Foxgloves put on a summer show in garden

It is a great time to sow biennials like foxgloves, honesty, wallflowers and sweet william, says Olive Ryan in her weekly column.
Foxgloves put on a summer show in garden

Foxgloves are one of the best early summer plants in the garden.

FOXGLOVES are putting on quite the show in the garden at the moment, they are one of the best early summer plants in the garden and the beauty of the self-sown seedlings with different colours emerging each year is a joy to behold.

There are some stunning cultivars like Sutton’s Apricot, which is a subtle shade of peachy pink, and Pam’s Choice (right) - a white foxglove with a purple speckled throat. These cultivars can be introduced to the garden and allowed to seed freely.

Now is a great time to label more choice colours so seed can be saved in a few more weeks, or to allow the better colours to go to seed in situ and pull the ordinary purple ones out before they go to seed. Native purple foxgloves are also very pretty, but once the more select colours are introduced to the garden, the eye is drawn to something a bit different.

It is a great time to sow biennials like foxgloves, honesty, wallflowers and sweet william. 

All these are invaluable early in the growing season for colour, and to bridge the gap between spring bulbs and herbaceous flowers. Once they are introduced to the garden, many will self-seed freely, if this is not desirable they can be pulled out before running to seed.

Biennial seeds sown now can be potted and will make sturdy plants, ready to plant out in the garden this autumn into positions where they will flower next spring.

Wind can be problematic at this time of year, with lots of soft new growth on plants, and there has been some over the last week or two, which did some damage, so pruning may be necessary to remove damaged/broken branches, and stakes may need to be put in place on herbaceous plants getting quite tall.

Now is a good time to do some Chelsea chopping, be careful not to leave this too late or go too severe, as the plants may not recover if it is too dry and warm after chopping!

Climbing plants like roses, sweet pea and clematis will need to be kept tied in to ensure unruly new growth is going in the right direction.

The vegetable garden is starting to take shape now, with most young transplants planted out into the soil and lots of direct sowings starting to look like productive crops.

Young transplants can suffer setback immediately after planting out as they adjust to their new outdoor location, soil and microclimate. Regular watering and weeding is necessary until they are established and settled into their new growing position.

Continuous sowing of lettuce and other salad crops like radish, spinach and beetroot will ensure continuous availability of fresh new leaves and roots throughout the summer. 

Sow lettuce on a cool day as the seeds will not germinate when temperatures get over 20C, and in a protected environment like a glasshouse or polytunnel temperatures can rise quickly, so keep this in mind when sowing lettuce seeds.

Aphids start to be problematic as summer proceeds and ventilation is key to keeping crops healthy, and not allowing numbers to build up, particularly in a protected environment.

Also, remove spent crops of lettuce and ensure any weeds or prunings from tomato plants are removed from the immediate growing environment and returned to the compost heap, as these maybe harbouring pests and disease.

We need to be ruthless at this time of year to keep healthy growth going throughout the summer, and taking out earlier sowings past their productive date, and indeed self-seeded crops or flowers now, is necessary to make room for new, healthy crops.

Bringing some flowers attractive to hover flies will also be beneficial for aphid control as the larvae of these insects prey on aphids.

Calendula, marigolds, borage, nasturtiums, cosmos and chives all make great companion plants and look great planted among vegetables.

Prevention is better than a cure when it comes to keeping aphid numbers at bay, as they can cause a lot of damage to crops when their numbers increase quickly.

Good housekeeping, healthy, well nourished soil, regular weeding and watering are all key to a healthy, productive growing environment.

Do not forget to water the compost heap in dry spells as a lack of moisture will arrest the breakdown process when all other conditions are ideal. Keeping the heap covered to retain moisture is a good idea in the summer months. Some tarp, black plastic or an old carpet is ideal.

It is so useful to have our own compost available on demand as crops are being replaced and nourishment and mulching is needed for the soil during the summer months. Happy Composting!

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