting plants now by layering. Mix some seed and cutting compost into a spot sheltered from bright sunshine close to the base of your chosen plant. Then pick a long strong shoot and bend it down so that the stem will touch this patch of soil.
Gently peel the skin from the underside of that bit of stem, then bury it in a few inches of soil, with the shoot tip emerging. Weigh down the buried stem with a stone, and keep the area well-watered during the summer. You should have a brand new FREE plant to remove from the mother-plant next spring – hooray!
You can also take leaf-bud cuttings from any clematis: cut off a 10-12 cm shoot halfway between two sets of leaves (the fancy name is an ‘internodal cutting’), chuck away the soft growing tip, and tuck your cuttings round the edge of a pot of really gritty compost.
Water the pot and put it in a tray with a clear lid, or with a clear plastic bag fixed over it. Water once a week until you can tell they’ve rooted by seeing strong new growth at the leaf-axil, and you can then pot them up separately to grow on.
• Save money on fertiliser: wearing thick gloves (!) cut and chop up nettle and comfrey leaves, put them in an old bucket and weigh them down with a brick. Fill the bucket with water and leave it in a shady spot for a fortnight. Holding your nose because it smells vile, pour off the liquid into an old plastic bottle and use it in the ratio of 1:20 with water as a fabulous feed containing nitrogen as well as potassium for all your plants.
• Buy a large pot of supermarket basil, divide it into 3 or 4 groups of shoots, and pot them up ready to plant out when the danger of a late frost is past.
• Your tomatoes should be growing strongly now – if they are the cordon-type (growing upwards basically), remember to pinch out the shoots growing in the axils of the leaves. You want it to fruit from the main stem, not from stems going over all the place.