It has been a very disappointing summer but this last burst of heat has restored our optimism and rejuvenated our enthusiasm for gardening.
Getting the Best from Your Plants
I have been very busy cutting plants back as many of my evergreens and perennials have made an alarming amount of foliage. My lonicera hedge has made a monstrous amount of growth and I am finding perennials like my favourite yellow daisies, Anthemis tinctoria ‘E.C.Buxton’ are about a foot taller than I would expect them to be normally and they are very late coming into flower. Rather than cut them back I have concealed a metal plant support in the border so they are not flopping over. I have used quite a few plant supports this year to prop up leggy growth. They are supporting lilac malvias and tall blue cranesbill geraniums ('Brookside') and my outstanding rose pink Silene docica ‘Firefly’that floods my border with colour for a good six weeks. It's very tempting to cut them back and let them reshoot and flower on stronger stems a little later but it's a difficult decision as I have found many plants have come into flower late due to lack of sunshine and I want to enjoy their colour. The second the flowers end I will be out there with my snippers, then I will cross my fingers and hope we have enough warm weather and the plants have enough vigour to flower again before summer finishes.
Off with their heads! If you can’t snap finished flowers off with your fingers walk around your garden with a pair of scissors. If a flower looks scruffy and has finished remove it. You will slow down its natural progression to go to seed and extend the flowering period.
Despite the damp there are plants that have performed beyond the call of duty. I still have spring flowering Dicentra formosa (Bacchannal and Alba) in bloom and my cranesbill phaeums, particularly my hybrid variety x monacense ‘Muldoon’ in dark red, have just kept going.
Enjoying Summer Flowers in Your Garden and Your Home
There are some stunning flowers opening now. This is possibly the easiest time of year to have an amazingly colourful garden. Anyone with a dull garden is probably guilty of buying plants in flower at the first spell of sunshine in early spring and walking past anything with green leaves. It’s a great time of year to include plants that you can a cut and bring into the house. If you plant perennials in clumps they are not going to miss a few flowers.
Echinacea have opened this week. Most of the new hybrids that are appearing fast and furiously into the plant world are doing well and we have some great colours now. Last year I remember praising the orange 'Tomato Soup' and this year I am enjoying the vividly bright and ironically named 'Hot Summer' and the wonderful 'Tangerine Dream'. I have planted them close to graceful fronds of Stipia grasses and Moorheim beauty heleniums and they look great. There is something very elegant about echinacea and I feel they bring a bit of catwalk sophistication to a border, like alliums, peonies, hydrangeas and roses. It’s a flower we wait for in anticipation of excellence but before I leave echinacea I must mention how good the compact or shorter stemmed pow wow varieties are performing. This year in addition to pow wow 'Berry' I have spotted a white 'Alba' variety with a big flower as lovely as the larger 'White Swan'. If I was planting these in a cold clay soil I would add a bit of organic matter (a spade full of compost) and perhaps a handful of gravel to the hole before popping the plant in the ground. The last few years our plants have had to tolerate a lot of cold winter wet so let’s make it a little easier where we can.
Achillea are great plants to plant anywhere you want a bit of height and the colours are good. We are no longer restricted to filipendulina varieties in yellow and I love Paprika in a spicy hot red that fades to a rust. 'Terracotta' is a good shade and 'Red Velvet' is very rich. The colours last for ages and they fade brilliantly into softer tones.
Achillea do very well in a vase, they flower profusely and you will not miss a few stems for the house. If you are reluctant to take flowers from the borders why not dedicate a small patch of your vegetable bed for flowers to cut. I’ve popped a few annuals in mine including cosmos and heliotrope, dahlias and sweet peas and some of my most useful cottage garden perennials like veronica lonifolia ‘Eveline’ with attractive blue spikes. I have recently added alliums and shall be including delphiniums and foxgloves for next year.
If you are collecting flowers from the garden for the house do gather up foliage which is abundant. Small delicate leaves tend to look more appropriate, unless you are making a colossal display. I like Pittosporum, Nadine (Heavenly Bamboo) purple sage, euphorbia, euonymus (particularly silver ‘Harlequin’). I find my lonicera nitida hedge handy and it lasts well. I would also use ferns and grasses as flowers look far more interesting when mixed with foliage.
Roses, peonies and hydrangeas will make your vase look expensive and alchemilla mollis is great for a finishing touch. If you are going to go to the trouble of arranging your flowers in a florist green oasis it might be worth planning ahead a little and soaking the flowers in tepid water for a few hours. Plants that flop quiet easily benefit from searing in boiling water for 30 seconds.
I advocate bringing a little of what we enjoy outside inside and fresh flowers lift up our spirits. There is always something free to gather and bring in to fill a vase whatever the time of year but late summer we have the most abundant harvest of flowers and foliage.
This weekend at Preston Bissett we will be admiring summer colour and looking at new varieties. 'Looking At Summer Colour' is a free talk and will involve walking around the plants. Arrive early for refreshments. Please call 01280 848038 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book.