Sarah's Snippets

Summer Gardens

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Summer Gardens should be all things bright and beautiful !

After all were not the hanging gardens of Babylon a wonder of the world? A little closer to home and some centuries later the pleasure gardens of Victorian seaside resorts and spas were places to enjoy the sights and scents of complex planting schemes and of course socialise and perhaps flirt a little in a demure and modest way.

Bedding plants gained their name from these rather formal bedding systems of the Nineteenth Century.  During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries a huge number of plants were introduced to Britain from abroad.  They were soon being propagated on a grand scale in greenhouses on large estates and “bedded out” when they were about to flower.  Complex patterns and shapes were created in formal beds designed to inspire admiration in all who saw them.  They were also a mark of the status of the landowner.  In her wonderful book “Plants in Garden History” Penelope Hobhouse explains how the head gardener to Alfred de Rothschild “once heard it said that rich people used to show their wealth by the size of their bedding plant list: 10,000 for a Squire, 20,000 for a Baronet, 30,000 for an Earl and 40,000 for A Duke”.  Rothschild topped the list with 41,000.

The bedding plant movement was taken up in a big way by local authorities and parks.  It is a wonderful tradition and our parks departments should be valued for the tremendous contribution they make to the enrichment of urban life through plants and flowers.

For most of us a formal bedding system is too rigid and much more fun can be had in creating a delightful hanging basket or planted patio containers.  Colour combinations can be wildly bold or romantically muted.  There are some areas in my garden where a riot of colour is called for such as a regal combination of purple-blue and gold.  In other areas only the daintiest pinks, mauves and white will do.

We are so fortunate with the vast range of bedding plants available to us.  Many of these plants, such as Geraniums, Fuchsias and Petunias are old favourites but there are always new and exciting varieties of them to try, as well as Verbenas, Nemesia, Cosmos and the delightful daisy-like Osteospurmum.

Really, bedding plants are to be enjoyed for what they are – a bit of fun and a splash of colour from May to September.

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June Gardening Jobs!

June is a glorious month in the garden, a real cornucopia of flowers and summer fruits with plump strawberries and summer fruiting raspberries on the way.  There is lots to do and lots to enjoy in the garden this month. Here are a few of my suggestions as to what you can be getting up to to really make the most of this glorious season. 

A number of shrubs have already flowered this year, Ribes, (flowering currant), Forsythia and Cytisus (Broom) to mention just a few.  These plants flower on wood produced during the preceding summer and this means that if you want to preserve the shape of the plant or stop it from becoming too rampant you need to do something about it now.  Leave it too late and it will not flower so well next spring.  Generally it is a case of cutting back the shoots that have flowered and cutting out any dead or diseased stems.  An essential tool for this sort of job is a good pair of secateurs.  I have two pairs one with an anvil blade which has a chopping action ideal for dead wood and another with a bypass action which gives a better cut on green wood.  A pair of loppers is needed for anything over about ½ inch in diameter.  With their long handles, a pair of loppers is ideal for snipping in those hard to reach places in the garden.

Vigorous cottage garden plants may need staking.  Delphiniums and Canterbury Bells can look a little wobbly and Cornflowers may look as if a small elephant has sat in the middle of them.  Of course it is better to think about staking sooner rather than later and really organised people grow their herbaceous perennials through meshed wire.  I resort to canes and string or link stakes which are coated in green plastic and linked together around the plant you want to hold up. 

Deadhead bedding plants to encourage them to flower over a longer period and treat them to a feed.  I promise it will pay dividends.  Roses also benefit from deadheading.  Pots and hanging baskets may need watering every day and should be feed at least once a fortnight.

Tomatoes should start to fruit this month.  Keep the plants well supported to remove the side shoots regularly.  Use a liquid tomato feed to promote a good crop.  Salad crops can be sown outside and do not be alarmed if your apple trees start to shed some small unripe fruit.  This is generally called “June drop”.  This is a natural process which occurs when the tree has set more fruits than it can ripen successfully.  There will still be a good crop come September.

Weeds can be a problem at this time of the year.  Annual weeds are fairly easy to deal with by hand weeding or using a weed killer if you prefer.  It is the perennial weeds with their deep roots that are more of a challenge.  You can dig them out but often small parts of the root remain and sprout again.  Bindweed can be a particular problem and sometimes a systemic weed killer is needed.  This enters through the leaves and is carried down through the stems to the roots which it destroys.  Some of these weed killers come in the form of a spray or a gel that can be painted onto the leaves using the little brush in the pot.  As with all garden chemicals weed killers should only be used in strict accordance with the instructions.

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