Tag Archive: early summer


Oriental poppies can be sheared hard after flowering.

Oriental poppies can be sheared hard after flowering.

If May is the busiest gardening month, June is the month of nurture and bringing the garden to its midsummer best. You’ve made those sowings and now’s the time to plant out, protect and pamper. Here are my top ten tips for activity this month. I hope they’re useful.

1. Keep on mulching

Apply loose organic mulches to the soil now to keep it moist and deter weed growth. Choose a mulch to suit the situation, and apply it when the soil is wet and weed free. A mulch can also improve the visual appearance of a bed, and will act as a safe habitat for all sorts of beneficial creatures, such as centipedes and beetles, that eat slugs and other pests. You can use wood chips after they’ve been left for a year, so that when you put them on the soil they don’t rob it of nitrogen as they decompose. Or sow a ‘green manure’ cover crop on any bare ground. Buckwheat, phacelia, mustard and fenugreek are quick growing green manures that can be sown now. They’ll help to improve the ground, suppress weeds, make a good ground cover for beetles and other predators and, if you let them flower, buckwheat and phacelia are very attractive to bees – and people.

Wood chip mulch (as long as it's at leas ta year old) can be a good mulch to add around planst to conserve moisture and add goodness

Wood chips (as long as they’re at least a year old) can be a good mulch to add around plants to conserve moisture and add goodness

2. Fruit fooling 

Put netting over ripening soft fruit to keep the birds from getting it before you do. A special fruit cage is great, but a temporary structure covered with netting will do just as well. Strawberries should be forming and ripening fast and other soft fruits are coming on stream (though with the mild winter this all may be a couple of weeks earlier this year).  The fruitlets on fruit trees should be swelling. I’ve noticed another good show of blossom on most of my fruit trees this year, as last, and with no frost to speak of, the plum in particular seems to be developing a lot of fruit, so hopefully we’ll have a bumper harvest. Once the fruitlets are visible they can be thinned on apples, pears, plums and other tree fruit – and gooseberries too. This is vital if the ‘set’ has been good to ensure good sized fruit.

It’s also time to start summer pruning trained fruit like plums and cherries as well as trees or bushes. For trees and bushes, after getting rid of dead, diseased or dying branches try to encourage an open, wine goblet shape. Take out strong vertical growth or crossing branches to reduce the weight of the branches and congestion – a maximum of about 10-20% of living material can be removed. Keep watering fruit trees and bushes as much as you can, even after it has rained. Continue to harvest Rhubarb into July. Harvest the stalks with a gentle ‘twist and pull’ motion, rather than cutting them.

Simple net cages can help to protect fruit and veg from birds and butterflies

Simple net cages can help to protect fruit and veg from birds and butterflies

3. Veg and herbs

Earlier sowings of vegetables should be growing well now, with some early harvests possible towards the end of the month. I’ve yet to have my first pickings of autumn sown Broad Beans, but they’re on the way! Small, first pickings of the season are always particularly tasty. Don’t wait until everything is fully grown before you start to harvest. Also, if your first sowings and plantings have failed or are looking weak there is still time to sow some more. Runner beans should be in the ground and need to be encouraged to climb up their supports. They twist the other way from most other beans – clockwise when viewed from above.

Keep an eye on Brassica crops, such as cabbages, sprouts and calabrese, which are favourites with many pests, from aphids and whitefly to pigeons and rabbits – net these with a fine gauge mesh for reliable protection and remove insects by hand or water spray. Plant out pots of basil and other tender herbs.  Snails seem to love basil, so use plenty of deterrents and controls round new plants. You can also keep Basil indoors, on a sunny windowsill for larger, lusher leaves.

Encourage runner beans to twist around their supports

Encourage runner beans to twist around their supports

4. Weeds 

Hoe regularly to keep weeds under control. Keep the blade sharp and hoe when seedlings are small and in dry weather for the best results. Dig out bindweed on sight! This perennial weed hates disturbance, so as long as you can dig it out as soon as it sprouts, it will eventually give up. However, rockeries and shrubberies are difficult. Unless you lift everything out and dig the area over you won’t succeed. Mulching with a durable light-excluding material can work here. But there must be no light, and no holes. The bindweed must be completely smothered.

Create a ‘ Weed End Bag’  – this is a way ofrecycling’ pernicious weeds, such as bindweed, which you shouldn’t add straight to the compost heap. Stuff the plants into a black plastic sack or an old potting compost bag. Leave in an out-of-the-way corner until it all becomes sludge, then you can compost it.

Hoeing regularly makes weed control so much easier

Hoeing regularly makes weed control so much easier

5.  Steady as she goes

Finish off all top-dressing, staking and pruning tasks in the ornamental garden that may not have been completed last month. Cut back spring-flowering clematis this month, and cut down daffodil and other spring bulb foliage now. If possible add a slow release fertiliser (e.g. Fish, Blood and Bone) to feed the bulbs that you’re leaving in the ground – otherwise dig up the bulbs and store in a dry place (important if your soil is heavy and tends to retain moisture which will rot the bulbs left in). Tidy up spring-flowering shrubs now if necessary, by cutting out one third of the old wood to encourage strong new shoots. Forsythia can be hard cut to strong new shoots to encourage new growth that will flower next year. I’ve yet to do this, and the likes of Weigela, Deutzia and Kolkwitzia will also need doing soon, once they’ve finished flowering.

Cut oriental poppies back hard after flowering (mine are later this year, just coming into flower) – ideally, there should be something planted alongside to take over the space (e.g. hardy fuchsias). Deadheading many flowers as they go over this month can result in a second flowering, in particular this is worth doing for your hardy and half-hardy annuals, to ensure their one and only season lasts as long as possible. Perennials will also benefit – for example, later in the month Lupins and Delphiniums can be deadheaded to encourage a second flowering later in the summer.

6. Flower planting 

Fill any gaps in your borders with annual bedding plants. Water them regularly, particularly in drier weather and in the days after planting. Watering in hotter months is always better done in the morning or evening, to avoid scorching plants in the heat of the day. Sow biennials such as Wallflowers and Foxgloves for next year. If you are short of space these will be perfectly happy in pots in a sheltered spot until the autumn when they can then be planted in their final positions (though Wallflowers seem to do best in open ground). Water pots and baskets daily – even when it’s raining! Plants are growing vigorously and June sun can be very strong, so watering twice a day is sometimes necessary.

Phacelia is a 'green manure' and its flowers are a great source of food for bees

Phacelia is a ‘green manure’ and its flowers are a great source of food for bees

 

7. Greenhouse care 

Temperatures in greenhouses and conservatories will (hopefully) soar this month. Even a couple of days will be enough to cook plants. Ventilation and shading is essential. If you’re going away and have no helpful neighbour, put plants outside, or leave the greenhouse door wide open. Standing a bucket of water in the greenhouse will help to maintain humidity.

Keep newly planted veg well watered- an automatic seep hose system is great if you're going on holiday

Keep newly planted veg well watered- an automatic seep hose system is great if you’re going on holiday

8. Green, green grass of home 

Lawns don’t need watering. Grass may not look at its best in a drought, but it is a great survivor and will come back again when it rains. Unless you have newly laid turf to water in, leave the lawn to look after itself. Don’t mow the grass too short. Cutting height should be about 2.5cm/1” for the summer. If possible, rake before you mow. This lifts weeds up so that the mower blades catch them.

9. Trimming and growing 

Give Box and Yew hedges and topiary and bushes of Lonicera nitida a clip/trim, though, if like here, they seem to be well ahead this year, you might have already done this. Ideally do this on a dull, damp day to avoid the cut leaves of Box turning brown as they dry out in the sun. Give them a feed with a slow release fertiliser after clipping to help them recover. Repeat in September to keep topiary and hedges in a good shape over the winter. When trimming hedges, watch out for nesting birds. Some will still be feeding newly hatched chicks. Leave these areas alone for a few more weeks. June is a good month to take cuttings from some plants, and to save seed from others – early flowering plants, such as Aquilegia and Hellebores, will be setting seed from now on, though the Hellebores seem to have been early this year. If you collect Hellebore seeds before they form a hard seed coat, you can save yourself a lot of time and waiting. The seeds look black and shiny and are still slightly soft and wet. Sow these seeds immediately and they will germinate in a few days, instead of having to wait till the following spring. Take cuttings from hardy fuchsias and penstemons to grow more plants.

Give any Box topiary or hedges a trim this month- tradtionally done on 'Derby Day' in the UK!

Give any Box topiary or hedges a trim this month- tradtionally done on ‘Derby Day’ in the UK!

10. Wildlife friendly 

As we head into summer, bear in mind any little garden visitors you may have. If possible, why not put out a little extra food for birds and also for hedgehogs – warm and overly dry weather can mean there’s a lot less natural food available for these animals. Remember to fill up any bird baths and feeders as often as you can, and consider leaving a small bowl of water out for the hedgehogs too. Contrary to popular myth, hedgehogs should not be fed bread and milk, but actually ordinary cat or dog food is good for them!

Oh, and one last thing- spare some time to sit and enjoy your garden as (hopefully) the warm days of summer arrive!

With thanks to Garden Organic

Old School Gardener

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The Kitchen Garden at Old School Garden

The Kitchen Garden at Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

As I write to you on midsummer day it’s cloudy and rain threatens. We have had some warm spells and even some sunshine, but you get the feeling that ‘proper summer’ has yet to find its way to Norfolk. I know that you’ve had pretty similar weather in your neck of the woods and no doubt you’re as curious as me as to the way the ‘late’ (read almost non-existent) spring has had an impact on the plants. A few pointers from Old School Garden as I write:

  • the Magnolia is still in flower as are the Siberian Wallflowers, Pansies and Violas
  • Sweet Williams are just about coming into flower but the pink Peonies, though with huge fat flower buds, have yet to fully unfurl (having said that the earlier, red varieties have been and gone)
  • Irises are looking good (though last year’s Iris Rust problem has retuned to some)
  • Carrots and Broad beans probably need a further week or two to be fully ready for harvesting
  • Second early (but not first early) potatoes are flowering
  • Lettuces are ready to crop

So it’s a story of some things flowering late and running into other things which is making for some interesting combinations and a few weeks of intense colour; certainly the best show at this time of year I can remember for some time!

Rather than spend a lot of words telling you about my gardening activities in the last month I thought that I’d let ‘the pictures do the talking’ so I’ve included three photo galleries and will give you a few guiding comments for each. The first one is a few pictures of the Gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, where the Education Garden I redesigned and with volunteer support, replanted last year is looking superb. A mass of pink and orange oriental poppies along with Salvia ‘Mainacht’  with the billowing leaves of Macleaya in the background, are putting on a wonderful show, remarked on by many visitors, it appears.

There’s a call for me to provide some information on the plants included in the borders, so I’ll have to dig out my original design and plant lists and put together some sort of illustrated guide. Likewise, after a clean out and weed, the Wildlife Garden, and especially the pond and bog areas, are filling out nicely, though there doesn’t appear to be much wildlife evident to date. Monday is going to be something special here as BBC Radio 4’s ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ is being recorded at the Museum and I’ll be on hand to help guide the audience and provide some information on the gardens. I’m not sure when this is broadcast but I’ll let you know when I’m sure, though I know that you’re a regular listener like me.

My voluntary work at the local Primary school continues with a regular weekly slot working with groups of children of different ages in the School Garden. You may have seen my recent post on the vertical planters we’ve made out of old wooden pallets – these are looking very colourful alongside the playground and I’m pleased to say that the children are being diligent in their watering duties. I’m going over there later today so will have a quick look to see that they’re holding up – I’m not sure the compost will hold in place especially if it gets at all dry. At yesterday’s session we weeded around the various veg beds and cracked open the first pods of Broad Beans which the children eagerly popped into their mouths – once I’d assured them that they would be deliciously sweet and tender – there came  a predictable ‘hmmm, yummy’ in response!

The other crops are all coming along well, and the attention to regular weeding and watering has really paid off this year, so we should be cropping potatoes, onions, cabbages, calabrese, peas, runner and broad beans, turnips and carrots soon! The other big  job was to empty out the wooden compost bins which have been clogged up with grass, sticks and soil over the years and are in real need of starting over once more. Hopefully, we’ll get this finished off today and we can then get more of a systematic approach to adding food peelings etc. from the kitchen as well as ‘green waste’ from the school lunches. The wormery seems to be going well, and the School Cook is pleased that the refuse collectors are now collecting food waste for composting at a local centre, too.

My other Master Gardener activity is picking up a bit. I’m doing stints at the Norfolk Show next week and also an event in a nearby village where some Lottery cash looks like it’s going to make some new adult education classes possible, including something from me on growing your own food or maybe design, depending on the level of interest. I’m going along to an open day on this to gauge interest and promote both Master Gardener and the idea of the courses, so we’ll see if anything comes of that.

As far as Old School Garden goes, I’ve mentioned the great show we’ve had recently so will let the photographs give you the details! Its been a month of systematic weeding around the different borders, finishing off staking the herbaceous perennials, dead heading and recently planting out the many annuals I’ve een raising from seed to plug gaps etc. I must say I’m pleased with the result, and after visiting a few gardens recently we’ve decided to open ours for charity in mid July. I’ll let you have details in due course, but we hope to make this a lively afternoon with advice from  my friends in the Master Gardener and Master Composter projects and of course plant sales and some delicious tea and cakes!

I hope that you enjoy the picture gallery which shows a few shots of different parts of the garden taken yesterday. As I was walking around I spotted a female blackbird raiding my cold frame and carrying off some poppy seedlings (and compost) in her beak! Having seen her later in the courtyard garden I suspect she’s gathering material for a new nest! We do seem to have had a lot of Blackbirds this year and they seem intent on disturbing the wood chip mulch I put on the long borders in search of food, with the result that sweeping the paths is rapidly becoming a daily chore!

Well,  matey, I hope this little update finds you and your good lady in the best of health. It’s great that you’re now well on the road to recovery and no doubt pleased that you can get outside and dig your patch once more. Did you manage to find any paid garden help? I know that the grass cutting is your biggest nightmare and this is one thing you could do with some help on. Or maybe you might think about turning some of that grass into flowering meadow? I’ve seen some lovely examples of mown paths through long grass recently that must be less maintenance heavy and more wildlife friendly too – worth a thought.

Well, bye for now and I’ll give you a further update next month, though in the mean time I’ll do a post next week about how the recording of ‘GQT’ goes and my experiences at the Norfolk Show.

all the best

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 20th May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 18th April May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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