Our Head Gardener, Claire Greenslade, discusses the jobs you can start to do in your garden this summer.
Hurrah the frosts are over and we can get all our tender plants such as Dahlia and Canna back out of the glasshouse for some fresh air. Now is a great time to plant out any bedding plants and annuals. We change the bedding display on our Victorian terrace twice per year. The summer scheme is planted at the end of May to beginning of June. This will stay in the ground until November. It is then lifted and composted ready to replant the winter/spring bedding. It's a mammoth job but it does make sure that there is something to see in these beds all year round.
Keep staking and propping up plants to prevent them from flopping. We use hazel which we coppice from the estate and use as pea sticks, or to create structures for plants to grow through. This gives a wonderful natural look. But if you don't have access to any material to make your own, there are lots of beautiful rusted metal stakes on the market too. Even some bamboo canes and string will do the job - soon enough the foliage of the plant will hide your support. Look out for courses on how to make willow obelisks as supports and learn a new skill.
Think of the environment and water sparingly. Even if there isn't a hosepipe ban, water is a precious resource that we should treat more carefully. Prioritise which plants really need water. It's important to water plants well when you first plant them so that they can get their roots established, but after that the plant will soon tell you if it's thirsty! Try to harvest as much rainwater as possible from roofs of your house and garden sheds or glasshouses. Water the soil directly rather than watering the leaves of the plant. This will help to get the water straight to the roots where it is needed and reduces the effects of scorch on the leaves.
Keep deadheading. The best way to prolong any flowering is to keep deadheading your plants. Just pinch or cut the flowers back to the next leaf. Removing the spent flower not only looks better, but it will stop the plant producing seed, and this will encourage them to put out more flowers instead. Keep tying in new shoots of climbing plants. With climbing and rambling roses the more horizontally you tie them, the more this encourages bud break, and where the bud breaks you get more flowers.
Feed hungry plants. Over the years we have used lots of different feeds on the plants. Blood, fish, and bone is effective but we have lots of canine friends at Hestercombe and the scent drives them wild. For the last few years we have used a liquid seaweed feed. This year we are trialling our own home made feeds of comfrey and nettle against a bought in seaweed feed to compare the results. Homemade feeds are super easy to make, if a bit smelly, and it gives you an excuse for a nettle patch in the garden! Just collect some material, pop it into a pillowcase and submerge it into a bucket of water. Put a brick on top of the submerged material so that it doesn't float to the surface. After a few weeks remove the pillowcase. You can then add some feed to your watering can - we use roughly one part fertiliser to 15 parts water.
Sow any biennial seeds such as foxglove, Chinese forget me not, sweet williams and honesty ready for next year.
Leave a patch of your lawn to grow longer to benefit wildlife. We have areas at Hestercombe where we take part in an incentive called 'no mow May'. The idea is that there are lots of flowering plants within the lawn that would be beneficial to insects, if we didn't cut our lawns so much. At Hestercombe we have taken this a step further and also have 'jack it off June' and in some areas this is extended to 'just don’t bother July'. It will leave a good food source of flowering plants for pollinators. You can really see the difference in your populations of pollinating insects, which are vital for keeping a garden alive as well as helping you with pest control.