July

Whereas July 2018 was part of a long hot, dry spell, this year Longmeadow starts the month sodden after a particularly wet June. But, by British standards at least, July is always warm so midsummer rain means lushness and green everywhere along with the intense colours of the high summer borders. The biggest problem of this is that everything has to be staked and supported because not only does the rain batter and weigh down flower and foliage, but it also encourages masses of soft, sappy growth. The upside is that it is lovely!

 The roses do not like the weather but the first half of the month is when they are at their best, from the old-fashioned shrub roses in the Cottage garden to the rambling roses hanging in swooping swags from the branches of the apple trees in the orchard. The more we dead-head, the longer we can extend their season into July but by the end of the month most have done their work and are finished.

The garden shifts into another gear. The light becomes thicker and although the days are drawing in from their June extremes, the evenings are still long and warm and all the plants such as dahlias, agapanthus, cannas, sunflowers and cosmos that all come from much closer to the equator, start to kick into their flowering stride and provide a whole new, richer palette to our borders.

The vegetable garden in July has lots of salad leaves, peas, beans, new potatoes, beetroot, garlic, carrots and artichokes and and tomatoes just beginning to bear fruit. The rhubarb and asparagus have their last picking at the beginning of the month and then are left to grow freely so goodness can be fed back to the roots to provide next Spring’s bounty.

Soft fruit is at its best with strawberries, summer raspberries, Tay and Logan berries, gooseberries, black and red currants and all ready for harvest.

Longmeadow is alive with song birds in July as most of the young fledged and explore their new territory, learning to fend for themselves before moving on later in the year.

What to do in the garden this month:

CUT BACK EARLY FLOWERING PERENNIALS

Early flowering perennials such as oriental poppies, delphiniums and hardy geraniums such as g. phaeum should all be cut back to the ground to encourage fresh regrowth and repeat flowering in a couple of months time. This also creates space for tender annuals and perennials in the border. Remove all cut material to the compost heap, weed around the base of the plants, water if necessary and do not plant too close to them so that they have light and space to regrow and flower again at the end of summer.

SUMMER PRUNING APPLES AND PEARS

Pruning apples and pears at this time of year in summer is very useful for trained forms like espaliers, cordons or fans or mature trees that have become too large or crowded because, unlike winter pruning, done when the tree is dormant, this hard cutting back will not stimulate vigorous regrowth.  Unless you are training a particular new shoot, remove all this year’s growth back to a couple of pairs of leaves (usually about 2-4 inches) being careful not to remove any ripening fruits.  If you are training the fruit to a particular shape,  tie desired but loose growth in as you go. Cutting it back now also allows light and air onto the fruit that is ripening and stops your trees becoming too crowded with unproductive branches.

STAKING

The extra warmth of July – and the wetness that comes with it – often leads to a flush of lush growth that plants cannot support. The result is that borders can start to fall all over the place, plants outgrowing themselves and toppling chaotically – especially if lashed by rain winds or thunderstorms and what was lovely profusion, can become a disaster zone overnight.

So it is good to have some brush wood such as hazel pea sticks or metal supports ready and to gently work round the borders easing plants upright and providing the underpinning that they need – but without reducing the border to a stiffly corsetted state that loses all the charm of midsummer bounty. Ideally it should not look as though you have done anything at all.

This can often apply to taller growing annuals such as ammi majus, sunflowers, cleome, Cosmos sensation, tithonias and Leonotis – all of which are stalwarts of Longmeadow. As these are planted individually it is hard to support them in the gently bolstering fashion that suits a large herbaceous perrenial, but they can be staked to half their height and tied with soft twine so that they can still move gently but not collapse completely.

CUT HEDGES

Young birds will have left their nests by now so hedges can be safely cut. A trim now will allow any subsequent regrowth to harden off before possible autumnal frosts.

Start by cutting the sides. Be sure to make the base of the hedge wider than the top – regardless of the height. This ‘batter’ allows light to reach the bottom half and ensures full, healthy foliage down to the ground. Then cut the top, using string as a guide to keep it straight and level. If it is an informal hedge, curve the top over so it is rounded.

If you have an overgrown hedge now is the best time to reduce it in size whereas if you have a hedge that needs reinvigorating, wait until winter and trim it hard when it is dormant. This will promote more vigorous growth next Spring.

If the hedge trimmings are not prickly they will be soft enough to chop up with a mower and added as a useful contribution to the compost heap.

PICKING RASPBERRIES

I would trade the very best strawberry for any raspberries and the summer fruiting varieties are at their best in July. Summer-fruiting raspberries carry their fruit on the canes that grew the previous summer – so all the fresh growth made in the current year will crop next July – whereas autumn-fruiting types such as ‘Autumn Bliss’ produce their fruit on the new-season’s growth. There is a freshness and seasonal treat to the summer raspberries that makes them especially good and we often pick a bowl just before supper and eat with a little cream whilst they are still warm from the evening sun. Heaven!

TOMATOES

It takes a hot summer for many of my tomatoes at Longmeadow to ripen before the very end of July but there is still a lot of tending to be done. Side shoots have to be nipped off almost daily – a job that I try and do first thing in the morning when I open up the greenhouse because the plants are turgid and therefore brittle and the shoots snap off satisfyingly easily.

We water the tomatoes just twice a week unless it is very hot and do not feed them at all in July. The compost added to the beds gives them the food they need at this stage and overwatering can cause the fruits to split.

The hotter it is the better the fruit will taste but it is important to have as constant a temperature as possible rather than great fluctuations between day and night so how much we open and close the windows and doors will vary a lot.  But ventilation is very important to decrease the risk of blight and viruses and as the month progresses I start to remove the lower leaves so that air and light can move around the plants and ripen fruit in the lowest trusses.

FEEDING CONTAINERS

Most plants grown in a container of any kind will exhaust the available nutrients from the compost they were originally planted as they grow and will need a regular supplementary feed for the rest of the summer. A weekly feed high in potash that will help promote root and flower formation (but not over-lush foliage) is ideal. I find liquid seaweed or a proprietary liquid tomato feed to work well.

The secret is to give just enough – and not too much. Too many nutrients is as damaging as too few as it causes rapid, lush growth – often at the expense of flowers or fruit – and which attracts extra fungal and predatory problems. Never be tempted to make the feed any stronger than the instructions dictate and if in any doubt reduce the strength. Your plants and displays will be the better for it.

PRUNING RAMBLING ROSES

It is very important to keep dead-heading roses as the petals fade to encourage repeat flowering, but some roses have now finished all that they are going to do this year. Most ramblers fall into this category, especially in the south of the country, roses such as ‘Wedding Day’, ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ or ‘Felicite Perpetue’ should be pruned as soon as they have finished flowering. If you are in doubt as to whether your rose is a climber or a rambler, ramblers tend to be much more vigorous and always have a mass of small flowers that never repeat once they have finished.

Many ramblers are best grown into a tree and these can be left unpruned apart from straggly, unkempt,  growth. However if space is limited or you are training the rose in any way this year’s new shoots should be tied in or cut back according to the circumstance. Remove any damaged or very old shoots, cutting them right back to the ground.

If training round a vertical support it is best to wind the stems in a spiral. Otherwise, the more horizontal the stems can be trained, the more flowers will be produced next year.

Finally, tie in any loose growth and mulch well.

SOWING PARSLEY

I like to have a constant supply of parsley which can easily be done as long as you make successional sowings and now is the best time to sow the seeds that will provide plants for harvesting through winter and the first part of next spring. When the seed has germinated prick out the seedlings into individual pots or plugs and grow them on until large enough to plant out.

Do not be tempted to leave a sprinkle of seed that develops into a bunch of spindly seedlings but thin and encourage each individual plant to be strong. Space them at least 9 inches apart and allow each to became really vigorous. The well-spaced plants will have a big root and recover quickly from being cut back by throwing up more fresh leaves and thus provide a much better source of leaves for a longer period.

PICKING SWEET PEAS

Few garden chores can be as pleasant or undemanding as this but be sure to regularly pick all the flowers from your sweet pea plants is the best way to extend their flowering season. Sweet pea flowers will rapidly develop seed pods in warm weather and these drain energy from the plant and trigger more seed production at the expense of flowers. I have found that the optimum picking period for sweet peas is about 10 days. It is important to remove every single flower – and to enjoy the resulting fragrant bunches of blooms for the house.

Use scissors and cut the stems as long as possible and as soon as you see any seed heads remove them immediately. This way, in a cool summer, the plants can go on flowering right into September.

HARVEST GARLIC AND SHALLOTS

If the leaves are yellowing and seed heads are forming, this is a good indication that garlic and shallots (and onions too if they are ready, although they may need a few more weeks yet) are usually ready to harvest.  Always use a fork to carefully lift them rather than yanking them out of the soil by hand as you want to try and avoid damaging the roots and especially the root-plate – where they attach to the bulb.

Clean any surplus soil but do not remove any foliage or roots before putting them to dry thoroughly. This can be done by leaving them on the soil if it is dry and warm, on a home-made rack made from chicken wire stretched over posts or in a greenhouse. Once they are absolutely dry – usually after a few weeks – they can be topped and tailed for storage.

SUMMER PRUNING CURRANTS

After gooseberries, red and white currants have been harvested – which they all will by the end of July – it is a good idea to give them a summer prune. Remove any new growth that is crowding the centre of your bushes and cut back the new shoots you wish to keep by about a third. This will let light and air into the plant, encouraging the wood to ripen and spurs to form which will carry next year’s fruits.  Blackcurrants can be pruned hard – removing up to a third of each bush – immediately after harvest.

June

The whole year reaches for and aspires to the month of June. The days reach their peak on the 21st and Midsummers Day – June 24th is the high point of the year. So the first, most obvious but far the most important thing is to enjoy your garden as much as possible in every way possible. Do not let a moment slip by .

There is a palpable sense of arrival with a sense of freshness underlying the lush green that frames the garden. As well as warmth and light it means that the tender plants that we have been protecting for half the year can now come out and grow freely both in the borders and vegetable garden and the garden can assume its rich summer clothes. Bananas, cannas and dahlias are planted out into the Jewel garden along with all the tender annuals we have been raising from seed throughout the colder spring months. The vegetable garden – which is always surprisingly slow to get going, really starts to take off and tender vegetables and herbs jostle for available space. 

But best of all, for this gardener at least, are the long, long evenings when we can stay outside, gardening or just watching the swifts and swallows circle the sky, until after ten at night. 

Hot June days are a joy but the garden still glows looks fabulous in a month dogged by rain and unseasonable cold. Colour arrives like a carnival and should be celebrated with high abandon. There are Oriental poppies with huge orange blooms, Bearded Irises topped with some of the richest colours in the whole floral world, large-flowering clematis and, as the month unfurls, roses, glorious roses of every shade of pink, white, red and yellow. The only sane response to this panoply of flowers is to bathe luxuriously in the colour.

Although trees, hedges and shrubs now have all their full summer foliage  everything still has the freshness and inner glow of spring. Nothing is jaded. Nothing has yet been taken for granted. June is growing and every moment is a celebration. In fact the weather can often be too cold, too wet or, just occasionally, too hot. No matter. This is minor stuff. The British garden – and countryside –  is at its very best and I adore every second of it. 

What to do in the garden this month:

GREENHOUSE/ALLOTMENT

The vegetable garden is coming out of the ‘Hungry Gap’ – that period between the last of the winter crops and the first of summer’s harvest but there is still time to start a vegetable garden from scratch although there should be some urgency to do so. 

Tomato plants, courgettes, squashes, runner beans and sweetcorn can all be planted outside now the nights are warming up and aubergines, peppers, melons, cucumbers and more tomatoes grown in a greenhouse. 

It is important to keep a succession of lettuce going this month making small sowings every two or three weeks to ensure a steady supply of fresh salad leaves. 

Regularly pinch out side-shoots on tomatoes. It is best – and easiest – to do this first thing in the morning when the plant is turgid and they will snap off easily in your fingers. 

June is a month when weeds really kick into action so all vegetable plots need regular weeding and nothing beats a hoe for this. The secret of effective hoing is to always do it in dry weather and preferably in the morning so that the weeds will cut cleanly from the soil and then dry out and die during the day. They can then be raked up in the afternoon and taken to the compost heap.

THIN APPLES, PEARS & DESERT GRAPES TO ENSURE GOOD SIZED FRUIT

If your apple or pear  trees suddenly deposit hundreds of small fruits on the ground you might feel something is going horribly wrong but this is perfectly normal and known as the ‘June Drop’.  The tree is just reducing the quantity of fruit they carry in order to successfully ripen those that remain. However it is indiscriminate about which fruit it lets go, so it is a good idea to selectively remove the smallest fruit at this time of year before the tree does it for you. 

Reduce each cluster on a spur to just two fruits that are not touching each other. Not only will these grow and ripen better as a result but also the risk of damaging the branches by the weight of the fruit later in the year is greatly reduced. With all fruit that is to be eaten rather than juiced, quality is much more important than quantity. You can always buy average apples but if you grow them yourself then you should always aim for them to be as good as possible. 

DEAD-HEAD ROSES TO PROLONG FLOWERING

Dead-heading roses is really worth doing at least once a week- and preferably daily – in mid summer. 

When you dead-head you are effectively pruning and thus stimulating fresh side shoots which will bear new flower buds and therefore extend the flowering season. Dead-heading also stops the plant developing seed and so increases the chance of repeat flowering as seed always takes precedence from the plant’s supplies of nutrients and water.

Just pulling off the old flower heads will help but by far the best approach is to use a pair of secateurs and to cut back to the first leaf below the spent flower. A new shoot will then grow from this point. 

Of course some roses, especially the species bushes, have glorious hips in autumn and these will only develop if the flowers are allowed to set seed and fruit., so enjoy the flowers as long as they last and then wait for the autumnal display that they will produce from their fruit. 

PRUNE WISTERIA CUTTING BACK ALL NEW GROWTH TO SIX INCHES

Wisteria produces its flowers on new growth, which in turn emerges from spurs off the main shoots. When they have finished flowering – and for most of us that is around the middle of June – is the best time  to prune all this years new shoots back to a spur leaving no more than about about 6 inches of growth. In the process the whole plant can be tidied, trained and tied in so that there are no loose, trailing shoots. 

If there is any doubt about how hard to prune, err on the side of cutting too lightly and then in the the new year, when the foliage has all died back, you can prune again, reducing each side shoot to just 2 or 3 inches. 

PRUNE EARLY FLOWERING SHRUBS 

The Spring flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus, Amelanchier, Deutzia, Weigela and Rubus all produce their flowers on shoots grown the previous summer so should be pruned now. This will give the new growth plenty of time to ripen before winter and thus bear maximum flowers next Spring. 

Mature shrubs should be pruned hard, cutting back most of the flowering stems to a healthy new shoot and taking the oldest growth (but no more than a third or quarter of the plant) right back to the base so it is completely renewed every three or four years.  A very overgrown shrub should be renewed in this gradual manner too. Young shrubs should have the weakest growth cut back with the remainder pruned just to shape and size. 

Weed, water and mulch with compost after pruning is done and take semi ripe cuttings from healthy, straight non-flowering pruned stems.

TRIMMING VERTICALS

It is amazing how forgiving the eye is of the broad expanses of hedge, grass, border or anything really, as long as the edges, in any direction, are suitably straight and clean cut. It is too early to cut hedges because not all young birds have left the nest, but you can cut all entrances and exits and vertical planes in gaps in hedges to crispen them up and whilst this is quick and easy to do and clear up, it can transform the garden. Then, in a month’s time, all the hedges can have a proper trim and your edges, which by then will have become a little fuzzy again, can have their second cut. 

TRIM BOX HEDGES

Until 10 years ago Box hedges and topiary were almost ubiquitous in British gardens. But the combination of box blight and box moth caterpillar have made one of the stalwarts of the garden look very much under threat and it may be that fewer and fewer of us can successfully grow box at all. 

However if you do then early June is the best time to give it a trim. Always use really sharp shears or hedge trimmer as this will avoid burning and tearing the cut edges which makes them turn brown. 

Also always do this job when you know that you are going to have a few days of dry weather as the cut leaves and stems are extra susceptible to the box blight fungus when the wounds are fresh. Dry weather will stop the spores being active and allow time for the wounds to quickly scar over and become less vulnerable. 

GRASS CUTTING

By June a million gardens are regularly humming – and at times unpleasantly roaring – with the sound of motor- mowers keeping the grass trim and under control. But at Longmeadow we restrict this to paths and try and let as much grass as possible grow long and planted up with spring bulbs and wildflowers. This looks beautiful and is so much better for insects and all forms of wildlife than a neatly mown lawn. 

However it is important to time the cutting of this long grass to maximise the performance of the bulbs next spring and of the grasses themselves. Nothing should be cut at all until after the longest day on June 21st. This gives the foliage of the bulbs time to die back and feed next year’s bulb and subsequent flowering. The grass can then be cut if it as been hot and dry although sometimes I leave this as late as mid August. 

Whenever you make this first cut of the long grass, you must collect it all up and take it to the compost heap to stop it adding nutrition to the ground which would encourage lusher, coarser grasses at the expense of the flowers.