September

The summer is drawing to a close but it usually manages to do this gracefully throughout the month of September. I may live to eat my words – September has been known to be cold and wet and climate change is challenging all preconceptions and experience – but by and large it is a lovely month with daytime warmth, nights that are pleasantly cool and a special light that has real elegance.

September is the month when everything in the garden thins out, as though the colours and light were being gently stretched and the leaves on the hedges gradually yellow and thin so the light drifts through them like smoke.

However the colours remain strong and the Jewel garden in particular can be at its best. Sunflowers, dahlias, cannas, tithonias, Zinnias and cosmos all continue to fill the borders with splashes of bright, strong colour. In the Cottage Garden there is a last flurry of roses with the second, all-too-brief flowering.

The green foliage of the grass borders start to become metallic and change colour to silvers, golds and bronzes.

The vegetable garden gives its most abundant harvest throughout September but with a sense, as the month draws to a close, that the productive year is ending too.

In all, this is one of my favourite times in the garden. Along with lots of good flowers and masses of ripening fruit and vegetables, the fading elegance gives it dignity and the knowledge that every fine day is one of the last makes them precious. It is a busy time too, with cuttings to be taken, seeds collected, much to harvest and hedge cutting to complete all before the weather turns.

What to do in the garden this month:

As always in the garden, many jobs roll over from month to month, be it weeding, deadheading or mowing the grass. Above all continue to deadhead daily, cutting back spent blooms to the next leaf – even if that means taking off quite a long length of stem.

Carry on collecting seeds as they ripen – and before they disperse – and once really dry, store them in a jar or paper envelope (NOT a plastic bag) in the fridge until you are ready to use them.

TAKE CUTTINGS

If you have not taken cuttings before – do not be daunted. They are easy, mostly successful and the gateway to producing scores of new plants for free. They also enable you to be very specific about what you want. A plant grown from a cutting will always be exactly the same as its parent plant whereas one grown from seed will always be different – albeit perhaps not very much and perhaps be an improvement. But cuttings are essentially clones so if you have a favourite rose or a particularly delicious gooseberry or a really good upright rosemary bush then all these qualities will remain with the new plants grown from cuttings.

Semi ripe cuttings are taken from current season’s wood that has started to harden off a little. The tip is soft and bendy but the base of the cutting will have wood that has started to become more rigid. This means that it will be slower to make new roots than a soft cutting but also be slower to die back and this allows for more flexibility and a much reduced sense of urgency about the whole proceedings. 

Before you set out to take any cuttings have with you a plastic bag and a sharp knife and secateurs. The bag is for placing the cut material immediately into to reduce moisture loss and the sharper your cutting implements the more likely they are to root. In principal it is best to take cuttings in the morning whilst the plant is full of moisture but in practise it is something best done as and when you are minded to do it. No time like the present!

Always choose healthy, strong, straight growth for cutting material. It should be free from any flowers or flower buds. Plants like rosemary will root successfully from side shoots that have been peeled from the main stem but where there is plenty of material I prefer to take shoots with the growing tip intact.

Once you have taken material from the plant and placed it in the polythene bag go and pot them up immediately. The cuttings are effectively dying from the second you cut them until they develop new roots so the quicker you can aid that process to happen the more likely you are to have success.

Strip off all lower leaves and side shoots so that only an inch or less of foliage remains. Cut the bare stem to size with a sharp knife or secateurs and bury it in a container of very gritty or sandy compost.

It is best to place the cuttings around the edge of a pot and you can always get at least 4 and often more in one container. Put this somewhere warm and bright but not on a south-facing windowsill as it may scorch. Water it well and then keep it just moist but a daily spray with a mister will help stop the leaves drying out before new roots have time to form. You will know that the roots have formed when you see fresh new growth. At that point the cuttings can be removed from the pot and potted on individually before planting out next spring.

SOW GRASS / REPAIR LAWNS

This is an ideal time of year to either sow or turf new grass or to repair patches and worn areas on your lawn.

If it is just a worn area of thin grass, rake away all thatch and moss and remove all weeds and thinly scatter grass seed, watering well and keeping it damp. The seed should germinate and grow in days. Do not mow it for at least a month and if it looks unsightly going into winter clip the new growth with shears.

For a larger area clean the edges with a sharp spade, fork it over to remove any compaction and either scatter with seed or cut a piece of turf to fit, making sure that the edges are butted tightly against the existing grass.

Like grass seed, it is important that turf should not be walked on or mown until growing vigorously which will indicate that the roots have become established and are growing strongly. Depending on the weather, this may mean leaving it uncut until next Spring.

AERATE LAWN

Even if your lawn has come through this summer unscathed, it is always a good idea to aerate it at this time of year.

You can use a fork by working the tines into the ground at 12 inch intervals or, for a larger lawn, hire a rolling hollow-tine or slitter. Ideally this is followed by working sand into the holes they create with a stiff brush.

Finally give the grass a thorough scratch with a wire rake, to remove all the thatch and moss and whilst it will look a little threadbare this autumn, next spring your lawn will be rejuvenated for this autumnal working over.

APPLES

Start to pick over any apples at least once a week, checking to see if any are ripe by holding them in the palm of your hand and gently lifting and twisting to see if the stalk comes away easily. Do not force it as when it is ready they always pick very easily.

If apples are to be stored successfully – and if carefully placed in a cool, dark fairly moist place they will keep for months – they must be picked without any bruises or blemishes and any windfall, however seemingly perfect, will not keep and should be eaten fresh or cooked and then frozen.

If you have more windfalls than you can possible eat or process, consider hiring an apple press to make juice which can then be bottled and stored.

PLANT BULBS IN POTS

Spring bulbs are now on sale but the ground is often much too hard to plant them in grass at this stage of the year, so I always begin by planting some bulbs in pots.

I start with crocus, daffodils – especially smaller ones like ‘tete a tete’ – reticulate irises, muscari and scillas. These need not be special or different from those in your borders or grass but will flower a little earlier and can be positioned to maximum effect next spring.

Choose an attractive pot which need not be deep – a terracotta pan is ideal – and can be very small – a few crocus in a small pot can cheer the darkest February day. However, you will need to mix your compost with some grit to make sure the drainage is good and the bulbs do not become waterlogged over winter. Place the planted pots in a sheltered position ready to move into the sun when new growth appears.

PLANT HARDNECK GARLIC

There are two types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. The type you mostly buy is softneck which has a plaitable stem, stores well (which is why shops stock it) and is often excellent. But the best, tastiest garlic is hardneck which has a stiff, upright stalk and because it is much harder to buy it makes sense to grow it yourself.

Hardneck varieties such as ‘Red Duke’, ‘Rocambole’, or ‘Early Purple Wight’ are slower to grow so should be planted now, a month or more before softneck varieties.

Like all garlic of any type, plant plump individual cloves (the bigger the clove the bigger the bulb it will generate) about 6 inches apart, pointed end up and buried a good inch below the surface in good but well-drained soil. Shoots will appear in about 6-8 weeks.

PRUNING SHRUB ROSES

I know that some gardeners are anxious about pruning roses but the many shrub varieties such as the gallicas, ‘english’ roses, albas or Hybrid Perpetuals are best simply trimmed with shears any time this month.

Do not worry about the position or angle of the cuts but clip away all long, straggly shoots as though you were trimming a hedge, leaved a compact, slightly domed bush that is about two thirds of its former size. In March, when you can see clearly without any foliage, you can inspect the shrub to remove any damaged or rubbing stems, but a simple shear in September is enough to keep it healthy and packed with flower next year.

PRUNING SUMMER-FRUITING RASPBERRIES

The old brown canes of Summer-fruiting raspberries can now all be cut down to the ground, leaving the fresh new green canes standing. These new canes will carry next summer’s crop.

It is a good idea to reduce these to the half dozen strongest shoots, taking out all smaller or awkwardly positioned growth. The remaining canes will need holding securely for the next year and therefore summer raspberries are best grown against a permanent system of support.

I tie the canes with twine to parallel wires fixed strongly between robust posts, weaving round them and fanning them out them evenly as I work along the wire at each level. It is important that it is really secure as winter winds can catch and damage them.

PLANTING BIENNIALS

Now – and over the coming weeks – is the ideal time to plant out biennials like foxgloves, wallflowers and honesty. Trays of plants can be bought and make a note to sow seed next May and June. Biennials germinate and establish foliage in one growing season and then produce their flowers the next having lasted through winter. They provide some of our best and most loved garden flowers and planted now will establish a good root-system in the soil, hunker down over the worst of winter and then start to grow again as soon as the weather warms up, ready for flowering in Spring and Summer before setting seed and dying back.

August

Although August is the month of holidays and high summer, it is also when the garden can start to become a little careworn. Actually this fading tendency tends to be worst at the beginning of the month and as we go towards September – at Longmeadow at least – it seems to pick up pace again. But it is mostly foliage that is tired whereas the intense colours of the late-flowering herbaceous plants like Heleniums, asters and rudbeckias are as vibrant as anything earlier in the year and the tender cannas, bananas, zinnias, dahlias and gladioli really come into their own and hit their magnificent stride.

The late flowering clematis are towers of flower in our Jewel Garden and the warm (albeit increasingly shorter evenings) are made fragrant by the musty scent of the wonderfully opulent giant tobacco plant, nicotiania sylvestris. 

The grass borders shift from greens to a wider range of colours including purples and golds and are moving towards their autumnal gold and tawny shades. 

The vegetable garden has courgettes, sweetcorn, French and runner beans, lettuce, carrots, beetroot, chard, shallots, onions and the first maincrop potatoes. All the winter brassicas such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli are growing fast and must be protected from pigeons and the caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies.

In the greenhouse August is the month when chillies, aubergines, melons,  and tomatoes have their best fruit and add a state of sunshine to our northern table. Outside autumn-fruiting raspberries take over from the summer ones that quickly draw to an end and at the beginning of the month the blueberries are prolific and by the end the very first apples are ready to harvest although it is the end of September before most of our 62 varieties are really ready.

Hedge-cutting takes up a lot of our time and all the long grass is cut and where necessary reseeded with wild flowers.

RAPTORS

One of the features of August on the English Welsh border is the constant  and plaintive mewing of young buzzards (buteo buteo) learning to hunt for themselves. Although they have just left the nest and are only a few months old they are full grown but with the aeronautical skills of an ungainly chicken. They often land on the ground with an ungainly thump and then waddle about, catching little bigger than worms and beetles. Gradually they master the skies until by September they can soar high with their parents – which are never far away – and are catching bigger and more evasive prey.

Along side them we see Black Kites, looking especially for carrion although they are good hunters and the best and most valued summer visitor of all, the Hobby (falco subbuteo). This is the size of a kestrel but has the flying skills and appearance of a cross between large swift and an especially elegant and streamlined peregrine falcon. They cruise round the sky above the garden trying to pick off one of the many swallows and house martins which react to their appearance with massed hysteria, bunching and wheeling in a crowd of 40-50 strong to try and distract the Hobby. However their most common food are the dragonflies that they pluck and eat in the air and at dusk they will also comfortably catch bats, such is their incredible acrobatic skill.

What to do in the garden this month:

CUT LONG GRASS

If you have areas of long grass – especially if they are planted with bulbs like daffodils or crocus, they should have been left uncut to at least the beginning of last month to allow flowers to set seed and bulb foliage to die back. But August is a good month to cut a flowering meadow as short as possible. The aim is to expose areas of bare soil so that fallen flower seeds can make contact and germinate. 

This might mean hiring a powerful cutter or using a strimmer – although a scythe does the job as well as anything. Once the grass is cut it should all be raked up and put onto the compost heap (making sure that it is throughly dampened with a hose unless it is a very small amount). It is important to remove all cut grass as otherwise it feeds the soil as it decomposes and this will encourage lush regrowth at the expense of the wild flowers and bulbs. However, as long as the grass cuttings are collected,  it may be kept mown short right up until winter.

CUT HEDGES

It is safe now to trim hedges in the knowledge that the vast majority of nesting birds have fledged. Summer pruning results in slower, less vigorous regrowth than a winter trim so clip hedges to the height and shape that you wish them to remain for the rest of the year.  Start with the sides, making sure that you have a slight ‘batter’ or outward slope from the top to the bottom. This ensures that the lower section is not shaded by the top growth – which is always more bushy as it gets more light – and the hedge remains  fully ‘furnished’ right down to the ground. 

Finally, cut the top, using a string strung between canes as a guide. Deciduous hedge trimmings can be mown and added to the compost heap and evergreen ones taken to the council green waste.

DEADHEAD DAHLIAS

Dahlias will keep producing new flowers well into autumn as long as they are deadheaded regularly. The easiest way to tell the difference between a spent flower and an emerging bud is by the shape: buds are invariably rounded whereas a spent flower is pointed and cone-shaped. Always cut back to the next side shoot – even if it means taking a long stem – as this will stimulate new flowers and avoid ugly spikes of stem. 

And if you do not have dahlias then deadhead anything and everything daily – nothing else is so effective in keeping summer flowers from lasting as long as possible. 

TOMATOES

Tomatoes are coming up to their prime harvesting period but to extend this and make sure that all the current green tomatoes fully ripen  over the coming month or so there are a few things the tomato grower should do now. The first is to strip off the bottom half of the leaves on each plant. This will let in light and air so that the growing fruits get more sun and also he extra ventilation will reduce the risk of disease. This process can be continued weekly until there are no leaves left at all. Reduce the watering unless it is very hot to avoid the fruit splitting but keep up a weekly feed of liquid seaweed or, if you can make it, home-made comfrey feed. Both are ideal for maximising flower and fruit production. 

TAKE CUTTINGS

As August progresses semi ripe cuttings taken from current season’s wood that has started to harden off  are increasingly available and also increasingly likely to root quickly. In principal it is best to take cuttings in the morning whilst the plant is full of moisture but in practise it is something best done as and when you are minded to do it.

Always choose healthy, strong, straight  growth free from any flowers or flower buds. Once you have taken material from the plant  and placed it in the polythene bag  go and pot them up immediately. 

Strip off all lower leaves and side shoots so that only an inch or less of foliage remains. Cut the bare stem to size with a sharp knife or secateurs and bury it in a container of very gritty or sandy compost. 

Put this somewhere warm and bright but not on a south-facing windowsill as it may scorch. Water it well and then keep it moist with a daily spray from a hand mister  to help stop the leaves drying out before new roots have time to form. You will know that the roots have formed when you see fresh new growth. At that point the cuttings can be removed from the pot and potted on individually before planting out next spring. 

MAKING NEW STRAWBERRY PLANTS

After the early strawberries finish fruiting – usually the middle of July – they put their energy into producer new plants via runners. These are long shoots with one or more plantlets spaced along their length. As the plantlets touch the soil the put down roots, establish quickly and so the plant regenerates itself. By pinning them to the soil or onto a pot with compost in it and then separating it from the mother plant these can be harvested as new plants that will have more vigour than the parent and keep your stock replenished and refreshed. I dig up and compost the parent plant after four years as their productivity rapidly declines after this and they often accumulate viruses. 

By the end of August the rooted plantlets are ready for planting out into a new bed that has had a generous amount of compost added to it as strawberries are greedy feeders (they should always be planted on soil that has not grown strawberries for at least three years to avoid possible viruses). Space these at least 12 inches apart and ideally twice that to allow for maximum growth and productivity. Keep them well watered and mulch with more compost in autumn.

SOWING AUTUMN SALAD CROPS

Sow hardy salad crops such as ‘Rouge d’hiver’ and ‘Winter Density’ lettuce and Corn Salad, Rocket, Land Cress, Purslane, Mizuna and Mibuna. Make one sowing now for harvesting in October and November  and another in a month’s time that will crop in the new year if grown under cover. Either sow them into plugs that can be transplanted as seedlings or sow direct in rows. Thin the seedlings as they emerge and keep them weeded and well-watered.

PRUNING LAVENDER

To avoid woody, leggy plants, lavender should be pruned every year. The best time to do this is as soon as the flowers start to fade, which, depending on the variety, can be any time between midsummer and the end of August. But do not wait for the seed heads to form or the flowers to turn brown as you want to allow the maximum amount of time for regrowth before winter. 

Cut back hard to a good compact shape but be sure to leave some new shoots on each stem – lavender will often not regrow from bare wood. These new shoots will grow fast and provide an attractive and healthy cover to protect the plant in winter and provide the basis of next year’s display. 

COLLECTING SEED

Growing your favourite plants from seed is easy and practically without cost. Not only will this give you dozens of free plants for future years but also spares to give or swap with friends and family and August is the  time to begin collecting seed from your garden. 

Use brown paper envelopes – A5 is the idea size – and either carefully cut the seed heads and upend them into the envelopes, seed head and all or else place the envelop over the seed head, seal it and then snip the stem off and store it upside down. Label each envelope clearly with the date, name of the plant and, ideally, the position in the garden, and store them in a cool, dry place. 

After a week or two the seeds should be dry and can them be sieved, cleaned and stored in sealed packets. For longer term storage a plastic tub with a tight lid stored in the fridge is ideal.

WATERING CAMELLIAS, AZALEAS AND RHODODENDRONS

Camellias, Azaleas and rhododendrons form their flower buds in late summer and autumn. In other words the display that they give you next Spring is largely determined over the coming weeks. If they are too dry the buds will not form properly and those that are made quite often subsequently drop off in the spring before flowering as a result of dehydration the previous autumn. So give them a good soak  – with rainwater if at all possible – especially if they are growing in a container, and do so each week for the next couple of months.

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.