Gardening in the Summer
By Katrina Roche
The FA cup final marks the start of summer for me. In late May the danger of frost has passed and I start planting out sweet pea and tomato seedlings in pots on the patio. That Saturday afternoon is also an excellent time to buy bedding plants for my window boxes. The roads and the garden centre are quieter than usual for a couple of hours. Technically of course it is still spring on cup final day. 1st June marks the start of meteorological summer and the summer solstice on 21st June is the start of astronomical summer. I suppose you could also argue that the day the clocks spring forward to British Summertime at the end of March marks the beginning of summer but I think that’s stretching it a bit.
I opted this year for a more delicate palette rather than the block of scarlet ivy-leaved geraniums that tumbled out of the three boxes in summer 2021. Monty Don’s equation for planting containers is ‘thriller, filler, spiller’. A very pale pink, almost white, ivy-leaved trailing geranium called Pelargonium ‘Apple Blossom’ forms the spiller.
To recreate this window box this summer, visit your local British Garden Centres and check out their variety of Pelargonium and Salvia farinacea, which are the box fillers. Plant into a small to medium planter and maintain by picking off the spent flowers a couple of times a week to keep the display looking smart. The final step is the thriller plant, I went with Lavandula Thumbelina due to its height and sweetly scented blue-mauve spires of flowers. However, based on your colour scheme pick the right plant for your window box to create the heigh you require.
In the back garden the roses are doing wonderfully. They are almost all climbers, maximising the space in a tiny garden and disguising the wooden fence panels. Because rambling roses concentrate their flowering period into three or four weeks in May and June, and are often incredibly vigorous, extending in some cases up to 15 or 20 metres, I think climbing roses are better for small gardens. They flower repeatedly all summer helped along by regular deadheading. Along with watering the containers, this is one of my evening rituals, snipping the stem holding the spent bloom down to the next leaf. In late summer I’ll stop deadheading so that the roses can form rosehips, which look attractive in the autumn and provide food for birds over winter. Of the six roses I grow in the garden, four are climbers:
Climbing rose ‘Blush Noisette’ is a mass of small blush-pink flowers in tightly packed sprays with a very sweet perfume. These are deemed small bloom roses and reach a height of 10ft during their lifespan. The free-flowing flower does best against a wall or fence and in full sun.
White Star’, another climber, has open creamy white blooms with yellow stamens on view to attract pollinators. Which is incredibly important as we should encourage more pollinator plants into the garden. This climber can reach up to 8ft during its lifespan and grows best in moist but well drained fertile soil.
China roses are one of the many kinds of old garden rose. They are stunning shrubs that prefer to sit at the front of borders and in a sunny spot. Their variety of colours can help your garden blossom. These are one of the few roses that grows throughout the season with large blooms.
‘Rambling Rector’ is my only rambler rose and does exactly what the name suggests! This is its third summer, and it spans about three metres of trellis atop the fence and has been festooned with sprays of 4cm white flowers. With a lifespan of 10 years, these are the perfect garden roses to plant in a similar way I have, atop the fence. It creates a stunning view and adds extra privacy.
The sweet pea which is known to be a subtle climbing plant are stunning garden features. Their unique bloom creating a showcase of colour and style in your garden. My sweet peas (Lathyrus odorata) are growing up 2m high cane wigwams in three separate pots, to allow for a controlled grow.
With their wide colour variety, you can pick from a great selection, this year I chose very deep shades of burgundy and purple including the intensely perfumed ‘Matucana’ which sports two-toned petals in those colours. I’m pleased to see that the frothy bright green flowers of Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) are catching up as I think they’re a perfect foil for dark petalled sweet peas in a vase.
The tomato plants are performing brilliantly this summer, we have had a great spring and these early summer months have been promising. Tomatoes are a great plant to grow at home and one that children can also get involved in.
There are so many varieties to choose from, and you should pick yours based on what type of tomato you like, whether that’s cherry, sweet plum tomatoes, or beef tomatoes. This year I’ve gone all out and have five different types on the go, all planted in 30cm diameter pots. They’re growing outside in the sunniest part of the garden, tied onto 2m bamboo canes.
It is important to trim off the lower leaves to ensure there is plenty of light on the lower trusses of the fruit. Also, pinch out the shoots that sometimes develop in the ‘armpit’ between the main stem and the branches. This keeps the plants from sprawling away from the canes. I water them nightly and feed them once a week with liquid tomato feed.
Green Zebra is a yellowish green tomato with lime green stripes. It’s known for its look and taste as it both sweet and tangy. The Green Zebra is known as one of the classic tomato species and they are relatively small tomatoes. The best way to grow these is in well-drained, weed free soil and in full/partial sun.
The Black Cherry tomato is an extremely ornamental cordon variety of cherry tomato and have a rare look. The bite-sized, dark red skin tomato is wonderfully sweet and juicy. If you plant now, you will see them fruit in late summer.
Sungold is another cherry tomato, this time with deep orange skin and flesh and a deliciously sweet flavour. They are the most popular yellow cherry tomato in the UK. They are able to produce large blooms both through warm and cold summers.
Montello is a plum tomato plan and is purely red. The bush-type plant has trailing fruity stems and is one of the most fruitful plants in the species. With its vigorous bloom, it would grow well in a hanging basket.
Early summer is the perfect time to visit other gardens and through the National Gardens Scheme, you can find private gardens to explore within just a few miles of home or much further afield, with cottage garden profusion in some, tropical rainforest style in others. And there are so many public gardens and national parks to explore all over the country, a great way to seek inspiration for your own garden.
By the time I post my autumn blog here, I shall have a kitten! Expect some tips about the pros and cons of gardening with cats!