Garden Journal 2022
Each month Paul shares insights from his own garden here. From pruning roses, to tackling slugs, Paul’s gardening advice and anecdotes are a valuable read for any novice, or expert gardener.
The cold bright days of January are filled at last with the signs that spring and summer are returning. By the end of the month you can clearly notice the seas extending and the welcome sight of snowdrops and and other early spring flowers encourage our gardening thoughts and ambitions.
Most of our gardening time this month is taken up with the preparation and cleaning jobs. Trees and shrubs which are dormant can be cut back and if you didn’t have time in autumn then you can also cut back climbing roses and the long whips growth of wisteria.
Wash up and scrub for a gleaming start to spring
If you have been storing terracotta pots for use this summer and didn’t wash them then now is a good time to scrub out with hot water and if they are frost proof leave out side of a few nights of frosting this will kill and bacteria and germs. If you have a conservatory or greenhouse now is the time to advance spring clean, pots benches and tools along with cutting back any damaged or dying foliage on plants you are overwinter inside. Some oriental style glazed pots tend to shale if they are left out in the frosts either empty or planted, this is because the terracotta on which the glazed patter is fired swells and retracts with cold, wet and frost, to reduce its impact wrap the pot in a protective fleece or store empty pots in a dry location for later use.
Further into the garden and on bright dry days when the ground is dry you can rake out any thatch in the lawn and worm casts, this will improve the chances of the grass bring lovely and thick in the summer and make broadcasting grass seed in early march much more successful. Another rewarding job is to pressure wash or scrub stone paving removing the buildup of wet cold slime which makes the surfaces slippery, its amazing what an effect just powering washing terraces can have revealing the long forgotten gentle colours of the natural stone. London has high levels of atmospheric pollution and when buildings are cleaned you really notice the difference so be prepared for similar results on your paving.
Raised beds alert
If you grow vegetables in raised beds towards the end of the month its a good time to dig over the rested soil, the frost will kill off any over wintering annual seeds and help break down the soil for sowing new vegetables in March. Some people prefer to grow an over wintering green manure and if you have don this then don’t disturb until the end of February as its a different type of cultivation method. If our vegetable beds seem overly water logged at this time of year and you have access to the ash from bonfires or wood burning stoves the can be incorporated into he soil now to improve drainage and root strength for crops . Do not be tempted to do this every year or you will over fertilise and do not use coal fire ash!
Whilst working in your vegetable patch you can give soft fruit shrubs a once over cutting out week and old growth and also go over fruiting trees such as apple, pear and plums to remove old weak and tangled growth to allow greater air circulation through the canopy, this will improving your fruiting yields and reduce the likelihood of pest and disease.
Keep feeding our in flight friends
Whilst your out you will most likely for the first time notice the call of birds as they too sense spring is on the way, however for them the cod lean months continue even in the city so put our bird food, or an apple strung from a branch to keep them well feed. Encouraging birds to feed in your garden means later in the year you will be able to take part in the Bird Watch which shows us what birds need protection and which birds are migrating.
Of course there are going to be many long days of not being able to do any work in the garden or with your pots and containers, remember January is ideal planning time, a few seed catalogues a sheet of paper and planning with yield massive rewards on seasonal planting and the vegetable garden so don’t feel guilty staying inside.
The long winter seems behind us and in so many ways there is something positive on the horizon. In the garden tiny hardy bulbs are starting to appear and the days are visibly longer. February is short. Its 28 days herald the approaching spring and, unsurprisingly, after the long winter slumber there’s much which can be done.
You will be pleased to know much of the work takes place indoors. Don’t be fooled, February still has a sting in its tail and can be cold.
If you intend to get a head start with growing vegetables either in the garden, a raised bed on a terrace, or roof, or even in large containers, then this month you can start off a number of varieties indoors in seed trays and individual pots. I like to use the pots made from bio-degradable materials for this, as the sturdy little plant I will end up with in March can be planted out without disturbing the roots, it also cuts down on the plastic.
Broad beans are an easy and simple must-have. Sow the seeds in little pots and within a few days signs of life will emerge. The great thing about broad beans is that if it’s your first year growing in newly made vegetable beds, then being a legume, the roots will fix nitrogen. Once the crop is complete, cut the stalks off and leave the roots in the soil to release their goodness back. My favourite broad bean to grow is the slightly more unusual red flowering type. They look somehow more decorative.
If you haven’t sown sweet peas, these can also be done now without any detriment to flowering later on. Soak the seed in water for 12 hours beforehand as this improves germination.
If you are planning to grow salad potatoes in the garden, or containers, now is the time to order your seed potatoes in and chit them! Chitting seems to be a mysterious business, but essentially in a cool dark space lay out the potatoes to develop the green shoots which will make stems for the new crop. Later on, if you want to, you can cut the seedling potatoes in half to double your crop as long as both halves have a green shoot. Plant out 20cm deep in the ground, or in containers, towards the end of March avoiding the last serious frosts.
The other main indoor sowing to be done this month is tomato; on a cold window ledge, conservatory, or any well-lit space sow in seed trays now to be able to pot and grow on in March, before planting out in April. There are a few good cropping varieties for the UK, which can be grown without heat or a greenhouse. I like to use the older heritage types such as ‘Brandywine’, which is slightly golden and ‘Black Krim’ which is an old `Russian variety. There are also smaller ‘tumbling’ style varieties which can be grown in containers and are ideal for ledges, balconies and even window boxes!
If flowers are more your thing, then you can start off indoors this month. There are a good number of hardy annuals, the ‘Neon’ series of English marigolds is a must of mine, and I also sow annual poppies and rudbeckia now to make sure I have good sturdy plants to plant out in late March.
The garden centres and nurseries will be filling up with lots of lovely, tempting plants now and it’s a good month to select any fruit bushes from new stock to plant. Fruits such as gooseberry, all currents and blueberries can be grown in containers on the terrace and on balconies very easily and will repeat fruit. Raspberries will do better in the open ground, so if you have a corner in the garden or a handy raised bed these can be planted now alongside asparagus crowns to get their roots well-established before the summer’s heat comes.
February is a month of planning, or perhaps starting new projects in the garden; often these projects are embryonic ideas and asking an expert to help is in the long run a good money saving idea. Their skill base is to understand three-dimensional outside space and they are as integral to the best build and renovation projects as an architect. It’s a skill which often goes overlooked, but one which pays for itself when considered as an investment for the future. So, if you are planning larger redesigns or projects, here are some thoughts from me about getting the best outcomes for your ideas.
Most estate agents will tell you well-designed and built outside space can add up to 20% to the value of your property, so it’s a cost well worth investigating. The first question many may ask is where you find a good landscape designer and what they bring to the project. Many of the best recommendations come via word of mouth; there is nothing better than a friend who has completed a project you admire giving you the details of the professionals involved. Recommendations aside, the best way to ensure you get the right designer involved is to meet a few, check their credentials and if possible, look at completed work locally. Other things to consider would be any professional memberships or awards won at events such as Royal Horticultural Society Shows. If you are planning a long-term project, visiting trade events could also be an option, or simply visit shows such as RHS Chatsworth, Chelsea or Cardiff to look at real life spaces which are inspirational. This will give you a unique opportunity to speak with landscape designers and get a feel for the range of work they undertake.
Landscape designers work in many ways; some will want to oversee, and project manage the whole project, they may have their own team, or they may use subcontractors to complete the job. Other designers may be slightly more hands-off and do as much, or as little as you would like.
A good landscape designer will be able to give you realistic timings and take you to view large specimens such as trees and larger shrubs at growers, allowing you to be involved in the selection process and managing everyone’s expectations. Importantly, a good landscape designer will be equipped with the knowledge to assess existing trees or large shrubs, which you may wish to retain or remove. They will also be able to liaise with professionals to carry out any remedial tree surgery or assess on-going care of trees which have preservation orders on them, ensuring you stay within the confines of relevant legal frameworks.
Once you have found the right person and know their costs it’s time to really consider what they bring to your project; they should be appointed early on because by spending time with you they will be able to understand what types of plant suit you and the maintenance obligations they bring. They will also, through the use of colour design, be able to create planting schemes which alter people’s behaviour. This may sound odd, but you would be surprised how many people plant greens and whites in busy areas as they see this as a place of little ‘value,’ only to find these colours are exactly those we are drawn to when wanting solace and relaxation.
Perhaps the biggest and often most complex range of understanding a landscape designer brings is horticultural knowledge. Often, we have friends who offer a bit of this, or choose some plants for us; well-meaning intentions can leave you with plants which either die or become monstrous menaces taking over entire gardens. A landscape designer will assess your soil, aspect and topographical location, whilst assessing the suitability of a range of plants which will bring year-round interest through texture, leaf shape, flowers, fruits and bark. It’s a broad range of skills which often go unconsidered. Do not forget also that the best landscape designers are aware of serious pest and disease problems both nationally and more locally, helping you to avoid costly mistakes. This will include things like the devastating Buxus caterpillar around London, Buxus blight in the Cotswolds, Oak processionary moth, and insects which affect certain tropical plants on the south coast. This knowledge will also come into play with plants imported into the UK and the potential pest and disease risk.
Many landscape designers do have a ‘style;’ be it a particular use of hard landscaping materials, a design approach being firmly traditional or contemporary, or underpinning ecological values. Rather than being off-putting, these should form part of your selection criteria; shared values or design aspirations make for a better working partnership and mean you will get the best from the landscape designer as they challenge themselves to create the most dynamic space for you.
If you feel unsure, or unconfident about having that type of dialogue as the starting point, then take inspiration from the property you are renovating, or design clues from the space you are building; this will at least bring the best out in the designer and give you a head start.
It’s a lot to consider, but no more than when we renovate an old house, or plan new kitchens, and other works.
Lastly, if February turns out to be a very wet month, or indeed if you are not planning new largescale projects, you can content yourself with observing your compost heaps. If you notice it gets very soggy and stops breaking down properly, then my tip is to save and store dry cardboard torn up into plate size pieces, which can be added to absorb water and dry out the compost to add breaking down. You can also use straw if you have it.
With bulbs coming through in the plenty March really feels like spring has sprung at last. Many of us have noticed the change int he way the seasons unfold, for the past few years a mild February and March comes with a little cold snap in April so don’t go packing away the frost protection just yet and maintain vigilance with tender plants and remember to bring them in over night.
If you know someone who pollards willow then march is the month when it is usually cut, this is either done every year to maintain slender flexible whips suitable for basket making or every second or third year to make more substantial structures. Cuttings season also means its a great season to buy the whips create garden structures. There are a number of garden structures which are easy to make from arches, low retaining border edges, screens, trellis and larger structures such as igloos and raised beds. Willow structures are very durable and can last ups to 10 years and are easily repaired by weaving in more pieces as needed. Most structures start life from a series of rods forced into the ground, if you leave the bark on the whip chances are the structure will live and make shoots which is really good for creating natural shade gazebos and tunnels.
Getting seedlings going
Many garden centres and plant shops will be tempting you with lots of seeds to sow at this time of year and whilst it is tempting its worth making a plan ahead of buying so that you don’t end up with a large glut of seedlings you either do have not space for or end up on the compost heap. There are plenty of useful seeds you can be sowing in March, quick germination vegetables such as radish, beetroot, golden beetroot which is delicious roasted, lettuce and spring onions can all be sown outside this month. Hardy and half annuals can be sown indoors during March alongside tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes which are very happy being started off on a warm windowsill or cooler guest bedrooms or enclosed porch.
Hopefully with plenty of warmer days there will be plenty of time for deadheading daffodils and other hybridised bulbs to ensure the energy returns to the bulb and for weeding out unwanted seedlings from borders and beds, its not the most exciting task its true but weeding now will save harder work removing established larger weeds in a few weeks time.
Whilst February is the best month March is also a wonderful month for Witch-hazel, and outside of species collections in Botanic Gardens one of the most stunning collections can be found at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens just outside of Romsey in Hampshire.
Seeing these shrubs in flower is the perfect time to select one which suits your own garden, many can be grown in containers or open borders and add a little early season cheer whilst remaining understated through the rest of the year.
The horticultural name means, ‘together with fruit’ as the fruit, flowers and next years leaf buds all appear on the branch simultaneously, quite unusual in the plant world.
One of my favorite yellow flowering species is Hamamelis virginiana which is native to North America predominantly from Nova Scotia to Minnesota. Like all Hamamelis it makes a stunning deciduous large shrub. The branches whilst not horizontal do produce a distinct inverted vase shape with time. The flowers are pale yellow to intense butter yellow with a wonderful fragrance. The bark and leaves were used by native Americans in the treatment of external inflammations. I am also very found of Hamamelis virginiana var. mexicana, it just looks special.
Hamamelis virginiana is most likely the origin of Pond’s Cream. A healing cream invented by a scientist called Theron T. Pond in around 1846. Pond extracted a tea from Witch Hazel with which he could heal small cuts and ailments.
In 1925 Queen Marie of Romania visited the United States and enjoyed the product so much she wrote to the Ponds company requesting more supplies, the letter was used as a precursor to the modern day ‘Celebrity’ endorsement in an advertising campaign. Pond’s today is owned by Unilever.
Another American species not often seen in gardens is Hamemalis vernalis, often occurring with H. virginiana it does not cross pollinate and hybridise and can be easily identified as it flowers in Late winter. Also the leaves are dark green with a glaucose underside and most tellingly the flowers are bright red to orange. This species has a number of popular cultivars selected from it including H. ‘Red Imp’ which has strong red petals with orange tips.
Many of us will know Hamamelis mollis, this genus is native to China, particularly in the East. H. mollis with its golden autumn colourings was first introduced to the United Kingdom in 1879 by Charles Maries and the form H. mollis ‘Coombe Wood’ which has a more spreading habit and larger than average flowers is the form he originally brought back. Later H. mollis was also introduced by Ernest Wilson and the form H. mollis ‘Jermyns Gold’ is believed to be one of the forms he brought back in 1918.
Crossed with Hamamelis japonica to form Hamamelis x intermedia, it has gone on to produce some of the most well loved garden Witch Hazels.
Don't forget the end March really heralds the longer days as the clocks change and instantly the days feel much warmer and convivial.
April comes with showers traditionally and latterly, a little hint of a cold set back. It’s a month of optimism, but also a month to have the frost protection to hand. If you have planted early potatoes they may start shooting through this month, so be prepared to protect the tender foliage from a short, cold snap.
The warmer days of April means it’s very tempting to start planting out tender annuals and bring over-wintered plants outside. While putting plants outside in the day to harden off is great, planting out and leaving contained plants outside does carry the risk of a snap frost wasting all your winter protection efforts. That said, hardy annuals such as sweet peas and Marigold can now be planted out.
With the benefit of longer days, the soil is nicely warming up which is good news for our vegetable gardens; the range of salad crops which can be sown now include lettuce, spring onion, coriander, radish, beetroot, mizuna, lambs lettuce and dill. These can all be sown directly into prepared and finely raked soil. Meanwhile, in the greenhouse or a window, you can get going with courgettes, pumpkins and, if you haven’t already, tomato plants.
By now you will have been out with the lawn mower a few times and, undoubtedly, the compost spaces are groaning under the clippings. Grass clippings can be an excellent weed suppressant and I tend to use them as a mulch under raspberry and soft fruit beds, but equally they can be used to mulch under shrubs, the backs of herbaceous borders, under newly planted hedges and, if you are planning new plantings, laid directly on top of cardboard to kill weeds. This not only saves a little work, but unless you need the material, keep compost bins free of being stocked with too much of one type of substance.
On compost bins, keep to hand some pieces of dry cardboard. Fingers crossed you won’t need it, but should April and early summer be wet, then use the cardboard in layers to dry out a little of the compost. It breaks down and reduces the risk of stagnation.
Growing vegetables can be done easily in containers, in a ‘vegetable garden’, or as the old cottage gardeners did, through borders of mixed flowers and shrubs. In uncertain times, it’s reassuring to see the cycle of life, and nothing better encapsulates that, then vegetables and the promise of harvest. Importantly, as many growers will attest, the flavours are much better. Fresh carrots retain a sweetness that even market bought ones lose. You can also dabble with heritage varieties of almost everything from Victorian peas to tomatoes. I like to grow short cucumbers, they have a much sharper taste to those grown in a greenhouse, and make excellent additions to winter pickles.
One last note, remember that birds are nesting from now, so beware around hedges and large shrubs. No cutting until well after the fledging have flown the nest. Keep putting out feed for the birds and take time to sit and watch nature literally unfurling in the sun - we hope!
The long-awaited month of the allium is upon us. May is a month full of flower and the garden is suddenly alive with insects, birdsong and gentle heat.
Alliums and Aquilegia really are the star of the month and with so many variations available there is something to suit almost every garden and also offer a long flowering range.
Aquilegia can easily be raised from seed and is a reliable short-lived perennial, which, when happy, will also self-seed. A slight warning however, the much loved ‘Granny’s Bonnet’ is fairly promiscuous and will happily cross breed and revert to pinks and purples even if you buy the yellow or more exotic varieties around such as ‘Black Barlow’ ‘Songbird’ and ‘Crimson Star’.
One of the most somber and enticing aquilegias is the Canadian Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. Its brilliant rose flowers with yellow undersides and has a certain spring like cheer that the mauve and white family members seem to lack. This species, as in wild columbine, prefers partial shade conditions but will tolerate more sun with adequate moisture. It prefers organically rich, moist soil like that in its native forest home.
It may grow three feet tall by 1.5 feet wide. The red and yellow flowers mature in early spring and can last one month. These tubular flowers attract butterflies, and bumblebees. Once the flowers are gone, the plant makes an attractive ground cover. When the foliage deteriorates, it can be cut to the ground.
Alliums too have many stars, and while most are with us for May and early June, there are one or two species that are in flower later in July August. From the much loved “purple sensation’ to ‘summer drummer’ alliums can make heads of starry flower up to the size of footballs and can be from less than 15cm tall to over 3m. All alliums create little bulbs around the main parent bulbs and easily multiply making them a terrific addition to the garden.
RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Of course, it wouldn’t be May without the welcome return of the Royal Horticultural Societies ‘Great Spring Show’ or by its much more recognisable name, RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Chelsea is the showcase of not only British horticulture but some of the best growers, designers and plants to be found anywhere in the world. The show attracts over 180,000 visitors, has 11 hours of prime BBC coverage and nearly 2,000 journalists from all over the world coming to witness it.
This year, I expect a tendency for more soul-searching gardens, with responses to our current political and pandemic experiences featuring highly. The garden, a place to rest, relax and recharge, has never been so popular, so I expect to see these trends featuring strongly. Rising concern for the lack of green public spaces and environmental issues are also likely to feature.
Away from design messages, the show has over recent years swung largely to show more natural planting and plants, particularly those which are more adaptive to leaving without constant feeding and weeding from the care of gardeners. We are being told to relax on patches of nettles and let grass grow longer, so it goes hand-in-hand to have plants that need less of our time. I am sure this trend of wild type plants will continue, and we will, outside of the great floral marquee, see less and less of the double and highly bred plants.
That said, the floral marquee still holds a special place in nearly all exhibitors and visitors’ hearts. It is the place that smells of gardens. There are always fascinating nurseries and unusual plants to be seen: from Restio’s to alpines and towering exhibits of giant vegetables. It is a special place, which, this year, will sadly miss a few more of the Chelsea old guard. Hilliers last major exhibit was in 2018, but this year the marquee will also lose Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Rosey, and Rob Hardy. Although they will still be at Hampton Court and Malvern, they have made their last stand at Chelsea. However, every time a familiar face leaves, new ones arrive. There are a host of new first-time exhibitors to the show this year, including a whole new category of gardens for small spaces. Nine Balcony and Container Gardens will show solutions and provide inspiration for small spaces, which is exactly what we need.
And of course, we will be there. Brewin Dolphin is also displaying a garden and will give readers a sneak peek at some of the behind-the-scenes videos and images during May. If you want to read more about the Brewin Dolphin garden, follow this link.
So, it's a busy month. But don’t forget any spare moments you have can easily be idled away at specialist nurseries searching for new plants and admiring National Garden Scheme gardens open to the public. It's always worth seeing other people's weeding woes to cheer you along!
The buzz of the first major gardening events of the year has now died down. With the Malvern Festival and, of course, the RHS Chelsea Flower show both in May, it often makes us feel like the whole world is gardening or plant crazy. I know I ordered one too many plants and bulbs, to arrive in autumn while at Chelsea this year - and I can imagine I was not alone!
Back in our own worlds
For a brief while, we can return to our own sanctuary spots. My garden, after such an extended absence, was looking a little worse for wear, but holding up better than I had dared to hope.
Much like when going on holiday, I followed a few simple rules to reduce the volume of ‘repair’ work upon my return.
The top rule is staking. I never do enough, and this year I spent a lot of time putting in supports for taller plants I know tend to topple or lean into their neighbours. Of course, I missed some, so I now have some very elaborate looking chicory plants. It’s also not too late to carry on staking, especially plants that will continue to grow or indeed flower later in the year.
To this staking end, I also intend to plant some hazels to coppice to provide me with stakes in the future. Bamboo is not strong enough, and although the metal hoops are nice, with lots of plants, it’s expensive.
My second rule is to mulch. This I admit, I am a late convert to, so if I am preaching to the converted, shout! Mulching the garden completely took me nearly all of November, but it has reduced the annual weed seedlings. The perennial ones I missed while mulching earlier are also weakened. So far across my half acre garden, I have weeded around two wheelbarrow loads over my former two wheelbarrows per border. This year, I used a mixture of composted leaves and straw, but this autumn I am going to try shredded miscanthus.
Lastly, I do deploy the famous Chelsea Chop. Well not quite! I do what all gardeners do and have a little trim of early perennials, which are now scruffy and gone over, and remove annuals, like Forget Me Not, which have gone over, and trim shrubs which have put on too much growth in the wrong direction. This little tidy up makes space for the mid and late season perennials to be able to breath, fill out, and flower strongly later in the year.
Now on to more monthly tasks. In my potager, I tend to apply a good dose of pelleted chicken manure for my courgettes, tomatoes and other heavy cropping plants just to ensure the fruiting is good and the plants nice and sturdy. Tying in tomatoes from June all the way through the growing season really starts now.
May and June are also synonymous with roses. I tend to grow older, single flowering varieties from the 1800s as their foliage is softer. But I know many who have David Austin and Peter Beales roses, which are deeply inspired by the great roses of the 1800s. One of the most well know is Rosa 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'. This is a rose cultivar with large, very pale pink, flowers that open flat.
The Bourbon rose was created in 1843 by Lyon rose breeder Jean Béluze, who named it after the Château de Malmaison, where Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763–1814), first wife of Napoleon, had created a magnificent rose garden. The rose itself is probably a cross between 'Mme Desprez' and ‘Devoniensis'.
The flowers are quartered and very filled, and appear in clusters. They have a moderately strong tea-rose fragrance. Because the flowers are quite solid, they may rot in damp weather like many older varieties which suffer this in wet summers, that said like many older roses it is virtually thornless and can reach nearly two meters in height.
It is certainly one I intend to add to my garden this autumn, which brings me to my final point. Keep a notebook handy and note spaces in the borders over summer and gaps in flowering periods. This will really help you in autumn when you are digging up and dividing, or purchasing new plants, to ensure flower and interest in bountiful next year.
The long hot summer is upon us – or least part of it is I hope. I say ‘part of it’ as any gardener longs for gentle overnight rain and therefore plants which are happily warm in the day but not flagging under hot dry conditions.
On that point, July and August are the traditional holiday months, in which many of us are eagerly anticipating some glorious new place to discover and many happy dips in the sea. If you are planning to go away, there are some essential plant-based things to do to ensure you come back to healthy, happy plants.
Houseplants are the easy one to start with. If you don’t have a friend or family member to give instructions to, and you are only away for a few days, then a good water ahead of leaving should be fine. Just make sure you fully saturate the soil. If you are away for longer, consider placing the plant in a water tight saucer filled with water. This works well for plants that don’t take a lot of water, but Calathea and other thirsty plants may need to be kept in the kitchen sink or even a bathtub to keep them happy while you are away.
In the garden, a mulch in spring is ideal to reduce water dependency; alternatively, installing timed watering systems, though expensive, can really help, especially as Wi-Fi technology now makes it possible to be away from home and be in control of watering the garden.
For the less technologically advanced, recycled plastic bottles upturned with the bottom cut off make great slow water related containers for greenhouse crops such as tomato and cucumber. Remember to keep the screw top lid on and simply pierce it a few times to ensure the water slowly feeds the soil or compost.
If you are only away for a few days, a really good soak ahead of leaving will suffice. But if you have new plantings and a prolonged absence, then failing a Wi-Fi controlled watering system, you really do need to offer a bottle of wine to a friend as a watering incentive.
Lots of mid and early summer flowering perennials are now looking a little tired, and the late flowering perennials are sometimes struggling to see the light of day behind the tired old stems of plants such as Stachys, Lady’s Mantle and Aquilegia. Don’t be scared to get in with your secateurs and give the plants a good chop. Many will have set seed so you may wish to collect that first and sow directly for new plants in autumn. Cutting back early and mid-season perennials will encourage tidier growth for the rest of the season and allow breathing room for later season perennials to fill out and develop good growth for flowering in the coming months.
If you have a shredder, you can immediately shred the cut material and either compost or, if you have shrub plantings and deep borders, directly use the shredding as a mulch around plants at the back to reduce weeds.
I tend to do this with my grass clippings. Often, they create a wet and difficult to mulch down layer in the compost bin, so if you have top fruit beds, such as raspberries, currents and gooseberries, the clippings can be spread as an immediate mulch which reduces weeding and watering. If you don’t like the look of grass clippings directly spread on herbaceous borders then under shrubs at the back of the border works well and is less unsightly atheistically. There is a folklore that a layer of good grass clippings under late season bean sowings gets them really established.
Never too late
One of the things I love about summer is lettuce soup – a discovery based on a glut of lettuce. Roast the lettuce in the oven with chicken or vegetable stock and some fresh herbs for a wonderful light hot or cold soup – perfect for a quick preprepared summer lunch. If you have run out of lettuce, sow another run of them now and you will have small lettuces in roughly four to six weeks, ready to harvest. The same goes for radish and beetroot, which are best pickled for long winter evenings.
In July, the growth rate of the garden is slower, so if you not holidaying this month take time to sit and relax in your garden. Enjoy the fruits of your labour and get comfortable with your favourite book, a summer drink and, as my grandmother used to say, you can always take a trip to Bedfordshire and rest your eyes.
This summer has been particularly hard on our gardens and plants. Long periods of hot, dry weather have caused forest fires across Europe and in the UK. The unusual heat has had a devastating effect on mature trees and our gardens. With no end in sight to the long, hot summer - what can we do now to help our struggling gardens in the face of hose pipe bans?
In my garden, I will be cutting back any spent flowers, damaged foliage and plants which have out grown their space. This applies not only to established shrubs and perennials, but to especially new plantings from this spring that might not have made enough root growth to support heavy top growth. In that vein, where I have new plantings of herbaceous plants, I will be pruning back to ensure the plants are not struggling to support top heavy growth when there is such short supply of water.
If you have compost, or grass cuttings stored in the garden, use them now to protect the remaining soil moisture around newly planted trees and shrubs. This will reduce a degree of wind drying. The mixture of sun and a drying, hot wind is causing additional plant stress.
Predictions are that this pattern of weather will increasingly become normal, so while you can’t cut the grass, you can spend time investigating water capturing options for years to come. If you’ve got vegetables, which are very water hungry, then installing guttering to greenhouses, sheds and garages that collect water in butts will be a must-do job. With careful planning, use stored water from these outbuildings to keep vegetables entirely watered over summer months.
If you are planning any major renovation, or garden changes, it’s now possible to build in water storage under drives and terraces, which can then be pumped and reused in the garden to water planting beds via irrigation systems. While there is some upfront additional expense, these systems can seriously reduce water bills and keep water following independently of mains supply for things like irrigation and services such as toilets.
Away from worrying about the hot weather, while weeds are growing at minimal length you can profit from getting rid of them on cooler evenings. I have this intention most evenings and yet surprisingly the weeds remain. Languid reading and wine drinking seem to prevail. I tell myself that it will soon be winter and before winter, soon autumn with a host of new projects I have been turning over in my mind over the summer. This, therefore, is both a suggestion and a justification for doing what we all have missed; taking time to relax and enjoy a little cooler sunshine.
On those autumn projects, I should remind you that it’s a good time to get your spring bulb orders in. Bulbs are really in fashion at the moment and leaving it until the last minute really doesn’t cut it if you are after specific tulips or narcissus. I have two favourite nurseries. And I even out did myself by ordering in May at the Chelsea Flower Show. As always, there are new areas planned and new bulbs needed, so don’t hang around and wait. By the end of August, you should also be able to pre-order bareroot hedging, trees and shrubs. Near me, in October, there is a village, which has a festival of shrubs, all bareroot. This is handy, as I plan to plant some new hedging and a better boundary to the field behind my house to reduce both drying wind in summer, but also the cold wind and frost that enters the top half of the garden.
In fact, I am sure over September and October there will be lots of projects finding a way into the Gardeners’ Digest - all planned over a glass of wine and benefiting from August’s warm evenings perusing the garden!
This is a month normally of bounty and golden colours, heralding autumn’s approach. With the recent dry weather, this year’s herald could be a little subdued and not as fulsome as others, but there are still all the usual activities and September joys to be found.
This year, maybe because the prolonged dry spell spoilt the normally hydrated, billowing summer garden slightly, I have been itching to get started on some serious new projects. Maybe it’s also the sign of the garden passing from being a fledging to a juvenile, which now needs some gentle guidance. Either way, my mind is full of where to start work over the coming months, particularly as September’s more forgiving weather allows plants to be moved and the soil more easily dug.
You will remember we started our Gardeners’ Digest journey with my garden as its blank canvas in 2020. Just like any new garden areas that you thought were well planned, you find areas which need developing to its greatest potential. It’s normal to think about changing a garden. It’s not a static space. Growth means it’s a living, breathing part of our lives which must adapt and change as our demands on it change with time and energy.
Some of the projects I will be talking about and showing you over the coming months include some new herbaceous borders; dividing and using perennials from other spaces; revamping my potager garden to include a basic (I really emphases the word basic) outdoor kitchen space; and building a wall to create a sense of a walled garden. The wall is the aspect I am most nervous of, traditionally my area uses flint and lime or brick, both of which would be hugely expensive over an eleven-meter run. I am hoping to cheat slightly by making the wall from construction block and then making the end pillars in old brick before lime plastering the whole length to give it the feel of a traditional wall and when I say ‘I’, I really mean it will be me doing this work!
Outside of starting these big building projects, I’m still working on my old barn. There is still a hole in the roof to fix before winter comes and my log pile ends up giving smouldering fires, rather than roaring, warm ones.
I also have my bulbs for spring, which I pre-ordered, arriving this month. I will be planting those straight away, along with some tulips and other spring bulbs that I will reorder. I noticed last year that I have a lot of orange and fiery colours, so I am going to try and dilute that a little with Tulip Queen of the Night and Black Parrot. Using darker colours should keep the heat in the others, rather than make a kind of cold heat combination by adding whites and yellows.
The main job for September, outside of project planning, is harvesting the hedgerows for jam-making berries and collecting sloes for winters tonic, sloe gin. Of course, if you have a vegetable garden, it’s also the month to really be thinking about how to harvest and store the produce before frosts start coming in. Tomatoes are the easy one, either into slat water or passata, but after that I am normally stuck and have to look for ideas.
By the end of the month, however, the garden really will be telling us that autumn’s glory is upon us. We will stop harvesting and start noticing the changing colours and the colder mornings. The long, hot summer will be a memory, and I hope rain will come to replenish rivers, soil and reservoirs.
Gardeners Digest by Brewin Dolphin with Paul Hervey-Brookes 2021
I often like to think of October as late summer, in truth it is not, but its golden colours and sometimes gentle heat give the sensation of a longer summer period.
With the lack of rainfall this year, I am not so concerned about lengthening summer and rather more concerned about rain coming to loosen the soil and allow autumn’s normal progression of digging and moving works to begin.
October is the traditional start of the bareroot season. I never normally plant bareroot in October, as it still can be quite hot in the day plus it’s not the best start for fledging hedges and trees. Instead, I tend to use this time to prepare spaces where I am planning to plant. This year, in fact, I have two long winded jobs to do now the garden is beginning to find its form. As a rule, nurseries providing bareroot material do this from October until the following March, so there is plenty of time to get things started.
My first job is to create a new garden room. The modified plunge pool, which became a fishpond, is not very natural looking. I intend to hedge two sides of its space and create a secret seating area with wider borders. Luckily, alongside barefoot hedging which I can plant next month after carefully digging the space, I can also dig and divide more herbaceous perennials to help give the space a sense of maturity almost instantly.
The bigger job of the season, however, is to dig out the low earth wall boundary I made when I came here and plant a new hedge and boundary palisade fencing to continue the style from the other spaces in the garden.
I have noticed the cold wind of winter and the frosts roll up and over the second half of the garden. It’s simply because there is no shell against it. In the long run, this shelter belt of hedging will mean plants get underway earlier in the season and don’t get hit so brutally by frosts over winter.
Aside project planning, I am making a first trim through the borders. Again, this being my second full year, things have bulked up, so I am removing earlier than normal seed heads and anything self-seeded to ensure the plants I want out are in late season growth for next year. Later in the year, when I do a proper cut back, or as people like to say “put the garden to bed”, I will dig over and take out weeds.
It will be a busy couple of months for me in the garden. If you have been mulling over projects, now is the perfect time to get started before the very cold and wet weather sets in. Remember, moving dividing plants and making new borders now allows lots of rooting action underground. This means, come spring, the plants really do get a good start and are not as water dependent as new plantings made in spring, when the weather is getting warmer and making more demands on new plants.
If you have been growing vegetables, then don’t forget you can still sow late season radish, lettuce and, under cloches, lambs lettuce for Christmas. I won’t be planting anything this autumn, as the potager here is undergoing something of a transformation. Watch last month’s video on the site to see the transformation so far. Other big winter jobs for me are to replace all the grass and wood chip paths with gravel and change two raised beds. I really would like to make a low-key outdoor kitchen, but we shall see how much time there is with all these projects!
On the theme of too many projects, I tend to make a list in my head, and sometimes on paper, of what I want to do, then I do what I can and know the rest can wait. It can be daunting planning projects and working on them, but if you do a little as often as you can, it will all fall into place without stress and the feelings of being overwhelmed by the whole job.
With autumn’s golden leaves failing fast I often feel it’s easy to fall into a low sense of being with the shorter days and murky weather.
November is, however, not without its charms. The days are still largely warm, and the garden is a little like spring – at an optimum point for digging and diving perennials, moving larger shrubs and a myriad of other work, which the heat and dryness of summer do not allow.
It’s a good month to be taking hardwood cuttings of many shrubs. This is by far one of the easiest ways to increase wood plants such as Abelia, Cornus, Artemisa and Buxus. It just requires patience to see the 15 to 20cm sturdy finger thickness pieces of branch placed into good soil up to the last pair of buds and left peacefully alone until next autumn when you can plant the newly made shrub out into the garden.
November has also, in recent times, become a micro-festival of bulb planting. Perhaps it’s the dread of January, often a month I find very difficult, that propels the purchase of tulips, daffodils and Fritillary to herald the coming of a new sun and spring. This year, I will be planting more alliums for May although chances are I will be in London and miss them. I will be creating a garden for RBC Brewin Dolphin on Main Avenue at the RHS Chelsea Flower show, which you can read about here and follow our progress. Back to my tulips and alliums, I am planting Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ Tulip ‘Black Parrot’ and ‘Queen of the Night’ to blend in with the softer pinks and burnt reds of the previous plantings.
Many parts of the country this month will see frosts, so aside from the joy of harvesting medlar, which does make an exceedingly good jelly, be well prepared by mulching the vulnerable in your borders and removing to greenhouses and garages the highly susceptible such as Dahlia and Pelargonium.
This month I’ll add a thin layer of mulch to all my borders. It helps reduce over winter weeds, looks neat and tidy, and also insulates my plants from winter’s bite. If you have one, don't forget to float a ball on the surface of your pond to ensure it doesn’t freeze over suffocating inhabitants sheltering at the base of the water.
If you are growing vegetables, fleece lettuces and other hardy tender crop over winter. Anything in the cabbage family, like spring cabbages, planted now are bullet proof to the cold, so no need to fret about those. If you’re an old fashioned dog mind you, you can dig over empty beds to let the frost in to kill weed seed etc, but I have found a thick mulch does that job and breaks down enriching the soil.
Aside these jobs, remember to enjoy the colours and rich seasonal fragrances of November. You will know that many trees, like Liquidamber, reveal their best kept secret this month, and while you may think you know it already……it’s a stunning rich burnt autumn foliage. It is in fact the cinnamon like scent of its burnt red fallen autumn leaves when you crush them underfoot or in your hands – a highly addictive smell on a cold November day.
It seems November was much wetter than last year, making working in the garden quite difficult. So, the first thing to say is: if you still haven’t planted your spring bulbs don’t worry! A couple of dry days in December is all you need. The bulbs will not suffer for a little delay in getting their feet anchored in the soil.
Continued rain and slipped roof tiles aside, I have been thinking that gardens are actually supposed to be both beautiful and have a good degree of practical logic. For the first time, I’ve really noticed that I cannot get to my wood store without crossing a section of formally saturated lawn, which is progressively turning to churned mud. To make life easier, I’m thinking of laying a mix of stone pavers and bricks to echo the fabric of my house as a ‘crazy’ paved access route.
You will have noticed, if you pass any time on social media, a lot of nurseries with bare-root plants, as December and January are great times to plug hedging gaps, plant beefier bare-root shrubs and order roses. Although I seem to be running out of borders now, I have ordered a few bare-root roses. Mrs Oakley Fisher, an early hybrid, has the most glorious buff apricot flowers that will eventually cover my wall joined with the apricot blooms of one of my favourite climbing roses Gloire du Dijon. I have also ordered a couple of missing favourites, Cardinal Richelieu and Chapeau du Napoleon.
Most of my roses are 19th and 18th Century introductions. I’m not a fan of modern roses in general and I don’t really enjoy the David Austin type, so I live with the fleeting, yet beautiful, blooms seen by countless eyes over centuries before me and accept that moment each year must be enough.
Recently, I have moved a couple of shrubs that, and it is the nature of a new garden, are really in the wrong place. Thankfully, they are young enough to move without difficulty and are now lifted and in the right locations. This is rather easy work. And the same applies to shrubs and some trees that produce suckers or off shoots. These shrubs can be dug up and with the connecting root to the parent plant severed planted in a new position, or indeed garden…so do visit friends in daylight!
Naturally, it can’t be December without mentioning the festive period. You will have seen in previous newsletters, videos with some simple festive decoration ideas, but this year, I’m working on New Year’s Eve party decorations. Look out for my video next month. I tend to keep my decorations simple, and garden inspired, with the addition of gold. This is mainly because gold reflects the light in an old house, which modern lighting does not, and it also adds much needed sparkle.
The one thing I am doing differently this year is not cutting a Christmas tree. I have decided, instead, to use a deciduous sapling, which I am clearing from the field below the house. Once decorated, it will have all the charm, but not the needle problems, which always cause irritating pains for both Netta and I into the spring.
Lastly, I love making jams, jellies, and other preservable goods. As I consume them during the cold, wintery months of January through to March, I am reminded that summer will return. So why not make my simple Quince Jelly or Quince Cheese this month? I was fortunate enough to have enough fruit on my tree to use completely my own ingredients. Find the video within the online cookery section.