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Garden Journal

Each month Paul shares insights from his own garden here. From pruning roses, to tackling slugs, Paul’s gardening advice and anecdotes are a valuable read for any novice, or expert gardener.

March
 

March always feels like the start to me, the days are warmer, sometimes short sleeved warm and the air smells like plants are growing.

 

In fact, by the end of the month some trees will be in leaf and many varieties of value and prunes will be in full blossom.  If you are thinking of adding a smaller, shrubby, flowering cherry into your garden, or even into a container, this is the perfect season to select the one you want. There is such enormous variation of petal shape, colour and composition that selecting the blossom in person makes choosing much easier than from the internet, or a catalogue photograph.

 

March is the month of sowing directly outdoors, so if you grow vegetables, then lettuce, radish, spring onions, beetroot and carrots can all be sown now into finely prepared beds, or containers.  I love ‘cut and come again’ lettuce as these can be sown in containers and continually harvested as needed for up to 8 weeks, also pots of lettuce look rather amusing on outdoor tables and have a great ‘salad’ bar attitude.

 

Companion planting with potatoes

Towards the middle of the month any early potatoes planted last month will have foliage breaking through the soil, this should be continually mounded over to give the appearance of an old ridge and furrow field.  When the foliage can be earthed, or mound no further, towards the beginning of May the foliage may have to be covered to protect from late frosts. The furrows created by mounding up the young potato foliage is an ideal space to plant ‘quick’ crops, which germinate fast and can be harvested within 6 weeks. Ideal candidates include salad onion and radish, but worth trying are some of the early salad leaves such as red lettuce that do better with shelter and rocket.  By the end of May the potato foliage will have grown too large and will block out any light in the furrow so be sure to act quickly to utilise this space.

 

Generally in the garden this is a month of getting ready; hard landscaped areas, gravel paths or terraces laid in stone and porcelain can all be given a good clean to remove the winter grime, you will be surprised at the results from this annual wash down.  

 

On fine days wooden structures, gates, arches, sheds, and toolboxes can be sanded and repainted and given a new colour make-over. It is a good month to make larger changes as well, new wider borders can be dug in a different shape and planted so that by summer you will not notice the changes.  Any replacements to balustrades, fences, walls and other hard landscaping jobs can be undertaken now with the same view in mind- do the work in March, reap the benefits in June and July.

 

You will notice many herbaceous perennials will have started to shoot, over winter they may have seemed dormant and unmoving to our eyes, but now you will see some have doubled in size. If you are making new spaces, or even thinking you could use a little of the same plant elsewhere March is a great month to lift the perennial in question by digging it up and simply splitting in two or three size dependant pieces with a spade to make new plants. If you have gardening neighbours, or friends this is a great way to extend your range of plants for free by holding a little plant swap!

 

Pruning for maximum benefit

One of the glories of spring is the Forsythia, its clear, yellow flowers truly signal spring has arrived.  By the middle of the month the flowers are all but gone and to ensure a good show next spring now is the time to prune.  Forsythia flowers on the growth made during the previous year, so leaving pruning too late can seriously affect the following year’s flowers. Sounds complicated but really the simple rule is to get out with the secateurs as soon after flowering as possible.  Be brave and cut back all stems, which have flowered, to a good healthy pair of buds, depending on your variety and its vigorousness you will be cutting back by 30cm - 60cm.  With established shrubs, now is also a good time cut one or two branches right out to within a couple of inches of the base, this will encourage basal shoots which will keep the shrub from becoming old and woody.

 

For inspiration, March usually sees the National Garden Scheme start up with lots of otherwise private gardens open for the public around London. The Chase, an extraordinary garden with over 1000 tulips in Clapham is one of my all-time favourites. Talking of tulips, this month these bulbs will be shining in the garden from our hard work planting over the winter and the daffodils will just be at their peak.  

 

Many people find the faded flowers of these horrible to look at and cut the whole plant at ground level leaving a bizarre stump. If you have planted the bulbs in containers, after flowering simply lift and remove the soil allowing the bulb to die back naturally, all the energy in the leaves will then be preserved for next year. Store over summer in a cool dark place. If bulbs are in the ground cut the flowering stem so that the bulb does not put energy into seed making and allow the foliage to die naturally, again so the nutrients return to the bulb for next year. This will also help promote the growth of bulblets at the base of the bulb you planted increasing your stock for free. 

 

Bees in the fruit garden

Honeybees, who’s plight has been well documented over the past few years, do not actively fly if the temperature is much below 16c.  However, as the month marches on and temperatures increase so bees start to stir and can be seen avidly searching out nectar on warm days.

One way to support the honeybee and actively increase pollinating insect populations in the garden is to plant a fruit tree. Fruit blossom comes into its own over this month and is intoxicatingly beautiful. Apples, pear, plum, cherry and greengage can all be espalier trained and successfully grown against walls and in containers making them ideal even in the smallest space. Luckily for gardeners in urban environments you can almost guarantee a pollinating fruit tree in your vicinity so a crop of delicious fruit will follow in a few short months.

If you have already planted espalier trained fruit, then now is the time to cut out any crossing branches on cherries and peaches and to prune out upright growth on fan trained plums.

 
 

April
 

Spring is truly here; warm sunny days and a sense of summer spanning ahead. April for me is a month of change when blossoms of apples and other fruiting trees fade to be replaced by swelling fruits, ready in a few months. 

 

Whilst it is safe to, in my garden I shall be eagerly anticipating bluebells and cyclamen with their soft blue and pink flowers like a delicate sprinkling of confetti on the ground. Although poisonous if ingested, the bluebell has a long traction in folklore; perhaps the most romantically full of springtime hope is the myth that turning a bluebell flower inside out without tearing it will win you the heart of an unrequited love. 

 

Decorate like it's Versailles

Similarly, the cyclamen’s popularity peaked in France in the 17th century due to Louis XIV insisting on decorating the halls of Versailles with great bunches of these delicate flowers. Throughout the 18th century, the plant was often given to children and became a symbol of maternal love across most of Europe. 

 

Even in the smallest garden space, watching this change from spring to early summer can be a real pleasure. The garden’s life cycle of blossom becoming hard fruit which grows and swells until the golden rays of autumn’s sun turns them into luscious fruits; to be eaten from the tree then extra bounty stored for the lean winter.  Apples, pears and even plums can be grown in containers and trained against a wall, or support making them ideal for natural screens on balconies and roof terraces just as well as old-fashioned trees, meaning this magic of the natural world can be watched high above the city skyline.

 

This month also begins the cycle of harvest and resowing in the vegetable garden; lettuce and other short turnaround crops will need another sowing this month to continue your harvest through.  Crops like radish will be ready to harvest this month, so be sure to check they don’t turn woody and sow another crop every two weeks until June.

 

Potatoes which you have chitted and planted out will be pushing through the soil so be sure to keep an eye on night-time temperatures and cover the emerging foliage with newspaper, or fleece to protect from frost damage.

 

If you grow strawberries in containers, or the ground, give them a little feed this month to ensure they produce a bumper crop over the coming two months, I tend to use a seaweed liquid feed as this gives good fruit, but also benefits the roots making for healthy plants. 

 

Sow half hardy annuals

Half-hardy and hardy annuals which were sowed and potted on indoors can now be planted into containers and borders outside, this includes sweet peas, English marigolds and evening primrose.  If you have an issue with slugs then use eco-friendly pellets, or alternatively the beer trap works a treat in my experience with the added benefit of my mind being clear that in the slug-o-cide they died oblivious and as my grandfather would say, ‘three sheets to the wind.’

 

Talking of slugs this is month they become much more active; with juicy plumb stems of prized herbaceous perennials and annuals everywhere in sight it’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for the slugs. Set traps in raised beds, the open ground and in any plants susceptible such as hostas in pots. Use copper collars, or wool pellets as a top dressing to impede the munch of the slug.

 

The power of Sempervivum's

Less pretty, but with a powerful history, little succulents are great plants for summer and can start being put outside on warm days from April, but be warned they are not winter-hardy, whereas houseleeks can be left outside, virtually without worry, all year round.  Houseleeks also require nearly no care; being drought-tolerant they are ideal for travelling gardeners. Our love of houseleek Sempervivum goes back a long way. In ancient times, houseleeks were credited with the power to ward off witches, and when planted upon a home’s roof they conferred prosperity and safety to those who dwelled within. 

 

The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne commanded his subjects to plant houseleeks on their roofs to prevent lightning strikes, a practice that probably stemmed from the ancient’ belief that houseleeks were earthly manifestations of Jupiter and Thor, the Roman and Norsegods of thunder. Indeed, regional labels for houseleeks still include Jupiter’s beard, Thor’s beard, and Donnersbart (thunderbeard). 

 

Houseplant happiness

April is also the month I tend to do an annual house plant check. The days are warm enough if space allows to take the plants outside, report or replace soil as needed, check for any overwintering pests, split or divide the plants and water thoroughly.  Being outside for the day also means you can wash the foliage gently, but thoroughly to remove the dust of winter allowing the leaves to breathe more easily.

 

This is great for the plant’s health but also for you - one foliage houseplant per room, such as Sanseriva or Monstera, can improve the quality of the air you breath at home by a factor of up to 5 times. The single space we spend the most time at home is the bedroom, so if you haven’t already treated yourself and your lungs to the benefit of air purifying plants now and you will sleep better, that’s a fact you can depend on.

May

The early summer is upon us and traditionally this is RHS Chelsea Flower Show month. The great and good of the world of horticulture would normally be descending on the capital and the BBC would be giving the best view of the show, if all too often of the same gardens.

 

Having lost Chelsea last year to the pandemic, and this year’s show now in September, the once called Great Spring Show will inevitably be very different when it finally returns to its May time spot. Long time exhibitors like Hardy's Cottages Plants, Hillier Nurseries and other growers from the Floral Pavilion will not be there. It will be a time of great change for the show in its 110th year.

 

The magic of Chelsea will never wear off, wherever I have made gardens at flower shows across the world, there is always a reverence for the achievement of a ‘Chelsea Gold’ and the ones I have are very special to me. 

 

Chelsea gold isn’t just the medal, it's the clever plant combinations and brilliant colour thinking that we can all learn from and use in our gardens, courtyards and even containers on terraces and balconies.

 

Learn from RHS Chelsea 

One of the easiest Chelsea ‘take homes’ is numbers!  If you are planting new shrubs in your garden it’s tempting to plant one of each variety and wait, but in reality, it will grow slowly and it will be 3 to 7 years before the shrub takes on form.  Planting three of the same closer together actively promotes upward growth and they will fill out quickly, pruning out will develop a good form within 3 years.

 

Herbaceous perennials should be treated a little like a flower arrangement, in groups of three, five and seven for impact but remembering in a space of 2mx2m choose only seven main laities with one or two accent bulbs for spring and late summer pops of colour. Bigger bolder planting will look impressive and make the space will larger. Small ‘dot’ style planting will ultimately look bitty and not give visual wow.

 

Containers follow a similar rule: a big display of one plant type or two in a combination which contrasts or sits together in harmony will always look more ‘designed’ and strutted over groupings of random plant types in various mis-shaped pots. I’m sorry to say, but even the classic cottage look follows this discipline, simple aged pots and a collection of pelargoniums are a good example.

 

 

What a balm

One of my all-time favourite plants is Melissa, the classic herbal Lemon Balm. Yes, it sends its copious offspring rioting across the garden like the hoards attacking the Bastille, but I wouldn't be without it in the garden and a lot of it actually, as once you understand its many uses it becomes oddly essential.

 

It’s native to southern Europe, but was introduced to England very early through Monastic gardens; as such it was for a while thought to be native to the southern counties of England. Melissa is highly attractive to bees and its Latin name is derived from the Greek for bee. The common name of Lemon Balm or more traditionally, Sweet Balm comes from an abbreviation of Balsam. 

 

One of its oldest reputed properties is as a restorative and elixir of life, which can’t be bad…if true!

 

Paracelsus believed it would ‘completely revivify man’, and it was often used in treatments of the disorders of the nervous system. In the London Dispensary of 1696 it says, ‘An essence of balm, given in canary wine, every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness’. John Evelyn believed it to be an aid to strengthening memory and ‘chasing away melancholy’.

 

Llewelyn, Prince of Glamorgan, lived until he was 108 and breakfasted on sweet balm tea, as did a chap called John Hussey who reportedly lived until he was 116. Carmelite water, of which balm was the chief ingredient, was drunk by the Emperor Charles V daily. Carmelite water is made with a mixture of spirit of balm, lemon peel, angelica root, and nutmeg, which sounded good enough for me to have a go at make my own the recipe.

 

Gerard and Dioscorides both stated that it helps in the healing of wounds, Pliny wrote, ‘Balm, being applied, doth close up wounds without any peril or inflammation’. This is now recognised by modern science, as balsamic oils of aromatic plants are used to make surgical dressings.

 

So now I have extolled its virtues and you have realised yours are languishing on the compost heap, how do you get more?

 

Lemon balm will propagate readily from seed and cuttings in late spring through to early summer. I tend to sow the seed ripe, as I find this gives better germination rates. In our herb garden, I tend to grow the plain green leaved plant, Melissa officinalis and Melissa officinalis ‘Aurea,’ as this tends to be used in salads in my house, whilst the leaves are young, not bitter or large and hirsute. Each leaf is irregularly splashed with bright drops of golden sunshine colour. Both the variegated form and pure golden, or yellow form tend to suffer from the harsh midday sun so do offer them partial shade.

 

Historically Melissa was always grown near bees and not just because of their attractiveness in terms of flowers. Gerard stated that, ‘It is profitably planted where bees are kept. The hives of bees being rubbed with the leaves of bawme, causeth the bees to keep together, and casueth others to come with them’. Pliny echoes this theory by stating, ’When they strayed away they do find their way home by it’.

 

Apart from drinking teas made with it and eating its leaves, Melissa gathered in a bunch, tied and hung under a hot tap makes for a wonderfully invigorating bath, which is perfect for long May days working in the garden. It’s a non-stop time of year and so your joints are going to suffer, but know that as the hot water runs over the leaves so its oils are released, giving your bath the ability to soothe, ease and relax the most knotted of back!

 

Raise a glass to nature

With all the action from lawn mowing, vegetable bed weeding and preparations for planting new borders it’s a heavy month; don’t forget if you have herbaceous perennials which you don’t want to grow up tall and leggy May is the traditional Chelsea chop month. No mystery involved- simply cut the foliage back by halve to reduce the height of late season flowers. But forgetting all the jobs, take time in the warmer weather to have a cup of tea, or something stronger and enjoy being outside in nature noticing the birds, insect life and gentle growth of plants around you.

 

June

After the coldest spring for the past eight years and the driest April, May certainly was a very wet month. Let’s hope that June brings some summer warmth and is its true self - the month of the strawberry!  In fact, it’s true there is nothing like the taste of a sweet strawberry fresh from the plant in the afternoon sun and unlike their shop bought counterparts they need no sugar, cream or ice cream.  Strawberries are such easy little plants that they grow well in the ground but also containers and on balconies. Even with just the smallest of spaces there is no reason not to have some fruit bushes.

 

You can easily grow thornless blackberries with roses or clematis on trellis and walls, or large containers will make good homes for red, white and blackcurrants. If you like a little formality peaches, apples, pears and plums can all be grown against a warm wall as espaliers which take up little room, but provide fresh home-grown fruit easily.

 

If you want to add an espalier tree to your garden space, courtyard, garden or balcony then it’s a really easy- a large container, ideally terracotta or perhaps a large galvanised ‘dolly tub’ style planter, with a good layer of drainage and soil-based compost is all you need.  Espaliers can be purchased ready grown for instant effect or with time and patience you can train your own. It’s not just woody fruit trees than can be espaliered trained, gooseberries are great for making formal topiary shapes with the benefit of fruit!

 

Growing fruiting plants in containers long term just requires one (or two) golden rules for success: never let them dry out and feed regularly to give the plants the energy they require for fruit production.

 

Glorious Roses

The other glory of June is of course roses, take a walk through the leafy streets of Chelsea and you will see roses tumbling from balconies, growing up houses and filling gardens.  Their fleeting glory is part of their charm not to mention their heady scent.  I love the older 18th Century traditional roses with full, blousy flowers and soft, grey-green foliage but there are so many to choose from.  

 

Newer David Austin and Andre Eve varieties do repeat flower so in a small space a variety like “Gertrude Jekyll’ or ‘Belle du Tehran’ will give flowers over a longer period.  Don’t forget some early flowering shrub roses such as ‘Canary Bird’ have fantastic deeply coloured hips in the autumn giving two seasons of interest, another consideration when selecting plants for smaller city spaces.

 

Obsession for artichokes

Of course, the other flower, often eaten of June is the Globe artichoke.  Cynara scolymus, is one of the oldest continually cultivated vegetables and was a main stay of ancient Greek & Roman tables. Prepared in an earthen glazed bowl with some plump, over-ripe tomatoes, a liberal splash of olive oil, torn basil leaves and course grinding of salt & pepper would easily transport you to a dish served continually from the days of Imperial Rome. The combination oozes not only the warmth, but the intensity of a Mediterranean summer. If you part cook and freeze it, the artichoke can be used year round.

 

Artichokes were introduced into England in the 16th century and were grown in monastic gardens both for decorative reasons and as a vegetable. However, history is littered with references to them, in the 4th Century BC Theophrastus stated that they were most pleasant boiled, or eaten raw.

 

In a description of culinary variation I particularly like from 1730, Tournefort says, “The Artichoke is well known at the table. What we call the bottom is the thalamus on which the embryos of seeds are placed. The leaves are the scales of the impalement. The choke is the florets, with a chaffy substance intermixed. The French & Germans boil the heads as we do, but modern day Italians generally eat them raw with salt, oil and pepper”.

 

The thistle like flowers when not being eaten do make highly attractive border additions, rich violet-blue set off against the grey-green scales stoutly reaching up to 6ft. Some gardeners use globe artichokes in exactly the same way as Cardoon’s, Scolymus cardunculus, blanching the inner leaf stalks in the early part of the year. Cardoon’s need a lot of room and are renowned for their spiny growth, however it has its followers; Pliny recommended its medical properties and Dioscorides makes reference to large scale production around Great Carthage. 

 

 

Both Cynara scolymus and Scolymus cardunculus, although different genus are related, being members of the Compositae family which is the 2nd largest flowering family. Also a member of the same family and sharing the floral number/key is Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus. 

 

There is an irony with Jerusalem Artichoke, it’s native to the Northern American Plains, prolific in lakes of Canada and reaching Sastatchewan, but it does not grow naturally in the lands historically known to us as Judea. Sadly for me its heritage was not some mystical story, no it is actually a corruption of an Italian word. Italians referred to Helianthus Tuberosus as the sunflower artichoke, due no doubt to the small golden flowers it produces. So in Italian, Jerusalem Artichoke is Girasola articiocco, Girasola meaning, ‘turning to the sun’.

 

Joseph Hooker writing in 1897 states, “In the year 1617, Mr John Goodyer of Mapledurham Hampshire, received two small roots of it from Mr. Franqueville, of London. In October of the same year, Mr Goodyer wrote an account of it for T. Johnson, who printed it in his edition of Gerard’s ‘Herball’, which appeared in 1636 where it is called Jerusalem Artichoke. Prior to that is was also called by the same name in ‘Paradisus’ published in 1629. He also gives the reader some recipes: boiled and skinned to be eaten with butter and wine, along with baking in pies. He also informs the reader that in some parts they are known as potatoes of Canada, being introduced by the French from Canada and cooked in "milk served with beef”.

 

I have found it is best to grow them in the same spot for three years and then relocate the best tubers, as left in the same spot they seem to grow smaller in following years. However, the trick here is to be able to clear the ground of the original bed as they grow from the smallest of tubers.

Between the strawberries, fruit bushes roses and of course artichokes, there are plenty of other really good, hardworking plants for summer months in our gardens. As restrictions ease following the pandemic it’s worth checking which National Garden Scheme gardens are open by appointment across the country.  In past years, private London Squares and gardens have opened their doors raising money for Macmillan nurses.  The benefit for new gardens is often the homegrown plant sales, inspirations and practical advice from other city gardeners, only too happy to encourage others to green the city! You can easily check and book online and it’s a very pleasant way to while away a lazy Saturday without travel.

 

July

July always seems to me to be the month of holidays, be they a luxurious week at home or travel, it is a month that kick starts the holiday season. We sometimes take our gardens for granted, but if you are stay-cationing there, there are a few tricks you can deploy to make your garden feel like a far-flung paradise.

 

The first is scent, choose plants that during hot sunny days realise glorious scents reminiscent of elsewhere. For me, nothing beats both the flowers and scent of Galega! Galega or Meadow Rue to use its common name is an easy to grow, hardy, short-lived perennial. It tolerates poor soils and helps other plants. Great news for gardens, but its flowers are the real showstopper. Clusters of mauve or white flowers release an almost identical fragrance to expensive suntan lotions and fill the garden with a sense of the Maldives!

 

Other great plants that feel holiday-like include Heliotrope, which in the UK is an easy to grow annual with bobble like flowers in a variety of colours from white to pink and yellow. Its foliage is richly scented and when crushed, smells like the heat-laid streets of coastal Spanish and Moroccan villages.

 

Combining richly scented plants with colourful cushions, outdoor garden rugs and parasols, will create a great beachside sensation and easily transport you to a relaxing break away.

 

If you grow herbs such as mint, lemon balm or coriander, you also have some of the core ingredients for some serious summertime aperos! Nothing beats a cool gin with fresh mint and cucumber and luckily both grow easily in containers and city gardens.

 

Learn to Love Fennel

One maligned ingredient, which also makes a good garden plant, is the trusty fennel. Recently, I heard someone say, ‘A garden is not complete without a geranium’ and I thought: true in late spring and early summer, but it’s fennel that creates a feathery back drop later in the year adding texture to clumps of yet to bloom late season perennials. 

 

Fennel, be it giant, bronze, or green to name the most obvious, is one of those such genus that adds so much. Freely growing in most temperate parts of Europe and self-seeding along riverbanks, it seems to have left its more native Mediterranean and migrated, almost with the Roman conquests, to now stretch from North Wales across mainland Europe to Russia, India, and parts of what was Persia.

 

Foeniculum was the named used to describe this plant by the Romans, derived from the Latin word for Hay, which for those who studied Latin will come as no surprise. Foenum was then corrupted in the Middle Ages to Fanculum, which, in turn, gives rise to the alternative name and now largely disused common name of Fenkel.

 

The Romans used to eat the sweet edible young shoots and aromatic seeds. So popular was it, that Pliny attributed 22 medical remedies to it. He observed that, “Serpents eat it after casting their old skins and that they sharpened their sight by rubbing against the plant afore resting in the grass”. Now, luckily in England, we don’t see many serpents, and most ‘snakes in the grass’ are in fact two-legged. In fact, I say this just to illustrate the origin of the phrase.

 

Throughout medieval England, and Europe, on midsummer’s eve you would have seen fennel hung together with St John’s Wort to ward off evil spirits and witchcraft. Also, it would have been used regularly on its own. Often it was served with fish, in this instance salt fish, during Lent.

 

Although references are made in early Anglo-Saxon cookery and medical recipes prior to the Norman conquest, fennel was not widely cultivated until Charlemagne ordered it be grown on imperial farms, stimulating the growth of popular crops.

 

In 1650, one of the most amusing descriptions of its uses was written, and imagine what a reaction such a statement might cause in today’s world, “Both the seeds, leaves and root of our Garden Fennel are much used in drinks and broths for those who are grown fat, to abate their unwieldiness and cause them to grow more gaunt and lank”, it’s from William Coles Nature’s Paradise, but it was also mentioned by the great herbalist Gerard in 1597. However, much earlier the ancient Greeks knew fennel as Marathon from the Greek maraino meaning to grow thin. In Edward I’s reign, the poor used to eat fennel seeds to satisfy hunger cravings on fasting days and to make unpalatable foods taste better, along with, I presume, suppressing hunger to ensure a small portion.

 

Along with its now well-known hunger suppressing capabilities, it is also thought to convey longevity and to give strength and courage.

 

One of the most well-known uses of fennel is as an accompaniment to fish. In 1640 Parkinson writes, ‘being sweete and somewhat hot helpeth to digest the crude qualitie of fish and other viscous meats. We use it to lay upon fish or to boyle it therewith’. It's this culinary use with salmon or mackerel, in much the same way as parsley, which saw patches of fennel in country house kitchen gardens.

 

Fennel also has calmative qualities, fennel tea can be made from a teaspoon of bruised seeds and used chiefly for those suffering from over excitement. I generally use small young shoots in salads or in soups. In Italy the stalks, blanched, are eaten with olive oil and pepper.

 

In the garden, it grows to make a billowing cloud of feathery foliage, a great foil in the middle or back of the border. When the flowers are open, they are a deep sulphury yellow, you can smell its presence in the air. I always associate the smell of fennel with high summer. It works really well to reduce the ‘weightiness’ of some plants. The light, almost dancing, foliage seems to lift other plants in its company. If you are a minimalist fan, I have seen a rather forward-thinking piece of urban planting recently where purple fennel was planted by the 1000’s against a backdrop of bleached timber walling. The foliage seemed to resemble a bubbling moving piece of art as it stretched its way along the lengthy facade.

 

In fact, the gardening in July can be a heaven of escapism. Create a cosy corner to curl up and read a book, or while the weather is good, bring out blankets and comfy chairs to create an outdoor cinema experience. On warm evenings it is a great way to really feel the benefit of your outdoor space and with micro projectors linked directly to a smart phone, you even create an outdoor cinema on balcony with amazing views of the city to boot!

 

Water aware

Being slightly more practical keep an eye on watering. If you have an irrigation system installed, just check the nozzles are all working, and nothing is blocked. If you know you are going to be away from home for a period of time, ask a friend or neighbour to check the watering for you, or consider installing a smart tap which can be pre-programmed to water for a set period each day or activated from your smart phone. 

 

Watering and containers really go hand-in-hand, so be prepared. Even a plastic bottled upturned and filled with water will work to slowly realise water direct to the plants roots on hot days, which can make all the difference, especially to outdoor grown aubergines, tomatoes and other thirst container grown plants or crops.

 

My top tip for watering with the hose, or Waterman, is to do it either first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. The plants will get more of the water as the midday heat will not have dried the soil. Also never water the foliage, it's a waste, always roots, roots and roots.

 

Wherever you are in July, enjoy a month of gentle gardening escapism

 

Gardeners Digest by Brewin Dolphin with Paul Hervey-Brookes 2021