“I’m not happy – there’s no colour in my garden” – how often garden designers hear that comment (OK in January you can probably expect it but in July?). We are now slap bang in the middle of what is known as the “July Drop” or “July Gap” when the garden pauses after its June glories and catches a breath before gearing up for autumn. But to us, it being summer and allegedly the time when the flowers are out, there can be a feeling of slight disappointment when we look out and see, well, mostly green.
So what to do? Here are my brief hints and tips to get your garden over the bump and keep it flourishing.
Don’t just do it when the sun is beaming down and turning your garden into an oven. Get out and water generously, maybe just once a week if there is rain and twice if there isn’t, in the early morning or evening. Don’t sprinkle – ever. That just soaks the surface of the soil and encourages shallow rooting weeds which will make your life even more of a bane. Get yourself a proper professional lance which soaks gently and intensively. They are generally longer in length (90cm) than the standard garden ones so you can reach well into the border, and are fixed with a valve you can use to turn off the water flow. Whatever you do please don’t use one that jet washes all the soil off the roots and resist the temptation to empty buckets of water straight onto the plants. This creates a crust on the soil which plants are not strong enough to break. The Hydroshure fixed watering lance from Water Irrigation is the sort I use. Please don’t forget that new trees need lots of water to get established, not just when they are planted but for months afterwards.
A word on water-saving. When running the hot tap to do the washing up, save all the cold water which comes through first in a basin and use it to fill your watering can.
Following on from the above, regular feeding is crucial. There is a reason why the French word for ‘diet’ is ‘régime’ – it means you stick to it and do it properly. Don’t just throw a bit of Gromore on your soil and think to yourself that the job is done. It’s really not. Either use a fertiliser like Miracle Gro in a water solution spray attached to your hose or add a capful of tomato fertiliser to your watering can. Again, the effects are far better if you can get the fertiliser to the roots rather than the leaves. I usually feed the garden like this once a fortnight in summer. Comfrey makes a very good organic fertiliser but the smell it produces as it soaks in water is beyond description. The lid got left off ours recently and I was convinced that something was decomposing in the hedge.
For pots, I use tomato fertiliser in a very weak solution and give them a dousing a couple of times a week. If they get very dried out (and small pots will dry out faster than large ones), I set them in a trug of water and leave them there to absorb the water for up to an hour. Check the surface of the compost as you don’t want to waterlog them. Clay pots look lovely but plants grown in them need more watering.
Stating the obvious, a plant has flowers in order to attract pollinators and set seed. If allowed to develop seed heads it decides its job is done and it can either put its feet up if it is a perennial, or keel over permanently if it is an annual. Go round the garden and pots, daily if you can, and snip snip snip. With roses and shrubs take the stem back to a leaf axil where you can see a bud developing, being careful not to leave a piece of stem which will die back and may cause problems later. Sweet peas can be cut as soon as they start to flower – which sends a signal to keep going so the more you cut the more you get. Sometimes you have to shear the plant down to the ground, leaves and all. This is particularly the case for hardy geraniums and Nepetas. A good water and feed and you will soon have a mound of fresh foliage and the occasional spray of flower. Compost the old material and it will break down quickly.
All the previous comments are based on extending the life of the plants which grow in early summer. But don’t forget that there is a huge range of wonderful plants which only get started in July and August, particularly Heleniums, Rudbeckias, Veronicastrum, and, above all, the fabulous Michaelmas Daisies. Some are still called Asters and others are now Symphyotrichum so check both out in catalogues. Claire Austin offers a particularly good assortment. I don’t think I’ve ever planted a garden that didn’t have Symphyotrichum Little Carlow in it – adored by bees and butterflies, a haze of soft blue with dark pink centres which adds a perfect counterpoint to the occasionally rather loud reds, oranges and yellows of many autumn flowerers. Add a touch of purple from Salvia ‘Amistad’ and you have a border which sings well into the autumn.
Continue to deadhead and feed and you will be surprised at just how well your garden responds to its new regime.