Whichever way you look at it, summer gardening is about getting the best from everything you’ve sown and planted. With vegetables and fruit, it means harvesting at the optimum time. For flowers, it’s about keeping the show going. In between there is much weeding, watering and worrying.
Several hanging baskets that looked so poor initially are now developing well and that is not entirely down to the weather. True, the increasing warmth and sunshine have played their part, but don’t underestimate the impact of compost enriched with slow-release fertiliser, absorbent polymer granules and regular watering.
When baskets or free-standing containers face direct sunlight and temperatures of circa 26 Celsius as recently, they almost need watering on a daily basis.
Apart from regular moisture and supplementary feeding, many ornamental plants will produce more flowers if those fading are removed to prevent seed-capsule formation. This is especially so of annuals whose very existence is based on completing the growth cycle within a year, but it also works with perennials.
Roses are typical of this and at The Alnwick Garden where there are 3,000 covering several species, removing spent flower heads or dead-heading, is almost akin to painting the Forth Road Bridge.
The first and best flush of rose blooms generally coincides with the digging of early potatoes near the end of June, and by the second week in July some are beginning to fade. That’s when the gardening team plus volunteers step in to help prolong the flowering attraction. The activity often continues on a weekly basis until September.
Roses respond to the removal of spent flowering tips by developing more shoots which, given reasonable weather, will terminate in fresh blooms within two or three weeks. Many of the faded blooms will break away from the stem cleanly with a flick of the wrist when held firmly in the hand. But the purist will search for a promising leaf joint beneath a fading flower and use secateurs.
The majority of roses are subjected to this treatment, but there are exceptions. Certain types develop attractive hips early in the summer and these stand out beautifully in their ripened autumn state – Rosa moyesii Geranium and the rugosa Frau Dagmar Hastrup are already displaying these large seed capsules. It would clearly be wasteful to remove their fading blooms and hip potential with a single flick of the wrist, but you can assist by gently teasing away dead petals and letting hips see the light of day.
Constant removal of spent blooms certainly helps keep summer bedding plants looking bright. It’s essential along with weekly feeding, whether you’ve entered a best garden competition or simply want to extend the show into autumn.
Several herbaceous perennials are capable of providing an encore if you are bold enough to prune them to ground level once the main display has faded. Geraniums excel at this, especially if you keep the new shoots well-watered and share a little bit of the liquid feed you give your tomatoes.
Gaps will inevitably appear in mixed borders once the early perennials have performed, but you can be ready to plug those with colourful shrubs, liliums or bedding plants grown in pots for that purpose.
Fuchsias such as the golden-leaved Genii or penstemons, which are so long-flowering, do the trick for us when planted in groups, and they’re both so easily raised from stem cuttings.
Where possible, dig a decent planting hole and plunge the pot below soil level, because this prevents constant drying out of the compost.
Tomatoes, cucumbers and chilli peppers are going well in the greenhouse, thanks to a regular supply of food and water. Harvesting of those will begin within a week. Meanwhile, out in the garden there are treats galore. Potatoes, summer cabbages, spinach, courgettes, spring onions, lettuce and radish are on the freshly-picked menu, from which two favourites are about to vanish.
Two double rows of peas and beans, Greenshaft and Aquadulce respectively, have reached their zenith thanks to fairly constant watering, so the time is right to harvest the lot and bag them for the freezer. We have enjoyed them fresh over the past few weeks, but before they reach the woody stage it’s best to clear that land for the next crop without wasting anything. The tops will go into the composting bin and the nitrogen-rich roots can be left in the soil. But it’s ever onward for winter cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli that have been marking time in pots. They can be planted into the vacated spot once it has received a dressing of fertiliser. The drumhead January King is an old favourite that withstands severe frost, yet has a heart so tender for coleslaw.
The purple sprouting plants are standing like soldiers now, but when they came from friend George it was with bare roots and over 30 centimetres of top growth.
Planted at that size they’d have struggled to survive, but in reducing the leaf area by three quarters we cut down the water loss through transpiration. Friend Brian, who also received some, is a relative newcomer to vegetable growing, but is so impressed by their rapid recovery that he’s already planning for next year’s crops.