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Thursday, July 18, 2024
ArticlesJuly in the Garden

July in the Garden

“The arrival of July heralds the climax of the year in the garden. The rain may perhaps be pattering down in wholesome showers, and the trees and shrubs swaying backwards and forwards beneath the onslaught of half-a-gale. But we gardeners are not distressed thereat. We are, indeed, a selfish race, for while we sometimes deride the discomfort of our fellows, we rejoice with light hearts as we watch the thirsty soil drink up and absorb the warm rain as it descends in generous abundance.” : from “The Week-End Gardener”, F. Hadfield Farthing, published 1914.
I like dipping into old gardening books and seeing how much has changed (not a lot) in the world of horticulture. The book quoted above is arranged as ‘things to do’ for each weekend of the year and those words introduce the chapter entitled ‘July : The First Week-End’.
I find it interesting that in the evocative year it was published, written by a newspaper columnist, it was already common for gardeners to only have time to pursue their hobby at week-ends. Earlier gardening books were mostly written for the ‘leisured classes’ so the concept of actually gardening oneself, rather than employing a gardener, was anathema.
As I write this we’ve been having a somewhat dry spell, actually the summer has been pretty decent so far (hope I haven’t jinxed it!), but rain is forecast which will be very welcome—hence I echo the sentiment expressed by ‘F. Hadfield Farthing’. If we get the rain then I’ve got a whole load of jobs that need doing, mostly transplanting in the vegetable garden, which are just much more risky if the soil is very dry and the weather too sunny.
Also, now that we are past the longest day there is a subtle change in the flowering palette in the garden. Some plants are coaxed into flower production by the turnaround in length of the day compared to the length of the night. Traditional high summer herbaceous borders reach their absolute peak, although these days the addition of spring flowering plants and late season perennials means that herbaceous and mixed borders need not be so ‘peaky’. Back in 1914 I note that the chapter continues with the ‘Culture of the Delphinium’; “A perennial border without the larkspur is unthinkable.”
It may be ‘unthinkable’ but, sadly, the garden where I work now is just too windy to allow for stately delphiniums in the border. They require very careful staking / pea-sticking at the best of times but, no matter how well staked they are, their brittle stems and fragile foliage would be no match for the battering they’d receive here. There’s nothing more disheartening than to wake up one morning to discover that your prized larkspurs have been smashed to smithereens by an overnight gale. If we planted a thick shelter belt of trees around the whole garden, blocking out the fabulous views, and waited maybe another century for it to grow up then, maybe then, we could plant some delphiniums!
July is a good time to shear back any early flowering border perennials to reinvigorate the plants and to remove some of the leafy ‘weight’. For plants such as Alchemilla mollis this ‘haircut’ pays real dividends as the new foliage is the epitome of ‘fresh’. Removing the spent flowers, before the seed ripens, prevents excessive self-seeding which can be a curse, rather than a blessing, with ‘Lady’s Mantle’.
Early flowering shrubs can also have the oldest, flowered, stems removed to keep the balance between old and new material. Annually removing about a third of the total number of stems keeps Deutzia, Weigela, Philadelphus and their ilk on their toes and covered in flowers.
Whilst generally sprucing things up don’t forget the hedges. Yew can wait until August but most other hedging plants will be looking pretty shaggy by now, even if they were trimmed in late winter, so shearing or hedge-trimming these will immediately ‘sharpen up’ the garden. Don’t trim hedges which have nesting birds in them—these will have to wait.
Large-leaved plants, such as Portuguese Laurel, will look ragged and untidy if cut with powered hedge-trimmers. If you’ve got all the time in the world then removing each errant stem, cutting above a leaf, with secateurs leaves every remaining leaf intact. A good compromise is to employ a sharp pair of hand shears which will result in cleanly cut leaves rather than a tattered edge.
Other maintenance worth keeping up is the feeding and watering of summer bedding, or any other plants, in containers. Together with dead-heading and weeding this will extract the maximum return from your plants and plants are, just like time, money.
I will repeat the old mantra that it’s wasteful to water lawns even in the driest spell. Save watering for newly planted areas and plants which need a moist soil in order to survive. Grass is designed to cope with prolonged drought and soon turns green again when the inevitable rain returns. Letting it grow a little longer in dry weather reduces the stress on it and helps it to cope better with drought.
Returning to our friend ‘F. Hadfield Farthing’, he ends the chapter with ‘Biennials and Perennials from Seed’. Here is something which has changed in the intervening century. Not many gardeners these days grow their own bedding plants, let alone perennials, when they are so widely available from garden centres and D-I-Y stores for not too much money. Also they require a nursery bed, a luxury in today’s smaller gardens, and plenty of time—not something a lot of people have any more.
Having said that, raising your own plants, propagating in general, is at the heart of what being a gardener is all about. If you aspire to be a ‘gardener’, and not someone who just ‘dresses’ a garden space, then sowing something like ‘Sweet William’ now, to flower next year, would be a great place to start. Good luck 😉

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