Like most avid gardeners, I like to start my day in the garden, I especially love June mornings when all the anticipation and patience comes to fruition. The garden is simply bursting at the seams. I cannot resist the urge to head out, barefoot, usually in my dressing gown. I just have to check what buds have opened, what leaves have unfurled or did the slugs launch their planned assault on the hostas as I slept. In addition to scrutinising the daily growth rates, the fish in the pond, fully aware of my morning habit, rise to surface looking to be fed. This year I have a tyrannical robin who along with a dishevelled blackbird vie for my affection. I regret getting them both hooked on gourmet mealworms: now I have two dependents, neither with any intention of moving on but very content to reward my good nature with unpleasant purple deposits on the paving. Best avoided when shoeless in the garden! In spite of bossy birds, I relish my early mornings in the garden before the world intrudes or emails and the phone take over.
This week I picked the first of the sweet peas. My own garden is quite small, so I grow them in pots. If I can keep them watered, they should continue to flower up to the end of August. Quite often they succumb to mildew, particularly in a hot summer. Despite having a small garden, I have it crammed with smaller trees, mostly Japanese maples. I like the effect of dappled light through the foliage and I value the shade. As the beds are jam-packed, I grow lots of plants in pots and position these pots around the garden, including sitting them in the beds under the trees. This way I fill out any empty spaces in the planting. This is very useful when the foliage of early flowering bulbs has died down and I don’t want to be looking at bare earth or gaps in the borders.
If you do like to grow the traditional favourites such as petunias and other well-loved summer stalwarts, they are guaranteed to flower throughout the summer. They do however require dedicated regular maintenance. Feeding, watering and dead-heading are essential. Allowing them to dry out is not an option, permit them to wilt even once and they might never again regain their early plumpness. As an alternative to bedding, I recommend experimenting. Almost everything can be tried in a pot, small shrubs, grasses, ferns and even smaller clematis. Hostas do exceptionally well, they thrive in planters, flourish in shade under trees and keeping them safe from the aforementioned gastropods is much easier.
Consider using potted topiary or specimen shrubs, such as camellias, as a centrepiece to a group of smaller pots. Try to use the same type or colour of container, such as using all terracotta pots or modern grey planters. Disguising blue-glazed oddities with trailing ivy always works. Give the summer bedding a miss this year and use plants with bold or interesting foliage, your own mini jungle of cannas, ferns and trachycarpus.
Foliage on its own may not be enough and you may still crave colour. Luckily in gardening, as in fashion or interiors, trends once considered gaudy are having a revival. Dependable and hardworking, the stalwart of many a garden in the 1970s, dahlias are making a comeback. With myriad colours and flower forms to chose from, these gems will bring sparkle and fun to any garden. While we may never again deploy an avocado bathroom suite, we should fully embrace this hard-working gem and squeeze a few into our already full borders or planters.
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