Gardening with Patricia Jordan
June already and almost halfway through the year, but most gardens had a late start this year and village gardens are still full of lovely roses. I am sure that the roses in the gardens near to me are never pruned, yet they are always in flower and give passers-by as much pleasure as I am sure they give to their owners. I cast envious glances each time I pass by.
It doesn’t matter where I am – supermarket checkout, friends’ houses, concerts, church halls or garden parties, inevitably someone will come up to me with a gardening question. My horticultural knowledge is fairly extensive having gardened in the tropics and northern Europe for many years and been involved in Mediterranean gardening for nearly two decades, so I feel flattered that people should think I can help them.
Usually questions are why certain plants don’t produce flowers or what to do to combat various bugs, or even why a particular plant died. A recent query was ideas for trees for small gardens.
Now that is a very good question as nobody would want towering jacarandas or huge palm trees to be dominating small borders around a house. Better to grow Tecoma stans, Leucophyllum frutescens or even the ubiquitous hibiscus, despite mealy bug problems – (try hybrids rather than the common or garden red flowered ones).
Other enquiries come in via emails, sometimes accompanied by slightly out of focus images. It helps to identify plants if a flower or bud is shown in the image. Unlike some gardening writers in the UK whose mail often includes soggy or dying leaves and flowers, I much prefer images! Please do not let this deter you from writing or emailing me. I am always pleased to assist when I can.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
At this time of the year, those early flowering plants that we so enjoyed are going over and need some attention now. Chasmanthe (still known here as monbretia) should have dead leaves taken off now that they have dried. If you remove them too soon then you will not have flowers next year. Every few years or so they should be lifted and cleaned by taking off the ‘tunic’, which is a net around the corm. Look underneath the base of the corm and you will find a hard flat base plate, which should also be removed. You can replant now or wait until the autumn, but they probably will not flower for a while after such drastic, but necessary surgery! You may want to take up any freesia corms now that the foliage has died off and clean up the corms and keep them in a dry place until the autumn rains come and you can plant them out again and enjoy their delightful perfumed flowers. Cut down frayed strelitzia leaves and flowers that have died and gone over. The leaves, despite looking so robust, are extremely vulnerable to rain, winds and locusts and can look very untidy if they are torn and ragged. The same goes for canna lily leaves, which can be shredded by any locusts or leaf rollers that attack them. There have been a lot of pollen beetles about this year. Usually, they attack Damascena roses, but this year they have been all over some older lavender bushes, resulting in their demise. Not much pollen there, I fear!
Early herbs, like marjoram and sages, may need a trim at this time, so cut them back to new growths close to the base of the plant. It may seem rather drastic but there is no sense in wasting the plants’ energy in making seeds. Keep dead-heading lavender and sage flowers as they die off, the former may need some drastic pruning especially Lavandula pinnata with its grey velvety foliage and multi-flower heads on tall stems.
If you like evening primroses Oenothera speciose is a good ground cover plant producing lots of lovely soft pink flowers over a long season. Generally speaking, evening primroses only flower in the evening as their common name would suggest, but this little beauty flowers all day and night. Beware though as it can wander over your beds unless kept under control, but it is a good ground cover plant denying access to weeds.
Lots of plants have flowers that are open for only one day. Hemerocallis is one of these although it can have several flower buds on the same stem. They are available in such lovely colours now and when they grow into large plants there will be plenty of flowers to enjoy. Hibiscus drops flowers daily as well, but you can always add them and any dead leaves to your compost bins, provided they are not full of mealy bugs! Other summer bulbs are coming into their own now are the flowers of tulbaghias. They will be followed shortly by agapanthus. What a debt we owe to South Africa for these two plants.
Now that the irises have gone over, remove some of the dying leaves by pulling them away from the rhizome (the fleshy part above the roots). This will expose them to the sun where it will perform its magic during the next few months and hopefully help produce next season’s flowers. This year I had plenty of blooms on my Iris germanica, the large flowered blue irises that grow so well here. They are heavy feeders and much prefer Bone Meal as a feed, spread around the root areas, to any other. Every three years or so, they need to be uplifted once the leaves start to turn brown. The old central pieces of rhizome along with any old flower stems should be discarded and the trimmed plant replanted facing into the sun, with the top of the rhizome exposed.
The summer jasmines are coming into their own right now. The first is usually Trachelospermum jasminoides, whose delightful perfume will enchant you as you walk around your garden. Very rightly named the Star jasmine due to the shape of its flowers, this beauty should be planted near to your open windows or doorways so that the perfume will drift indoors on the evening breezes. All the new foliage which appears after the savage early spring pruning of Jasminum officinale will produce slightly larger flowers with just a tinge of pink on the petal ends and an even lovelier perfume. This jasmine will flower continuously throughout the summer months. Such are the delights of the early summer garden.
Don’t forget your hanging baskets and planters as the temperatures rise. These plants are totally dependent on you for their sustenance and need extra attention during these next hot months, so give them the care they deserve.
PLANT OF THE MONTH Agapanthus africanus
Agapanthus is a lovely plant to have in any warm summer garden. Originally, from South Africa and grown extensively in Australia and New Zealand, where they are regarded as pest plants as they flourish alongside the highways in great abundance, they are well known in other countries too. It is thought that the first rootstocks were taken to England in 1679 from the Western Cape area of South Africa, and they were known then as the African Lily or the Lily of the Nile. There are only a handful of species but hundreds of hybrids. Some of the listed variety names such as Cambridge Blue or Oxford Blue give a clue to their colouring and others are named after famous rivers like the Dneiper and the Danube, although these rivers are seldom coloured blue! A little gardeners’ licence I fear.
Agapanthus can be grown in tubs or in flowerbeds and are the most accommodating plants in that they can survive with little water, making them ideal for hot gardens. If they are pot-grown, do ensure that there is good drainage, as they do not like to be excessively wet! In fact, if you water them too much the leaves will turn yellow at the ends, so watch out for that. They like to grow in light places, but to be kept out of the burning mid-summer sun, which will scorch their strap-like dark-green leaves.
It is a common fallacy that the more crowded together they are, the more flowers they will achieve. Move them up a pot size occasionally and feed with a good fertiliser in spring and summer, alternating between Phostrogen and a tomato feed. If they are fed with a high nitrogen feed then they will produce lots of leaves and few if any flowers, so better choose a fertiliser with a low first number. Eventually, you will have to split them up though, or you will end up with an enormous pot full! As a result, like many other plants, they might sulk for a season, but hopefully, flower again the next time around. If you have lots of patience you could try growing them from seed, but it can take up to five years before there is any chance of a flower!