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Gardening Summer Glory, August 2010

So far so good as far as this summer is concerned! We have been really lucky in this part of the world; it was a very cold winter with plants going into quite deep dormancy, enough rain to top up the underground supplies and soil moisture levels but not too wet for most plants. We had a late but incredibly colourful spring with wonderful blossom on most trees and shrubs.

Since then, warm dry days with the occasional bit of rain, have allowed everything to grow but kept at bay some of plant disease problems that you associated with cold wet growing seasons. Roses look good and not too much potato or tomato blight as yet. The importance of soil health is really obvious in dry periods. Soils with lots of organic matter in them and even better, soils with a good layer of mulch, hold their moisture longer and produce better crops. The investment in compost or bark is easily paid off by the improvement in the plants that are grown, and that’s all there is to it. If you don’t want to buy ready made compost and lug heavy bags from garden centre to garden , and if you don’t have a friendly farmer neighbour, then you should be making your own compost. Invest in 2 good sized compost bins, plastic, wood, metal; whatever you prefer, and collect all you uncooked vegetable kitchen waste, hedge trimmings and grass clippings. Make sure they get mixed up to avoid slimy heap, keep it moist enough to heat up and let nature do its thing.

Plant of the Month

I can’t remember a summer without hydrangeas. Their large blooms bring flamboyant colour to the garden in late summer and autumn. They are easy to grow, dependable and improve with age. Use them in big, bold groups in the border, or even try them in large containers.


Hydrangeas are deciduous and can be either treated as large shrubs or small trees. They are grown for their beautifully domed or flattened flowers which appear from late summer for about a month.

The flowers normally consist of a mass of fertile flowers surrounded by infertile flowers which give the hydrangea its large flower heads. Hydrangeas are recommended for the amateur and the experienced gardener alike.
Mop head hydrangeas (with rounded heads of large flowers) come from Japan where the native species with lace cap flowers (flattened heads of large flowers) have been grown for hundreds of years. When these plants reached the west in the eighteenth century they caused a sensation, initially treated as tender and grown indoors. There are now many, many varieties to choose from.

Soils for Colour

With Hydrangeas, the soil type determines the colour. Acid soils for example produce blue flowers. To create blue flowers on a chalky soil, use a blueing compound composed of aluminium sulphate. This can be purchased at your local garden centre. However, the results won’t compare with plants growing in a naturally acid soil.
Alternatively, you could grow a compact variety such as ‘Blue Bird’ in a large container filled with ericaceous compost and supplement its liquid feed with a blueing compound.

Site and Watering

Hydrangeas are true survivors and can be often seen flowering in overgrown and neglected gardens. Mop heads and Lace Caps prefer dappled shade against a north or west facing wall. If it is too bright they are likely to scorch. Their leafy shoots need plenty of moisture during the summer, apply a mulch of well-rotted compost to drier soils to help lock in moisture and promote decent sized flowers. Plants also need to be sheltered from cold winds which can scorch new foliage during the spring.


Pruning isn’t essential but can be done each spring as new shoots appear. With established plants, just remove one third of the older, less productive stems and cut back old flowering stems to a strong pair of buds.
Leave old flower heads on over winter to provide frost protection for new growth. The brown papery domes look great when covered with hoar frost.
Left unpruned Hydrangeas will continue to bloom but the size of the flower heads will be reduced by the overcrowded stems. Hydrangea paniculata types need to be cut back completely each spring.
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Unique’
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’
H. arborescens ‘Anabelle’
H. quercifolia (oak leaved hygrangea)
H. seemannii one form of climbing hydrangea
H. ‘Blue Bird’
H. ‘Grayswood’
H. macrophylla ‘Altona’ (Pink)
H. macro. ‘Blue Wave’ (Blue)
H. anomala ‘Petiolaris’ (another climbing type)
Hy. ‘Forever Summer’ – – a new group of hydrangea varieties that flower on their current season’s  growth.

Jobs for the Month –

In the fruit garden – early and mid-season strawberry plants need to be cut back tidied up and mulched to get the plants to recover after their exertion. Summer fruiting raspberry canes should be removed so that the new canes can grow well enough to be trained for next year’s crop.
Summer pruning is every bit as important as winter pruning
and is absolutely essential for fan trained peaches, nectarines and cherries, as well as for espalier and cordon apples and pears. Trim back the long side shoots so that they are only 1 leaf over the basal cluster or leaves – sounds tricky but is very obvious once you look at how the trees grow. If you are short of time you can always get the hedge trimmer out to take back the superfluous growth that is draining the plants and deflecting goodness from the fruit crop. Then trim back properly later in the year. While you have the secateurs handy and if you have a wisteria then apply the same rules to that and follow up with a further pruning in January.
Vegetable gardens – regular picking helps production – if you don’t pick then the plant will assume that no more is needed which will leave you a few leaves short in the veg trug!
Onions, shallots and garlic should be lifted and left in the sun to dry for better storage. Wet bulbs will rot.
Check potatoes and tomatoes for blight – any brown spotted and blotched leaves should be removed and burnt. Finish lifting early and second early potatoes before either the blight or the slugs make them unusable. Caterpillars will strip Brassicas a plant in not time. Check to see if they’re there. Either pick them off, or spray with pyrethrum [plant derived insecticide] or a manufactured product such as Provado Ultimate Bug Killer]. Crops are really best covered with a fine mesh such as Haxnick’s Enviromesh.
There is still time to sow salad and leaf crops for harvest this year. Radish, spinach, lettuce, parsley and rocket as well as herbs such as coriander and chervil.
Ornamental pots and planters need regular feeding and watering.  It is asking a lot of any plant to have 6 months flowering – so give them regular attention. Grass shouldn’t be cut too short in dry weather nor left too long in wet weather or you’ll never get through it. Still no news I’m afraid of the long awaited neat & evenly footed, low-methane grass eating animal that will do this job for us. Has to come one day I’m certain of that, and it could also help with shredding material for the compost heap.
Finally rose growers, a good feed and mulch now will help most sorts, except the species roses to recover strength for their autumn display.

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