At this time of year don't forget to stop and smell the roses

What to do in the garden this week? Olive Ryan shares some advice
At this time of year don't forget to stop and smell the roses

A view of the topiary meadow at Great Dixter in June with Centranthus ruber (red valerian) in the foreground.

PLENTY of seasonal jobs to tick off of the list in the garden and the arrival of these heavy showers are helping to freshen up beds and borders which were starting to suffer due to the lack of moisture, writes Olive Ryan in her weekly column.

The merits of mulching really come into play during a dry spell when a mulch really does help to preserve valuable water.

Do keep an eye on any newly planted trees and shrubs particularly as they need regular watering in the first year after planting until they get their roots established.

Harvesting has started in earnest in the vegetable garden and there is plenty of broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce and spring onions ready for use.

Tomatoes are beginning to ripen also in the polytunnel or glasshouse and regular weekly feeding, tieing in and removal of side shoots will ensure the best crop will be obtained.

Climbing plants like runner beans, french beans, mange tout and sweet pea have been slow to get going as the wind has challenged them since they were planted out into the ground. Tieing them into supports provided will help them to get going and hopefully the winds will ease and higher temperatures will see their ascent up their supports with plenty of produce and flowers to follow this summer.

Time now to consider harvesting garlic that was planted late last year outdoors and drying the bulbs before storage. The lower leaves will start to go yellow indicating that the bulbs are ready and as with onions ease the garlic out of the ground so as not to damage the root plate as this will ensure better storage.

Roses are flowering well this summer and dead heading will ensure flowers will continue throughout the summer with many varieties.

A good mulch with farmyard manure or some chicken manure pellets in early spring is usually sufficient to produce a display throughout the summer months and providing a healthy weed free soil will result in a great display.

We really have come full circle in relation to spraying of roses for aphids and black spot and the understanding that growing plants in a healthy environment supporting natural predators and enemies of plant pests in addition to pruning appropriately at the right time is a much more sustainable way of gardening.

Areas of wildflower meadow are looking good and the seed of yellow rattle, also known as the meadow maker are beginning to rattle in their pods as the seed begins to ripen. Collecting some of this seed and sowing it in September and October in areas where grass is strong will help to weaken the grass and allow flowering plants to establish. This plant (Rhinanthus minor) is an annual plant which is parasitic and latches onto the roots of grass and absorbs the water and minerals from their roots, hence the name meadow maker as it is instrumental in the establishment of more flowers by reducing competition from the grass which can be a fierce competitor in a wildflower meadow, particularly when the soil is fertile.

To manage a wildflower meadow it is important to remove anything that will increase the fertility of the soil as this will strengthen grass growth to the detriment of flowers. 

This means that the grass clippings need to be removed when the meadow is cut down in late summer/early autumn, a traditional time for saving the hay. Letting the clippings dry out once cut means that the seeds will have time to dry and return to the soil lying in wait for germination the following spring.

In the 90s Great Dixter Gardens began the conversion of the topiary lawn into wildflower meadow meadow and it caused quite the stir. It was a dramatic change from the formal tightly mown lawn around the very structured clipped and shaped hedging. The effect has been inspirational with the wild flowers and grasses wafting in the wind against the backdrop of the tightly clipped topiary pieces. 

Yellow rattle, picture courtsey of
Yellow rattle, picture courtsey of

The grass was left to grow and yellow rattle introduced and today there is a meadow rich in native flower species including orchids and it is a joy to behold. 

If you are thinking of undertaking such a project then now is the time to start planning by saving some yellow rattle seed which can be sown after the grass/lawn area is cut down tight in the autumn time so that the soil is close to the surface and there is contact for the seeds to germinate the following spring. It is certainly not a no maintenance approach but it is a rewarding project during which you can watch as species appear throughout your patch of grass and insect and bird life will abound becoming richer every year.

Right now is a very busy and productive time in the garden, important to sit and admire now also as all of the work throughout the year leads to this time, peak growth and we need to remember to stop and smell the roses, something that gardeners sometimes forget to take the time to do! Happy Summer Gardening!

Yellow rattle growing in the meadows at Great Dixter.
Yellow rattle growing in the meadows at Great Dixter.

Plant of the week

This week it has to be yellow rattle or the meadow maker.

This annual native Irish wildflower has an upright growth habit and produces small yellow tubular flowers from May until September and is commonly found in meadows and heaths.

It gets to about 45cm in height when in flower and produces seeds in pods that can be heard rattling walking through the grass and hence its name.

It will grow best in a free draining soil with full sun and once established it will seed itself each year.

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