There's still time to add colour to your garden.
As we head towards August and the latter part of the summer, sometimes the garden can start to look a bit plain. There's one group of plants though which will produce their blooms in late summer, and way into Autumn: the Japanese anemones.
They're herbaceous perennials and produce huge flowers, generally in pink or white. They're useful for soil in dappled shades, where you want a bit of colour in late summer.
Plant them in any decent soil, add a bit of organic matter if you can, and be prepared for them to take a year or two to settle in. After that though, they need no attention at all — they won't need regular digging up and dividing, and they'll flower every year in late summer. The garden need not be boring at this time of year!
African lillies will bring bright, eye-catching colours to your garden.
This week, I want to encourage you to grow an agapanthus, the African lily.
It has tall drumsticks of flowers that are bright sky blue, or pure white. They can grow anything from a foot to three foot tall, and usually flower mid to late July.
They need bright sunshine, and really good drainage, and you can grow them in containers or raised beds that are drenched in good soil.
Some of the varieties are not terribly hardy but seek out those that are. In all but the very coldest of counties, you can get them to grow well. They die down in winter, but will re-surface every summer with their brilliant forest of colour.
If you want, you can plant them in large flower pots, and either move the pots into a cold conservatory if they look exposed in winter, or pull them into the house for extra protection.
Use lillies to fill in empty spaces in your flower beds.
If you've got a gap in a bed or border, or just want some instant colour on your doorstep or patio, think about lilies in pots.
It's too late to plant bulbs this year, but you'll find them growing already in pots in your local garden centre.
Lilies are so easy to look after with moderate food and water. They'll die down in the winter and you won't need to move them, then they'll start growing again next year and they'll be fine for 2-3 years as good gap fillers.
One word of warning, the pollen is fatal to cats if they lick at it, so just keep your moggy away!
Add some flavouring to your cooking with home grown herbs.
It's the time of year when everyone is getting into cooking with lots of lovely summer produce, and often we need some flavourings. There's nothing worse then not having herbs to hand when you're trying to follow a recipe.
You don't have to buy them in a shop — you can have a go at growing them in pots, on the veg patch or even in a window box. I always suggest to people to grow them as near to the back door as possible to save you traipsing down the bottom of the garden in the pouring rain.
It's best to grow them in good light as most herbs love sunshine, and they release their flavours better then. The only one I would try and grow indoors is basil because that prefers warmer climates. If you get a packet of basil seeds and sow a pinch of basil in a pot of multi-purpose peat free compost, perhaps once a fortnight, you'll have regular basil plants coming through. Simply chop the tops off and sprinkle them over tomatoes, yum! You should also try basil with buttered carrots — a wonderful combination!
All kinds of other herbs you can buy in little pots and then transfer them to a larger pot outside the back door. They really will add variety to your cooking and they'll keep coming for weeks and weeks ahead.
Add a bit of colour to your walls and fences with climbing roses.
Climbing roses are at their best now, and the great thing about gardening nowadays is that you can actually buy plants in flower and settle them in with no disturbance, thanks to the fact they are being grown in containers. It also means you know the colour of the flowers that you're getting.
Plant climbing roses alongside your house wall, a garden wall or a fence. Make sure that you plant them a good foot away from the brickwork or fence; it tends to be rather dry right against it. Work in lots of organic matter; you can buy a sack of soil improver to work in with it. Always soak the container really well, so that the root ball is almost soggy when you plant, to make sure it doesn't dry out. Plant the climbing roses with this enriched soil all the way around it, and firm it in well. Take stems of the climbing rose off the cane they're tied to and space them out on horizontal wires that you fasten to the wall at about 18 inch intervals.
There's a lovely pink climbing rose called The Generous Gardener, which I love; it flowers all the way through the summer.
Add some colour to patches of bare soil.
This week, I'm singing the praises of hardy geraniums.
Hardy geraniums are distinct from pelargoniums, which are those bright red, pink and white flowers that we grow in pots and often call geraniums. Hardy geraniums are really good ground cover plants; they are tough as old boots and are great for filling gaps in beds and borders.
One of my favourites is called Geranium macrorrhizum, meaning 'large roots'. It's got dowdy leaves and it forms a thick rug that smothers out most weed growth. It also covers itself in pink or white flowers during the summer; it's got rather aromatic leaves — some people don't like the smell but I love it. Saying that, perhaps the one geranium you should grow rather than any other, is one that was voted by RHS members and members of the public at Chelsea Flower Show as 'the plant of the century' — it was Geranium Rozanne, with its ground hugging foliage and bright blue flowers.
So if you've got a bit of bare soil, think of planting a hardy geranium — particularly Geranium Rozanne, so you too can celebrate the plant of the century.
Just a little snip here and there can make a huge difference to your garden.
While the word 'deadheading' doesn't sound too appealing, it's actually a rewarding job for a pleasant Saturday afternoon.
Take rose bushes for example; when the individual flowers fade, the bushes can look a bit tatty. But if you just go over them, snipping off those single individual flowers that are faded, you'll find that your bushes take on a whole new appearance.
Not only will the bush look healthier, it will produce more seeds in the future, and will utilise its energies that can be better spent making more flowers. Often you'll encourage a second flush of bloom by simply snipping off the first ones that fade.
Spending some time deadheading will give you an opportunity to take a closer look at what's going on in your garden, and it should make for an enjoyable experience.
Get bigger and better flowering displays from old perennials by lifting and dividing them now.
Left to their own devices, most clump-forming herbaceous perennials will slowly lose vigour and produce fewer and fewer flowers as the roots become congested and the soil exhausted. The weakened plants will also become more susceptible to pest and disease attack.
Fortunately, you can rejuvenate your plants in one fell swoop by lifting and dividing established clumps, replanting the younger more vigorous outer portions and discarding the old woody bits in the middle.
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