Lazy hazy days of July (part 1)

The summer solstice at the end of June has gifted us with up to 18 hours daylight each day to enjoy and so July is the month when a long, long, long list of plants are coming into their flowering own and savouring the long days as much as us humans.

The summer solstice at the end of June has gifted us with up to 18 hours daylight each day to enjoy and so July is the month when a long, long, long list of plants are coming into their flowering own and savouring the long days as much as us humans.

(In fact, there’s so much to do in the garden, and so much time to do it, we’ve split this month’s blog into two parts!)

In the garden

The ubiquitous lavender, Lavandula, is often at its best this month with mauve clusters of fragrant flowers blooming on long stalks providing a mecca for bees and the white butterflies. There are also the fragrant, soft yellow, delicate, trumpet shaped flowers of the tobacco plant, Nicotiana sylvestris, and the large bowl shaped bright yellow flowers of evening primrose, Oenothera fructicosa, both of whom are night scented, which makes them attractive to moths.

Evening Primrose, Oenthothera fructicosa, hansbenn, CC0

There are countless other plants in bloom this month such as the dense, brightly coloured clusters of Phlox paniculata, which will flower through until autumn; cup shaped masterworts, Astrantia sp, which are happy in shady spots and do well as dried flowers and the tall, lighter sprays of the purple top vervain, Verbena bonariensis, that sway gently and frame glimpses of planting through their stems. Also the cheering purple, pink or white slightly raggedy daisy like flowers and feathery foliage of Cosmos bipinnatus, a reliable annual plant that I grow from seed every year to fill in the unexpected gaps that appear in my beds.

Perennial Phlox, Phlox paniculata, HansCC0

Watering

Keep an eye out for thirsty and flagging plants during the hotter weather but be water savvy. Water newly planted plants and container plants as a priority, and other established plants only during sustained periods of dry weather and if there isn’t a hosepipe ban in place. If a holiday is on the horizon avoid coming home to a dried-out wasteland by recruiting a friend or neighbour to help out with the watering. It would be such a great shame for all that hard work earlier in the season to result in a desiccated end for the sake of a short break away during the warmer months.

Tidy up

Keep snipping out dead or broken stems and leaves. Cut the first round of perennials that have become leggy and tatty right back down to the ground to stimulate a second flush of fresh growth to go right through the summer.

Stand back and take a view on the harmony between plants and thin out the more bullying species if necessary — just enough to allow other plants some space without creating unnecessary gaps. Take it slowly and step back from time to time to assess the work. It is a fine balance to allow plants with different personalities and growing cycles to flourish and be themselves whilst maintaining visual coherence across beds and preventing them from getting in to a messy tangle.

There is no harm in a mid-season tidy up of wall trained shrubs such as firethorn sp, pyracanthus sp, which can very quickly send out stems that betrays their clipped form and take on a scruffy unkempt appearance. Using sharp secateurs, simply clip the stems back to a healthy bud and to within the framework of the desired form and spread of the plant. Take care to avoid removing stems that have developing fruits on them as these will provide autumn colour and food for birds.

Firethorn, Pyracantha, auntmasako, CC0

Plant up gaps

If gaps appear in planted beds due to plants failing or completing their life cycle then it is easy to plant them up with annuals such as the cheerful cosmos and tobacco plants, Nicotiania sp, and the more gaudy, but undoubtedly colourful Zinnea and Gazanias. These are all now available fairly cheaply from markets and plant nurseries for flowering this season for those who were not able to sow some pre-emptive seed earlier in the year.

Visit gardens

July is a great time of year to visit public gardens that are open year-round or local gardens that may be open for a day or two as part of the National Open Gardens Scheme. https://www.ngs.org.uk

Visiting a variety of other gardens is an opportunity to get inspiration from their layouts, materials used and different planting combinations. There is often a nursery to make a plant purchase or two and a tea room on site for refreshments after the hard slog of enjoying the gardens, which is a bonus. Personal favourites include Great Dixter in East Sussex, which has marvellous meadows and contemporary saturated colour planting combinations, and Beth Chatto’s Garden in Essex for more familiar planting arrangements and a hugely inspiring drought tolerant gravel garden.

Sit back and enjoy

Finally, what better time to enjoy the garden than during one of the longer, warmer evenings when it is at its peak form in July perhaps with a tasty drink or supper outside to reward all of the hard work earlier in the year.

Gardening tasks in July

  • Water plants well at least once a week during periods of dry weather. A good soaking is better than a quick spray. Container grown plants are likely to require more watering and be sure to water these so that the water just dribbles out of the bottom of the pot.
  • Visit public and private gardens open as part of the National Gardens Scheme https://www.ngs.org.uk for planting inspiration.
  • Prune Wisteria. Cut back the lateral and side shoots that have grown since spring to just a above the fifth or sixth set of leaves on each stem — or back to the appropriate shoot it the stem has grown to its allotted space.
  • Deadhead plants such as repeat flowering roses and hardy geraniums to encourage further blooms this season.
  • Remove competitive weeds by hand or using a hoe. Aim to catch them while they are small but also consider having some tolerance for less invasive weeds of course bearing in mind that they may self seed and become much more invasive in time!
  • Have a general tidy of dead and damaged foliage on plants throughout the garden. Thin out competitive plants to give their neighbours some space
  • Keep an eye out for pest and diseases. Check for unusual scarring, stickiness, webbing, curling, lumps or discolouration on stems, leaves and flowers. Remembering to check under the leaves too. Look for the presence of insects, larvae or pupae, which appear static or in abundance. Identify if there is problem with a pest of a disease and remedy as appropriate using organic and biological methods. Bear in mind that many problems with pest and diseases can be prevented and controlled by good garden hygiene and growing and feeding practices.

Elaine Hughes is an RHS Gold Medal award winning landscape designer with a special interest in creating beautiful and functional spaces that are also as biodiverse and sustainable as possible. She has designed a wide range of projects including private gardens, community gardens, public areas, schools and community sites.

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