In the middle of this scorching summer, it’s easy to forget the dark days of late winter, the desperate wait for spring colour and the immense joy when tulips emerge, studding bare borders like jewels. Gardening is all about planning ahead, and although spring seems very far away, you need to start thinking about which spring bulbs you’d like to grow now.
Months of careful planning at Arundel Castle in West Sussex creates one of the largest spring bulb displays in the UK – an explosion of over 120,000 tulips and more than 150 varieties, all carefully orchestrated to create a stunning succession of colour throughout April. The festival showcases the versatility of tulips and other spring bulbs, with plantings in turf, borders and pots. I’ve been rifling through my photos of last April’s event, gleaning inspiration for my tulip orders this month.
Entering the grounds through a portico, you are immediately met with swathes of naturalised bulbs sweeping between blossoming cherries. Flowering bulbs clothe the dry castle moat, creating a stunning contrast between the austere grey castle walls and their jewelled banks.
The display includes thousands of white Narcissus ‘Thalia’, blue Camassia and even naturalised tulips. Tulips from previous years are recycled by transplanting them into the grass once they are past their best. Although hybrid tulips don’t naturalise as well as species tulips, flowering for about three years before fading, they make a rewarding display. Many of the naturalised tulips are Darwin hybrids. These are especially large-flowered, tall tulips which are renowned for being the most robust and long-lived of hybrid tulips.
The landscape is punctuated with specimen trees, and at this point I was distracted by two stunning examples of Paulownia tomentosa in full bloom. This broadly spreading tree is a spring sensation, with upright panicles of soft purple, foxglove-like flowers appearing before the handsome, heart-shaped leaves emerge.
Tulips in pots
Pots abound – in fact, there are over 500 of them – and it’s a stunning demonstration of the advantages of displaying spring bulbs in containers. Most of the pots are terracotta-coloured plastic, making them lightweight, portable and requiring less frequent watering. They’re easily shifted about to refresh earlier spent blooms, enliven bare or shady spots with colour and artfully placed to highlight and frame architectural features. The pots are rammed – remember that in containers you can get away with much denser planting, leaving only a few centimetres between each bulb – creating concentrated blocks of colour which are high impact.
Designing with tulips
The crescendo of colour reaches its climax in The Collector’s Garden. What was once an abandoned kitchen garden and car park was transformed in 2008 into a Jacobean fantastical extravaganza. The area is divided into a series of rooms each with its own theatrical set piece carved out of green oak including a giant classical gateway, a temple crowned with antlers. shell-studded grottos and gilded fountains.
The tulip displays are carefully designed to vary in tone and intensity, enhancing the character of each garden room. Tulips offer an enormous range of colours to suit all tastes – from shimmering pastels to luxurious purples and maroons – and an unrivalled opportunity to indulge yourself with colour and paint the garden with flowers. Here’s a taste of some of Arundel’s tulip colours and suggestions of how to recreate the look at home.
A sumptuous colour scheme of red, purple and maroon-black was used to great effect in the organic kitchen garden, where it was planted into the ‘Bow-Tie Beds’ of neatly trimmed box.
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A snowy carpet with pops of red
In the stunning Labyrinth Garden, a large lawn is planted up with concentric swirls of more than 20,000 red Darwin tulips in a sea of pure white, scented Narcissus ‘Thalia’, all surrounded by exotic windmill palms Trachycarpus fortunei.
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Pots of large-headed, shocking pink tulips really made a splash beside the pool and cascade.
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Fruity shades of pink and yellow
They often tell you not to mix pink and yellow, but this fruity cocktail defies the rule with elegance.
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Fire & ice
These fiery tulips were tastefully toned down with dashes of cream.
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Pots of these layered, peony-flowered tulips were strategically placed to radiate a glow of warming tangerine in shadier corners of the garden.
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Lilac and lime
These pale purple tulips pair beautifully with the zingy lime green of the euphorbia, the display given a lift by the addition of orange crown imperial fritillaries.
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A passion for purple
This harmonising blend of purples created a relaxed ambience, framing some seating.
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Sweetening up the veg patch
Tulips are a great way to inject some early colour into your veg plot whilst you are waiting for crops to bulk up. These tulips added a sugary sweet flavour interplanted amongst beets in the organic kitchen garden.
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These grouped containers were a perfectly toned display of pastel creams and pinks balanced with deeper purple.
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Garden plants which offer sunset colours are precious as there are few examples. Hybrid tulips offer some lovely choices – be sure to seek them out.
Get the look
Inspired by Arundel’s magnificent display, I’m busy compiling my spring bulb order. Daffodils should be planted by the end of September, whilst tulips go in later from the end of October onwards – but be sure to order early in order to obtain the very best selections and have fun inventing your own creative colour combinations!
Salvias are amongst the most rewarding plants I grow and some the easiest to propagate. Having amassed a collection over the years, I’ve been busy taking cuttings of my half hardy species as an insurance against any winter losses and to rejunvenate old plants. They root very easily – so do have a go and build up your own collection of these fabulous, long-flowering perennials.
Why grow half-hardy Salvias?
The first time I saw Salvias I was instantly hooked. Their flowers are distinctly lustrous and jewel-like, due to the tiny, light-reflecting hairs which cover their surfaces. This lends them an extraordinary depth of colour and they excel in velvety purples, indigo and maroons. If you prefer cooler colours, there are plenty of worthwhile choices, such as the new introduction, ‘Pink Amistad’. The range of colours and habits makes them versatile plants, suitable for everything from cottage borders to tropical schemes, and they are excellent in containers too.
Salvias are also some of the longest flowering plants I have in my garden. Keep them well fed, watered and regularly deadheaded, and many will bloom from June/July until the first frosts. Once established, they are drought tolerant and flourish on freely draining soils, although in a very hot, dry summer they will cease flowering earlier. In which case, trim them, give them a good water and wait for a second flowering in late summer.
Added to all these excellent attributes, Salvia flowers are loved by pollinating insects. Every summer I keep a keen eye on my Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’ whose sweet nectar is a favourite tipple for visiting hummingbird hawk moths. On sunny days, this day-flying moth whizzes around the garden, stopping to hover in front of the flowers, sipping the nectar with a long proboscis just like a hummingbird.
If all of this isn’t enough, Salvias also have fragrant foliage, with some, such as Salvia ‘Cerro Potosi’, being deliciously fruity.
When I first began gardening, half-hardy salvias were rather unusual and considered a little difficult due to their tender nature. There are now a plethora of cultivars available and given sunny, well-drained soil, I have found that many of these will reliably over-winter. Salvia ‘Amistad’ will even successfully overwinter outdoors in my clay soil. However, some are short-lived and like ‘Amistad’ become woody and decline as they get older. Don’t be too quick to throw them out though – Salvias are slow into growth and can look a bit sorry for themselves in the spring. Be patient and wait until the weather warms up to start them into growth.
Leave shrubby salvias with their top growth over the winter as this will give them some protection. When they begin shooting in spring, prune them back to a low framework. I normally find that the thicker stems of Salvia ‘Amistad’ die completely – in which case just cut them right down and new growth will emerge from the base.
The most tender species will need to be over-wintered in a greenhouse. They’re good candidates for patio containers, which can be easily moved under cover at the end of the winter.
How to take Salvia cuttings
- Regular pinching out of shoots from spring onwards will generate plenty of material for cuttings
- Avoid additional fertilising in an attempt to stimulate new growth for cuttings. This results in soft, nitrogenous shoots which do not root as well.
- Cuttings should be ‘turgid’ when they are taken – in other words, the plants cells are fully swollen with water. Try to take them first thing in the morning, preferably on a dull day. Water them well the day before if they showing any signs of water stress.
Harvesting cutting material
- Avoid soft tip growth – it wilts quickly, doesn’t root readily and produces weak plants.
- Avoid thin, weak growth and older, woody growth
- Select strong, actively-growing shoots which are still flexible but will snap when bent sharply.
- Look for non-flowering side shoots. If this isn’t possible, always remove the flower buds.
- When you are harvesting cutting material, cut just above a leaf node. This will leave the original plant tidy without any stubs which will die back. The material should have at least two leaf joints and be longer than the final cutting, which will be trimmed back just before insertion.
- Immediately place the cuttings in a plastic bag with a label
- Ideally trim and pot up cuttings straight away. If there is a delay, they can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Chilling cutting material assists its survival and rooting success.
Inserting cuttings & aftercare
Taking cuttings of salvias will rejuvenate your stocks with young vigorous plants and because they root so easily you’ll have plenty to give to friends too. Kickstart your collection by browsing our salvia plants online.
After June’s spurt of fresh foliage and flowers, the heat of July can begin to draw some of the vigour out of displays. Here are 5 reliable perennials which will continue to reward throughout this month.
Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’
June is largely dominated by soft pastel colours but come July the garden palette begins to warm up. Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ delivers a tropical punch with its fruity, burnt orange and yellow blooms set against bronze foliage. This is one of those ‘firework’ plants which has real impact in borders and containers. It certainly earns its place as it keeps blooming through to October and the flowers last for ages in a vase.
- Height & Spread: 75cm (30″) x 60cm (24″).
- Growing conditions: fertile soil in a warm, sunny spot
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Flowering season: Early summer until the first frosts
Coneflowers are plants with real presence. They stand sturdily upright on unbranching stems which don’t require staking. The flowers have a pleasingly definite shape, each one crowned with a fat, spiny cone. Their strong silhouette combines well with ornamental grasses. ‘Rubinstern’ is one of the best selections, with a rich pink colour.
- Height & Spread: 90cm (36″) x 50cm (20″).
- Growing conditions: A sunny border in any freely draining soil which does not get waterlogged in the winter
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Flowering season: July to August
This long flowering perennial is much underused for such a rewarding plant. All summer long, Diascia ‘Hopleys’ produces tall clouds of small, dusky pink flowers which work beautifully in the middle of a sunny, well-drained border or as a free-flowering container feature.
- Height & Spread: 90cm (36”) x 50cm (20”).
- Growing conditions: Full sun and well draining soil
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Flowering season: May to October
Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’
This is a dahlia with real class and one of my favourites. The apricot to pink blooms of ‘Totally Tangerine’ have a distinctive luminosity in the evening sun and unlike some of the more garish dahlias, it’s a colour which works harmoniously in borders alongside other herbaceous perennials. It’s also sturdy and well branching and so makes a great specimen for a large container– try it with a contrasting violet salvia such as ‘Amistad’ surrounded by some airy Panicum elegans ‘Sprinkles’.
- Height & Spread: : 80cm (24″ to 32″) x 45cm (18″)
- Growing conditions: Full sun and freely draining soil
- Hardiness: Tender
- Flowering season: July to November
Phlox ‘Bright Eyes’
Phlox paint bold blocks of colour in a border like no other perennial, their domed panicles forming soft duvets of pinks and violets, providing a dreamy backdrop to other more structural perennials. Their other asset is fragrance – billowing clouds of sweet perfume which float across the summer garden. ‘Bright Eyes’ forms gorgeous drifts of pink in the middle and back of borders, each flower picked out with a darker pink eye.
- Height & Spread: 80cm (31″) x 60cm (24″).
- Growing conditions: Moist, fertile soil, in full sun or partial shade – the flowers lasting longer if given some shade. Good for clay soils.
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Flowering season: July-August
If Annelise’s July favourites have inspired you, check out our summer flowers hub page for more great ideas for brightening up your garden this summer. For more plants which are looking fabulous this month, see Looking Good on The Nursery.
Phew! It’s July. Borders are at their peak, but growth is slowing down so you should have time to put your feet up and take some garden notes. Observe what has and hasn’t worked, plants which need dividing and gaps which need filling. Then, after rousing from your recliner to crack on with the ‘Hampton Court Hack’, reward yourself by compiling a greedy wish list of your must-have plants and seeds for next year.
Hanging Baskets and containers
- In the July heat, hanging baskets and containers can dry out extremely quickly and may even need watering twice a day. Even if it rains, water often barely penetrates due to the thick mass of roots and umbrella of foliage cover so they will need a good soaking by hand.
- The constant watering will flush away nutrients, so it’s important to keep on applying a weekly high-potash feed.
- Keep on deadheading to stimulate new blooms. Pansies and petunias can begin to look straggly at this time of year, so rather than fiddling about trying to deadhead individual flowers shear them back and feed them to promote a flush of new growth and later flowers.
Hampton Court Hack
- By early July, some of the perennials which flowered earlier can look a bit tired. It’s time to undertake the ‘Hampton Court Hack’, so called because it coincides with the Hampton Court Flower Show. Try it out on Alchemilla mollis, straggly pansies and violas, astrantias, catmint (Nepeta), and hardy geraniums. Simply shear them right down to the ground, followed by a good soak and you’ll be rewarded with fresh new foliage and possibly a second flush of flowers.
- You can also cut back the all flowered stems of lupins, delphiniums and aquilegias (if you don’t want them to self seed).
- Divide clumps of bearded iris if they are overgrown. Lift clumps and select the largest, healthiest rhizomes for replanting. Cut each fan of leaves to about 15cm (6”), then replant, firming them in well before watering.
- Box tree moth caterpillar is now widespread and can cause severe damage, even death, very quickly. Use pheromone traps to monitor populations – they can have up to 4 generations each season. Inspect your box for the caterpillar and either pick off the caterpillars or spray with a contact insecticide if necessary. If box caterpillar is becoming a severe problem in your area, it may be wise to consider alternatives such as yew hedging.
Prune Flowering Shrubs
- Cut back the flowered growth on shrubs that bloom in early summer including Philadelphus, Weigela and Deutzia. Prune them back to strong young shoots lower down. Also remove up to a fifth of the oldest stems to near the base, rejuvenating your shrub by promoting the growth of new, young shoots.
- After flowering give Helianthemums an all-over trim with a pair of shears, reducing them to neat hummocks which are about 15cm high (6”). This needs to be done every year to promote compact, ground hugging plants which are smothered in flowers.
- With most other Mediterranean shrubs you need to be more cautious – neither Cistus purpureus or Phlomis fruticosa will tolerate much pruning – but to keep them compact you can lightly trim over the soft green shoots without going into the older, hard wood.
Watering new plants
Keep watering newly planted trees, shrubs and young plants whilst they are still getting established.
- Take cuttings from tender plants such as salvias, and Mediterranean herbs like lavender, rosemary and sage, selecting non-flowering stems from the current season’s growth.
- From now until early autumn, take semi-ripe cuttings from hardy climbers, and evergreen shrubs and hedging plants, selecting growth that has begun to harden at the base.
- Continue to sow biennials, including flowers for cutting such as wallflowers and Lunaria.
- Transplant seedlings of biennials sown earlier in the year and give them a good water. Continue to water them regularly.
Summer prune wisteria
- In warm areas of the UK leave this job until August to reduce the amount of regrowth. In cold climates cut back the long whippy shoots now, pruning them back to about five leaves.
- Greenhouse plants are vulnerable to scorch and heat stress, so open all the vents and doors, use shading and damp down regularly.
- Put up yellow sticky cards to monitor pests and keep your eye out for infestations of red spider mite, whitefly, mealy bug and scale insects
- Greenhouse debris can harbour pests and diseases so sweep up any dead leaves and remove dead plants promptly.
- Keep deadheading your roses, cutting back faded flowers to the first leaf behind the flower.
- Pick off any leaves affected by blackspot or rust
- Lightly prune old fashioned, once-flowering shrub roses, ensuring that you don’t spoil their arching habit. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged growth. If there is congested old wood in the centre, remove one or two of these older stems.
- After flowering, prune back any unwanted or congested growth on rambling roses, tying in new replacement shoots. Prune back the remaining side shoots by two thirds.
- Keep an eye out for suckers produced below the grafting point – they are usually lighter in colour with green stems and a different number of leaflets. Rather than cutting them, dig down to expose their origin and pull the suckers off.
- Help save pollinators and let it grow high in July! Relaxing your mowing regime and setting the blades higher will not only promote stronger growth which is more resilient to drought but will also permit short plants like daisies to flower. See Rewilding the Lawn for more information.
- If it’s hot and dry the lawn may start to look brown but resist the temptation to splurge water on it as it will simply be wasted through evaporation. Trust that underground roots will enable the grass to recover once rainfall arrives.
- Apply your last lawn feed at the beginning of this month. Leave it any later and you will promote soft green growth in the autumn which will be vulnerable to pests and winter cold.
- Go around your garden (and perhaps your neighbours!) collecting your favourite seeds from hardy annuals and biennials such as poppies, nigella, and foxgloves. Save the little sachets of silica gel which you find in numerous products and place these in an air tight container with your seeds to keep them dry.
- Ponds can quickly dry up in hot weather so keep it topped up with collected rainwater. If rainwater isn’t available, fill up an empty water butt with tap water and leave it for 24 hours, during which time the chlorine will evaporate.
Which would you choose? A barren desert wasteland? Or a tapestry of wild flowers teaming with insects, mammals and birds?
Lawns are great for leisure and as a foil to colourful planting, but they are also wildlife wastelands. Just 1% of our countryside is species-rich grassland but Plantlife suggests that ‘with 15 million gardens in Britain, our lawns have the potential to become major sources of nectar’, helping to reverse alarming declines in our insect populations and support a host of other wildlife.
Browse our wildflower seeds for inspiration. You don’t have to lose the lawn completely, but here are three ways to allow some wildness into your lawn, starting with the easiest.
1. Make a Small Change to your Mowing Regime
“Incredibly simple changes in mowing can result in enough nectar for ten times more bees and other pollinators” (Plantlife)
The lawn under your feet has the potential to be a biodiversity hotspot and you only need to do one thing: nothing! You don’t have to stop mowing completely, but try to mix your mowing regime up a bit by following some of the following suggestions:
• Cease mowing just for a few weeks in May and June
• Raise the height of cut or mow less frequently
• Allow just a section of the lawn to grow long and mow the rest
Data from Plantlife’s surveys has shown that a mix of short and long grass is ideal. The shorter grass allows plants like daisy, white clover and bird’s-foot trefoil to flower, which can boost nectar production tenfold. Longer grass supports a wider range of plant species, allowing taller plants like oxeye daisies, field scabious and red clover to grow up and bloom. The taller grass also provides food, shelter and nesting habitats for insects.
Every Flower Counts
Every Flower Counts is a citizen science survey organised by Plantlife. The survey aims to provide a snap-shot of which flowers are most abundant on our lawns and how much nectar they are producing. There’s still time to take part – the next survey is from 9 to 17 July. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve mown your lawn or not – Plantlife are keen to know how mowing affects flowering and nectar production, so your results will provide valuable data.
2. Introduce some wildflower plugs into your lawn
Once you’ve relaxed your mowing regime, go one step further and introduce some wildflower plugs into your lawn. Plugs can be purchased, or you can sow your own:
- Sow tiny pinches of wildlife seed directly into modular cells in spring or autumn. Sowing in spring is preferable, as then the plugs will be ready to plant out in your lawn in the autumn, which is the best time for establishment.
- Skim off patches of grass with your spade and plant about 5 plugs per square metre into these patches, firming and watering them in well.
- Mark your plug plants with a cane.
- Keep the grass short around your new plug plants and ensure that they are regularly watered. Be especially vigilant if you are planting in the spring.
Lawns contain vigorous grasses which compete with wildflower species for moisture, nutrients and light. Tackling this by removing turf and nutrient-rich topsoil is backbreaking work, but a clever and unusual looking plant called yellow rattle can help to do the job for you.
Yellow rattle is an annual wildflower which parasitises grasses, feeding off the nutrients in their roots and weakening them. This allows wildflowers and finer grasses to thrive.
Sowing your own yellow rattle can be tricky, because, for good germination, you need to get hold of fresh seed. However, I’ve had success with yellow rattle plugs which can be ordered now ready for spring planting. Plant these out as described above and avoid mowing until mid-July/August. By this time, the dried seed pods will rattle when shaken, scattering seed over the lawn to establish spreading colonies the following year.
3. Sow a mini-meadow
This is the most labour-intensive method of re-wilding your lawn but will establish a wide diversity of species within one season. Whilst it may not be an option for the whole of your lawn, why not try it for just a section?
Choose an open, sunny area which is free of pernicious weeds such as nettle and thistles and preferably a site with nutrient-poor soil. Rich soil will promote the growth of vigorous weeds and grasses which will outcompete the wildflowers.
The best time is August – September. Alternatively, March-April.
For a perennial meadow which comes up year after year with little maintenance, the seed mix should include mostly perennial (not annual) wildflowers, plus some fine meadow grasses.
Choose a mixture which is suited to your soil type and your locality. It’s a good idea to get out into nearby countryside and familiarise yourself with the wildflowers growing in your area.
- Remove the turf and about 3-6” (7-15cm) of top soil.
- Dig over or rotovate the soil to create a fine tilth, removing any weeds
- Scatter the seed at the recommended rate. As the seed needs to be spread very thinly, it’s useful to mix it with a carrier such as sand or bran, at a ratio of three-five parts sand to one of seed. Rake over gently and tread the seed into the soil.
- Water in well.
- Continue to keep the area well-watered
- Dig out any pernicious weeds which appear such as nettles, docks or thistles.
- Cut from late July onwards when the seeds have ripened. Choose a dry day and allow the cuttings to drop, leaving them to dry for a week before raking them up and removing all debris.
- Mow again in the autumn and in early spring of the following year if the grass has grown long. Avoid mowing April to late July.
“Because many insects need little space to survive, even partial conversion of lawns to minimally disturbed natural vegetation—say 10%—could significantly aid insect conservation”
(PNAS Jan 21 “Eight simple actions that individuals can take to save insects from global declines)
Wilding up even a small part of your lawn can lead to exciting results, and it doesn’t need to be hard work. I made my own mini-meadow by reducing mowing and planting in wildflower plugs. It has been fascinating to see what has popped up in the lawn – selfheal, hawkbits and scarlet pimpernel have all arrived spontaneously. My mini-meadow is a little wildlife haven: bumblebees heavy with pollen forage on the knapweed, damselflies rest delicately on tall grass blades, froglets hide in the cool damp shelter whilst twittering goldfinches feast off seeds.
Since the 1930s, we have lost nearly 7.5 million acres of flower-rich meadows, but as gardeners, we can make a significant contribution to reversing this loss of habitat. So go on! Unlock the potential of your lawn and let a little wildness in. Find all of our top wildflower resources, full of sowing and growing tips, in one place at our wildflower hub page.