If June was ‘flaming’ then there’s every chance that July could be ‘scorching’. Hot and dry weather brings with it the hassle of having to keep everything watered. With increased concern, about using this precious resource, it makes sense to install as many water butts and storage containers as possible. Watering from butts can be problematical, if the tap only runs at a trickle, or if the butt is a long way from your thirsty plants. Small, electrical, pumps, specially designed for the job, may be the answer and they certainly make utilising stored water less of a chore.
I read somewhere that greenhouse crops, specifically tomatoes, yield more if watered with water at the ambient temperature of the greenhouse, rather than water straight out of the tap which is comparatively cold. Grand old Victorian glasshouses often incorporated large water tanks, even cisterns, which neatly stored rainwater and, if only as a bonus, would have automatically supplied water at the same temperature as the plants grown inside. When I get around to it, I intend to move a reservoir inside the greenhouse, linked to the rainwater butt on the outside, to see if this theory, literally, ‘holds water’.
Now that we have passed the longest day of the year many plants enter a different growth mode. Vegetative growth, which was rapid up to now, may slow down and begin to ‘harden off’. Early summer flowerers will concentrate on setting seed, preparing to die down, while late summer flowering plants will stop growing and start blooming. None of this happens overnight, plants respond by means of growth regulating ‘promoters’ and ‘inhibitors’, unlike our ‘instant’ nervous system, but the subtle switch means that now is a good time to undertake a certain amount of plant ‘refereeing’.
The classic example is shortening the long, whippy, growths on wisteria—if you’ve got a wisteria you’ll be more than aware that these need tackling! Climbing and rambling roses should also be assessed. Proper ‘climbers’ are pruned in the winter months but the nice extension growths, which seem to have shot up out of nowhere, need to be loosely tied in before they lose their flexibility. On the other hand, ‘ramblers’ which have had their single flush of flowers, can be fully tackled now. Remove the flowered shoots, keeping the strong new shoots arising from low down, and tie-in these vigorous shoots to replace the spent ones you’ve excised.
Continue with the summer pruning of shrubs which have finished flowering, so that any new wood, initiated by your cutting back, has time to harden off well before winter. Experiment with taking semi-ripe cuttings from shrubs (pencil thick; cut cleanly below a leaf node; remove all but a couple of leaves; insert into free draining soil in an out of the way place; cover with a cloche or propagator lid; water in; leave alone for months). Cuttings can also be taken from any semi-tender perennial specimens, such as those in bedding schemes or containers, which should root rapidly now, giving you small, rooted, cuttings to overwinter, under cover, ready for next year.
Some border perennials which flowered in June can be cut back, fed and watered, to see if you can get a second flush of flowers. Delphiniums often respond well to this treatment. Also, it’s worth tidying up Mediterranean type sub-shrubs and herbs (lavender, thyme, origanum, Convolvulus cneorum etc.) to remove faded flowers and to maintain their compactness. Topiary specimens should be carefully reshaped, using secateurs for large leaved types, such as bay, so that they get a chance to reclothe before the ravages of autumn and winter weather.
General maintenance carries on with, perhaps, even more to keep on top of. Lots of deadheading, watering, feeding plants in containers, grass mowing, weed removing, pest controlling – you know the score. The good thing is that there are still weeks and weeks to go before the slide into autumn, although you need to start thinking about ordering spring flowering bulbs.
While you’re leafing through the catalogues you’ll come across plenty of autumn flowering bulbs too, colchicums and the like, which you can bung in now for a cheerful display to supplement your late flowering perennials. Don’t forget that you can always plant these in pots, if you’ve run out of room in the garden, or if your soil isn’t suitable.
Recently I revisited a nursery in Kent, ‘Madrona Nursery’, that I hadn’t been to since I wrote a magazine article about them, many moons ago. It reminded me how much fun a bit of ‘impulse’ buying can be. It’s not the best time to buy plants, the spring rush is long gone, but at least it helps you to identify which plants are coming into their own now—in what can be a ‘hungry gap’ between early summer and late summer colour.
I couldn’t resist Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’, just getting into its stride with masses of pinky-mauve blooms. It also has a rather heart-warming ‘back story’. This Salvia, raised in Australia, is just one from the “Wish Collection” (‘Wendy’s Wish’, ‘Ember’s Wish’ and ‘Love and Wishes’). A portion of the sales of which benefits the Australian ‘Make-a-Wish Foundation’; this was an impulse buy that benefits more than just my garden.
Another unplanned acquisition was Alstroemeria ‘Rock and Roll’, which has the most striking, bright white and pale green, variegated foliage. The ‘taste police’ must hate it, but they are not my concern. It, together with its green-leaved, brethren, are another useful, mid-summer blooming, group of plants which seem strangely overlooked in current gardens. Apparently, they dislike disturbance so getting them established may be the reason for their scarcity—perseverance is the key.
With that in mind, I’ll end with the sage words of Vita Sackville-West, taken from the July chapter of her Garden Book :-
“Gardening is largely a question of mixing one sort of plant with another sort of plant, and of seeing how they marry happily together; and if you see that they don’t marry happily, then you must hoick one of them out and be quite ruthless about it. That is the only way to garden. The true gardener must be brutal, and imaginative for the future.”
Quite right, Vita, old fruit!