June in the Garden

Last month I was already mentioning that the spring had been unusually dry and bright, up to that point, and May started off in the same vein. There has now been a welcome few days of rain, cloudbursts of biblical proportions at the time of writing, which has reduced the threat of drought conditions checking the growth of summer flowering plants—what a relief!
There is, of course, ‘many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip’ but the sunny spring seems to have produced an amazing abundance of spring blossom on fruit trees. The ‘June drop’ notwithstanding, this could lead to a bumper crop of apples, plums, pears etc. as long as we have a ‘normal’ sort of English summer (i.e. plenty of rain) and not complete drought conditions (do you remember 1976 : “save water, bath with a friend”?).
The so-called ‘June drop’ is the natural shedding of tiny fruit, most typically seen on apple trees, which actually carries on for a period of weeks and is not really anything to worry about. Even in an average spring, an apple tree is likely to set more fruit, due to successful pollination, than it is able to support to full ripening. A proportion of immature fruit drops off and this can look quite alarming. In fact this natural phenomenon is saving you some work because, especially if the tree is carrying a super abundance of fruit, you would have to intervene at some point to thin out the developing apples. Thinning is necessary in order to avoid damage to the tree, especially if it’s a young specimen, due to the weight of the crop and also in order to guarantee that the apples you eventually harvest are of a decent size; fewer and larger being preferable to an over abundance of tiny fruit.
It also seems to have been an unusually good spring for dandelions, the dry and bright days encouraging maximum flowering and therefore maximum seeding. This is a timely warning that weeds can get the upper hand if you are not vigilant at this time of year. Dandelions are, as far as I’m concerned, perfectly welcome in lawns, verges and meadows but are one of those weeds which can get out of hand if allowed too much free rein in the ornamental garden. The key, as with so many horticultural tasks, is a timely intervention. They are relatively easy to weed out when they are still small, yet to develop their infamous tap root, but they are really tricky to successfully weed out once established.
One of the most annoying things about dandelions is that their tap root is a really good evolutionary adaptation to survival. If you see a particularly fat old dandelion, brazenly flowering with its annoyingly yellow bloom in the middle of your herbaceous border, it’s practically impossible not to step forward, grasp the evil interloper, by its whorl of coarse leaves, and give it a good yank. This invariably leads to the dandelion leaves and flowers snapping off, at the point where they attach to the tap root, leaving you only the, short-lived, satisfaction of having removed the visible part but not the ‘root problem’.
The tap root, which can be absolutely huge, is left behind and this quickly sets about producing multiple new crowns of leaves and flowers with the added annoyance that, having been snapped off once, there is now a weak point between the foliage above ground and that established tap root. The next time you make an effort to pull it out you will come away with a handful of dandelion leaves but that nasty root will be left behind, once more, to start the whole regrowth process all over again.
The only way to remove dandelions successfully is to resist any urge to pull them out manually but to wait until you have a decent border fork in your hand. Deploy your fork carefully, to dig around the whole plant, feed your hand down through the loosened soil, to firmly grasp the troublesome tap root, so that it can be pulled out completely intact.
Where a dandelion, or other pernicious weed, has managed to establish itself in the heart of an ornamental plant, where digging it out would be impossible, then the strategic application, by paintbrush if necessary, of a total weedkiller, such as glyphosate, is the logical course of action. The presence of the tap root means that even a ‘total’ weedkiller may need more than one application to successfully eradicate it.
The good thing about June is that there is such an abundance of flowers and foliage that the odd weed can be overlooked in the greater scheme of things. All that winter rose pruning should be paying dividends now that these classic garden plants begin to fill the garden with colour and scent. I have them underplanted with traditional herbaceous plants, Campanula persicifolia or C. glomerata are favourites, because the old ‘rose beds’, where roses are kept in splendid isolation, are not something that’s really practical, or particularly attractive, in domestic gardens.
In fact, June is the time of year that the traditional ‘Cottage Garden’, more of an ideal than an actual ‘thing’, really comes into its own. All those pretty mounds, spikes and spires of classic perennials such as carnations (‘pinks’), delphiniums, lavender, lupins, hardy geraniums et al, come together in a glorious hugger-mugger of floral exuberance.
An under-pinning of plant supports, or interspersed twiggy shrubs, is necessary if this informal mass of flowering perennials is to survive much beyond June and, as always, one of the tasks this month is to step in and intervene, with a well aimed pair of secateurs / ball of twine / emergency pea stick, whenever a collapse threatens. Heavy downpours of rain and/or unseasonally strong winds can wreak havoc while all this soft, floppy, growth is doing its stuff but the joys of having a good mix of flowers and foliage, in this first month of summer, far outweigh the risks.
Into this mix you can add those tender bedding plants, or potted displays of tender perennials that you’ve been ‘hardening off’, now that all risk of frost has passed. Remember that plants grown in pots and containers, or those that need to put on a real spurt of growth, will require feeding during the summer months: I find that a proprietary water soluble fertiliser, added at every other watering, generally suffices. I have recently invested in one of those ‘hose end’ feeding contraptions, where the soluble feed is added to a canister / spray applicator, but have yet to discover whether this is as good as manual mixing of the feed using my trusty old ‘Haws’ watering can—time will tell.
Hopefully this summer will play out in the traditional English way of enough rain to keep everything lush but also enough sun so that you can get out there and enjoy your own garden, or to visit other peoples; again, “time will tell”!