Updated: Jul 4, 2018
Gaps in the garden happen to all of us but they can be minimised with some thorough planning which you really need to start in midsummer. Yes that’s right MIDSUMMER!!!
So, there are 4 types of garden:
1. There are gardens, which like mine, look great through spring and then by summer start to fade and look tired, tatty and bare.
2. Gardens which don’t seem to come to life and look their best until midsummer and you are left wondering why?
3. There are perfect gardens which you see in books and magazines and at Chelsea flower show!! These are not infact real and should be eliminated from your mind!!
4. There are gardens which are totally overgrown and weed infested – I am sorry but this blog may not be for you – I will cover that off in a whole separate blog!! You can read this and dream for now in the knowledge that wildlife does not really care and the number of insects you are housing and caring for in amongst your dandelions and nettles far outweighs the mental benefits of having a beautifully manicured lawn and beds.
So for now let’s deal with the first two garden types. In the UK you can get flowers in the garden from as early as February and I have even seen a neighbour’s blossom tree with flowers in December last year!!! Right through to the frosts in November when the berries take on a whole new beauty. The key really is on the timing, planning and realising your shopping habits, which I will explain below in detail.
February starts with the Hellebore. This is my all time favourite flower simply because it’s the 1st of the season in my garden. When nothing else is even thinking of throwing up even a leaf, Hellebores are in full bloom. They are the ultimate perennial which require so little maintenance and they look wonderful drifting through the garden on a bleak winters day lasting for around 12 weeks!!! Check out my Hellebores blog for more info. Around the same time Camellias come into bloom, they don’t last terribly long, only few weeks, and this year my light pink flowers were blasted by the beastly snow and all turned brown but they really are a magnificent sight. From here on things do get a little easier with Anemones and Ranunculus, Daffodils and tulips all making an appearance for spring. Summertime we have blooms galore so I won’t labour this one but Gladioli, Dahlias and berries always finish off the season for me. Last year I cut my last Gladioli in September, Last Dahlia in October and berries actually took me right through to December.
So with all of this in mind it is also worth examining your shopping habits. If you are a fair weather gardener and only visit the garden centre when the sun is shining then you are likely to have lots of gaps at strategic times of year. Garden centres always show what is looking best so they won’t have Hellebores in July or Dahlias in January. The key is to ensure that you visit the garden centre ( if you want to buy your plants rather than propagate them yourself ) at all times of year, this way you will be selecting plants which look good all year round. My garden tends to look very poor with no blooms at all in late July & August– because I always go on holiday and the last thing I am thinking of is plants when suncream and a new swimsuit are on my mind.
So the trick to getting blooms all year round is to ensure that you start off your seed sowing NOW!! Don’t wait until next spring as it will be too late and you will not get any blooms until mid summer. Here is my guide below to a good all year round garden with some of my own planting schedules:
Mid to Late summer: Start to sow seeds now of biennials & perennials. It’s early July, and I have just sowed Aquilegia, Delphinium, Fennel, Globe thistle, Lupins & Verbascum. These will all be coming up over the next few weeks in this glorious warm weather and by September will have grown into quite substantial plants which will easily make it through the winter by laying quite dormant in my greenhouse. Over the coming weeks I will also be sowing hundreds of Foxgloves! In springtime they will once again pick up speed with the longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures and can be transplanted into the garden in spring. These will bloom many, many weeks earlier then anything sowed in March and enable you go get a head start on the season.
Early Autumn, this is around September time in the UK I will be sowing/planting Achillea, Anemone, Ranunculus, Snapdragons, Astrantia, Clarkia and larkspur. This is all alongside the Daffodils of course.
September is also the time to take many cuttings from the garden, from Fuchsias to Hydrangeas and lilacs, also the berry bushes such as Snowberry where suckers can be divided from the parent plant. I always find that my hardwood cuttings of September root much better than springtime cuttings as they are not trying to produce leaf, all their energy goes into the roots.
October is for sweet peas, they will grow into tiny seedlings which need to be slightly protected inside a greenhouse but no heat is generally required and if nipped by the frost then this naturally pinches the tips out for you. Come spring these will be much larger much quicker and I have found that they will flower a good few weeks earlier. November is Tulip planting time – so after Daffodils not at the same time.
I also find that anything which needs cold stratification is best sowed by latest Oct/Nov time. This includes Alchemilla, Eucalyptus, Chinese Lantern etc. I just cannot bear having pots and packets in the fridge or freezer in spring for any length of time, it gets quite messy so I let the good old British weather do the job for me. In nature seeds require specific conditions in order to germinate. During stratification seed dormancy is broken to promote germination. In order for stratification of seeds to be successful you need to mimic the exact conditions required in nature so it is vital that you do follow instructions on each packet carefully. I also prefer to sow seeds across more than one pot – at least two. I often find that one pot germinates freely and the other does not ,so at least I get something, which is far more satisfying than no germination!
By this time I am all ready for Christmas and the wreath making kicks in !
January I buy more fresh seeds for my annuals which I can then start to sow from Feb/March onwards and I sow successionally right through to July. If I only buy one packet of seed I split the packet and sow a maximum of half the seeds at any one time. Four Weeks later I will then make a second sowing and sometimes a third & forth, so that I get continuous blooms for a much longer period. My favourite annuals this year have been Amaranthus Love Lies Bleeding, Hares Tails, Gypsophila Covent Garden, Lime Zinnias and Cornflower Black Boy. For tips on the dark art of propagation check out my blog from earlier in the year and also my top 12 tips to seedling success.
Next in the Diary are the Dahlias, I start to take mine out of storage in April time and prep them to take cuttings. These will give a fantastic display of blooms through Autumn when everything else is fading. Check out my Dahlias bog for more info on growing & propagating them.
The next trick which can be employed to delay blooms is the Chelsea chop. This is when you can chop plants such as Achillea, Aster, Phlox, Helenium, Penstemons and Sedums …………….. right back. This technique will make plants bushier and provide more blooms later in the season if chopped back in late May. There are several ways to cut depending in your preference, using sharp secateurs simply cut back stems either on one side, front/back or every other stem for an all over effect. This all over effect is my preferred method, it does take a little longer but provides a very natural look. You are aiming to take around 1/3 of the overall length of the stem when you do thi.
Once this is done its time to sit back and relax, enjoy the garden for a few weeks before the whole cycle starts all over again.