Top five gardening projects to try this summer
You can't make the sun come out but you can get outside and into the spirit of summer with these five projects for our favourite season of the year - all guaranteed to improve your garden and the time you spend in it!
1. The Chelsea Chop
Prolong the flowering season of your herbaceous perennials with the Chelsea chop. A favourite of garden designers and professional growers, the Chelsea chop is a method of cutting back herbaceous perennials in order to control their season of flowering, and results in flowering either being delayed or extended. It's called the Chelsea chop because it is usually done at the end of May around the time of the famous RHS Flower show.
Plants that work best for the Chelsea chop are perennials that flower later in the season such as late summer and autumn flowering heleniums, sedums etc.
The easiest way to do it is to simply cut back clumps of plants with secateurs or hand shears by half. It may seem drastic and feel like you are cutting your plants down right in their prime but don't panic! Plants will be neater and more compact and their flowering will be delayed until late summer when you may well get an even better display than normal.
If you have more than one group of the same plant, cut some and not others to lengthen the flowering season over a number of weeks. Another trick is to cut half the stems at the front of a group, leaving the rest and they will come into flower first followed by the cut stems which will bloom as they fade.
2. Introduce more wildlife into your garden
It's increasingly recognized that gardening with wildlife in mind benefits not just the wildlife itself but also our gardens, with bees and butterflies pollinating flowers and insects such as ladybirds, birds and hedgehogs joining us in the battle against pests. One of the best ways to encourage wildlife into your garden is with a pond, and with nearly 70% of countryside ponds now lost, garden ones are increasingly important. For breeding toads, frogs and newts, as well as damselflies and dragonflies, any pond is perfect providing it has a depth of at least 45cm, which means you don't need to hand over a huge amount of space - any watertight container, such as an old tin bath, will make a difference.
Fill your container with rainwater, rather than water from the tap, and then plant it up with marginal aquatic plants such as water forget-me-not and iris and oxygenators like water soldiers. Plant the marginals into aquatic baskets topped off with pebbles to stop the compost floating away and place them around the edge of the container. The water soldiers can simply be dropped straight into the water. Finally, pile stones up in one corner of your pond to make it easy for animals like hedgehogs to get in and out.
3. Grow your own salad box
Salads are as much a part of summer as strawberries and cream, but rather than buying endless, overpriced bags from the supermarket, why not grow your own this year for fresh pickings whenever you want them.
You don't need a veg plot - hearting lettuce and cut-and-come again leaves such as 'Salad Bowl' are all happy in window boxes, plastic tubs even hanging baskets.
You can start from scratch and sow packets of seeds successionally, every couple of weeks throughout the summer for a continuous supply or give yourself a head start with trays of young plants available from the garden centre.
Thin out the seedlings of hearting types to give plants room to develop but don't waste them - these can be eaten too. Cut-and-come-again types can be harvested sufficiently young that they don't need thinning, just pick evenly across the rows and you should get two or three pickings from each sowing.
4. Try taking cuttings
Hanging baskets and containers filled with summer bedding plants are a cheery way to brighten up the garden, but why not have a go at producing some of the plants yourself. Bedding geraniums, or pelargoniums, are easy to propagate by cuttings towards the end of the summer. They will be ready to plant out the following spring and should burst into bloom a few weeks later.
Using clean secateurs or a sharp knife, take strong, healthy shoots from a pelargonium, cutting immediately above a bud. Then remove any flower buds and the lower leaves and trim your cutting so that it stops just below a node - a leaf joint and the spot where the plants hormones are at their highest.
Fill pots with a mix of multipurpose compost and sand to improve drainage and then dip cuttings into hormone rooting powder if you have it, to give your cuttings the best chance of success. Using the end of a pencil dib holes in the compost and then insert three or four cuttings around the edge of the pot (placing them around the edge gives them a better chance of surviving as they will lose less moisture there). Water them in, wetting the compost only and stand them in a warm, bright spot on a windowsill or in a greenhouse. Roots should develop within a couple of months and by early spring the cuttings will be ready to pot on into their own individual pots. Keep them well watered and plant them outside in your pots and baskets when the frosts have passed.
5. Grow up
Obelisks and wigwams clothed in beans and peas are an integral part of the veg garden, but they can also be attractive additions, bringing height and focus, to ornamental beds and borders. And if you choose annual climbers, instead of perennial plants you can change the show each year or move the supports around the garden for a different display and feel from one year to the next.
There are many beautiful annual climbers. Sweet peas, with their intoxicating fragrance and distinctively delicate blooms have long been a favourite, as have bright, flame coloured nasturtiums, but why not give the more exotic, unusual climbers, either annuals or tender perennials grown as annuals, such as ipomoea (morning glory), rhodochiton (purple bell vine) or thunbergia (black-eyed Susan) a go.
They are all easy to grow from seed and some can be sown direct in the ground, where they are to grow, from May onwards once frosts have passed, but many can also be bought as plants from the garden centre. As tender tropical plants, grow them in your warmest, sunniest spot and for strong, bushy plants and plenty of flowers, pinch out the growing tips throughout the season and water and feed them regularly with a high potash liquid feed.
Most climbers will flower throughout the summer, right up until the first frosts in October or November so get sowing and transform your garden this summer!