This chaotic summer weather is keeping us on our toes, isn’t it! After all the rain, we’ve had howling winds to contend with, ripping our summer plants to shreds. What next, I wonder?!
Apart from all the clearing up after the gales, let’s also get on with some pruning, seed-sowing and note-making, amongst other things………….
Cut to the chase
I know that many of you really enjoyed our Growbag foray into the world of clematis last weekend. You will find that the popular large-flowered June clematis (‘Group 2’) are finishing now – e.g. ‘Nelly Moser’ and her buddies. But did you know that if you cut back each stem that flowered to a pair of good buds lower down, you could feel have another smaller flush of the lovely blooms later in the summer. Once you’ve finished trimming the plant back in this way give it a liquid feed to put it more in the mood for a second flowering.
Now I want to tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a very old, disgracefully under-pruned Philadelphus occupying far too much space in the corner of a garden, sporting masses of dead wood and flowering only sporadically. Its neglectful owner was frankly ready to give it the old heave-ho……..
But I didn’t. I chopped the whole lot back to stumps of the thick stems two summers ago and basically forgot about it again. If that killed it, so be it. Last summer it was sprouting metre-long shoots in all directions. And then this June, it was COVERED in gloriously fragrant white blossoms for fully three weeks! What a lesson! I shall be far more brutal with oversized old shrubs in future.
Now that it has finished flowering, the way forward will be to thin out a few of the crowded shoots in the centre right to the ground to allow some light and air in. I will leave the strong unflowered shoots (these are easy to see, being a paler green than the old shoots) and cut back the flowered ones by one third. This will allow enough time for the shrub to ripen the new stems which will flower next June. Prune Deutzia (like the gorgeous D. ‘Strawberry Fields’ in our feature pic this week), Exochorda and Diervilla in the same way each year – these early-flowering shrubs can become fairly useless blobby thickets of green, if you treat them as shamefully as I had done with my poor Philadelphus.
Stupidly simple salads
Since the first lockdown of 2020, I have become a big fan of growing veg in pots and containers. It makes everything – watering, feeding, staking, protection from marauding pigeons, harvesting – SO much easier. Now July may seem very late to be sowing things to eat this year, but there’s still time to have some great harvests of salad leaves of all kinds, because these grow fast.
Fill a pot with peat-free multipurpose compost (or almost any container, in fact – hanging baskets, old Bags for Life, ancient welly boots….. – as long as it has drainage holes). Level the surface then thinly sprinkle your seeds over the top; cut-and-come-again lettuces, rocket, baby spinach, mustard and cress, beetroot, radishes, spring onions – these are all fine to sow now even in July. Sprinkle a very thin layer of compost or vermiculite over the top of your seeds, and water the container thoroughly using a rose on the watering can.
Put your container somewhere bright and warm but not too hot, and they should germinate in about ten days or so. Keep it moist but not wet, and thin out the seedlings if they come up at all densely.
You could be starting to pick little leaves of lettuces etc. from as soon as seven weeks after sowing them, and radishes will only be six weeks! Perfect for delicious fresh-tasting filled rolls, sandwiches and side-dishes in August and September. Go and sow some straight away, I dare you, and get the children involved too – they’ll love anything that brings such quick returns. But the way, don’t forget that our little book ‘Beginner’s Veg’ will give you loads more tips on easy veg-growing of all kinds.
- If you are planting something permanent in a large frost-proof pot, consider lining the inside of the pot with bubble-wrap before putting in the compost and the plant itself. We all had some really cold snaps last winter, didn’t we, and a bubble-wrap layer can do a lot to prevent the compost and the plant’s roots from freezing in bitter weather.
- You may find that, despite your best efforts, some of your border plants have flopped onto the lawn in front of them, and killed or damaged the grass at the edge. Cut the plants back or prop them up, then take out a square of the affected turf, lift it and turn it round so the damaged edge is now in the middle. You now have a new sharp grass edge to your flower bed again. Fill the damaged area with fresh compost mixed with grass seed, and water it well. With all the rain we are having, the grass is still growing like stink, so the new patches should germinate and establish quickly!
- Each year at about this time, I beg you to go out and wander round your patch with a notebook and a pen. Make notes about what needs moving or changing in some way to make your garden even better next year. Combining your notes with an illustrative snapshot or two will make them an even more useful aide-memoire.
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