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Monday, July 15, 2024
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ArticlesJune in the Garden

June in the Garden

Roses, irises, clematis, pinks—summer really takes off this month. No more tip nipping frostiness means that plants seem to double in size overnight so a smidgeon of intervention may become necessary. Staking, tying in, propping back—plants need a bit of refereeing if the garden isn’t to descend into chaos. Cramming plants in tightly, so that they completely cover the ground, is a good way of squeezing out the weeds and has other benefits too. Closely packed plants, with a few twiggy shrubs thrown into the mix, hold each other up and look happier than widely spaced ‘specimens’ with bare earth in between.
How you organise your plants, as well as the type of plants you grow, dictates the impression your garden makes. Mixed up schemes, taking little notice of heights, types, colours and textures, lend a traditional ‘cottage’ look to the planting. Using a more restricted palette of plants, arranging them according to the convention of ‘short plants at the front, tall at the rear’, gives a degree of formality. Clipped hedges, straight lines and crisp hard landscaping are really formal elements which can be softened with a flowery profusion.
Every sort of plant and design style was on show at the magnificent ‘RHS Chelsea Flower Show’ last month. I spent a couple of days there, Sunday and Monday, it already seems like weeks ago! I hadn’t been for four years which meant that I enjoyed it much more, especially as my last couple of years working there, 2010/11, weren’t a lot of fun. Seeing it again, with ‘rested’ eyes, confirmed what I’ve always thought; it’s a great spectacle which every gardener should attend at least once in their lives and preferably every few years if they can.
The TV coverage doesn’t do it justice because a lot of what is useful to ordinary gardeners never makes it onto the screen. The producers are obsessed with the show gardens and do not cover the myriad of other exhibitors in anything like as much detail—you really do have to go there to understand what all the fuss is about.
I spent much more time amongst the nursery exhibitors in the pavilion than I did the show gardens. Claire Austin returned, also after four years away, and her bearded irises were ‘knock-out’. Enough to rekindle a certain desire to obtain more of these glamorous plants despite their somewhat brief flowering glory—but such diverse colours and regal flower form that they are totally seductive.
Of the show gardens there weren’t any real surprises and I was a little disappointed that politics and ‘worthiness’ won out again when it came to awarding the ‘Best in Show’ award. Dan Pearson’s planting was exquisite, sublime, faultlessly executed and the ‘design’ was only apparent in the arrangement of massive boulders so that the overall effect was to appear ‘undesigned’.
The pedigree of the sponsors and ‘client’, ‘Laurent-Perrier’ and ‘Chatsworth’ respectively, is beyond reproach so it was always going to win, barring ‘Act of God’. And that’s a pity because, compared to the other show gardens, unless you happen to be a plantsman of the same calibre as the acclaimed Mr. Pearson, it was completely underwhelming. It was so close to nature that it was possible to walk past it and just assume it was a demonstration plot or, as I heard one untutored visitor opine, it was “obviously a film set”. Either way, to me, it was NOT a garden you’d want to have at home.
I guess it was probably Chelsea where I first really noticed ornamental onions, Allium, which are a real trade mark of the ‘Show Gardens’. Rather conveniently it is easy to get them flowering for the show as it is now, and into July, when the majority of species and cultivars are at their peak.
Even after the colour, generally a shades of white to purple, has faded, the drumstick heads, football sized spheres in some cases, persist for many months as seed-heads. In a good year these will dry to a straw colour, shed their seeds, and persist right through to the winter—an eerie ghost of the summer gone. Learn a trick from the garden designers and grow alliums in pots, to plunge into the border at this time of year, if your border needs some extra height or better punctuation points.
Talking of borders I am, as ever, playing ‘catch-up’ at this very busy time of year. Having not grown vegetables, in anger, for a very long time I find I need to divert a lot of my horticultural attention towards the veg garden and let the ornamental stuff look after itself. To that end I’m very late in getting my pea-sticking completed and, as you probably know, the aim of peasticks is to get them in while the herbaceous plants are still quite small. That way they grow up through the interwoven twiggery,  being supported by it, while also making the peasticks themselves completely invisible. It’s still possible to get them in. Most things I need to support are the later flowering, tall-growing, herbaceous border plants, and it’s early enough in the season that they are still a long way off from reaching full height.
It’s a great time of year with so much to enjoy in the garden and yet still so much more to come…

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