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July notes on tweaking, drinks in hand & hammocks.

It’s peak summer and hammock time. The experienced gardener is like a conductor of a huge orchestra; keeping the beat of the garden maintained, supporting harmony across the instrumental sections and punctuating the symphony with fireworks of delight from one hit wonders. A list of jobs for the month looks long but in reality it is all tweaking now. The hard work has been done.

Unlike a living room or any interior design, the garden is never ‘completed’. There is no plant that behaves like a lamp where you can command flowering on or off. You can’t hoover the borders of weeds or dust the dead flowers off plants. I think the truest mark of a gardener, is one that really does love the ‘housework’ required of nurturing the gardens.

Jobs in the garden this month will revolve around gently tending the flower borders and kitchen gardens as they simmer away. Pinch out the main stem of annuals like cosmos, nicotiana, snapdragons and sunflowers. Take out the tip to encourage them to bush out. Keep picking flowers from plants every week to prevent plants running to seed. Gather a bunch of flowers for your table, bedside or for a friend. Cornflowers, nigella and calendula are essential cottage garden flowers and a jug of these is so evocative of the English summer. Ensure to tie in dahlias and sweet peas, feeding once a week.

Clear spring flowering biennials of sweet william and sweet rocket. Prune lavender, divide irises if they have got overcrowded. Tidy back perennials such as geraniums and take cuttings of salvias and scented geraniums.

Pinch out the growing side shoots of tomatoes, tie in and feed once a week. When it is really hot, water the soil every morning so the soil is moist. Sow beans, kale, radish, carrots and beetroot. Pinch off growing tips of squash and courgettes. Harvest herbs and sow more basil. Chop chives, fennel and marjoram back hard to refresh the growth. Thin fruit trees of their fruit - we had such a still spring and the blossom stayed for weeks so we were always in for a bumper harvest. Allow each fruit to swell, air to circulate and reduce weight on the branches. Create new strawberry plants from runners and gather in those salads, greens and beans.

In reality most of those tasks can be done with a drink in your hand, a little wry smug smile knowing what went before to arrive at the garden now. There are certainly jobs there that I would love to do, but I haven’t got the plants planted to even complain about having to maintain! This is that pivotal point of the year where you can look about and plan for your future July.

Enjoy this month from your lounger and dream. What about that list leaves you wanting? What would you like to be doing or seeing in your garden right now? What do you want to harvest? Do you need to order seeds, bulbs or make a new border plan? Now is the exact right time to do that. I’d encourage focusing on a couple of points of the year and spots in the garden then work backwards. You might need to replant in the autumn, create new beds and plan for next summer. Consider the incremental steps to get to this time next year where you will be ticking off the tasks, gathering flowers and produce. Knowing what you want and and planning your way there is where the fun begins.

Originally published in Cambridge Edition July 2022.

Sunflowers & Tomato plants


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