Alys Fowler

Ways to keep your garden looking good this summer

With the ever changing summer weather discover Alys' top tips on keeping your garden looking its best throughout summer.

It’s been a bit of a funny old summer so far and if my garden is anything to go by, everything is flopping about.

Many perennials need a haircut half way through the summer to keep them looking trim and tidy. Herbs, early summer flowering perennials like geraniums, lungworts (Pulmonarias), Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla) and Granny’s Bonnets (Aquilegia) can be cut back hard and will flush with new fresh leaves and sometimes, even a second, if sporadic flowering.

You can often see the new leaves appearing in the middle of the plant, all fresh and young. Just cut the sprawling older leaves and spent flower off. It may seem brutal because there are few lingering flowers left, but it's always worthwhile. Herbs like chives, garlic chives and marjoram can also be cut back hard, but more woody subjects like rosemary, lavender and thyme should just be given a light haircut to remove any seed heads and encourage a new flush of growth for picking.

Deadheading is time consuming, but always results in more flowers. For annuals like Marigold, allowing the plant to set seed is telling it that it can quit because its job is done. Endlessly removing the spent flowers before they set seed means the plants keep kicking out new ones in a bid to try to finish its work.

Unhealthy leaves are manna for slugs, particularly on vegetable plants. It’s always worth removing anything that is yellowing, has sign of disease (molds, etc) or has already been slugged. Keeping the ground clear between plants can also help to keep the slugs off, they like to hide during the day under old leaves and the closer they are to their supper the easier life is. 

Once you’ve removed any old material it is always worth mulching with homemade compost or shop bought mulch. Mulch helps to keep down the weeds, traps moisture into the soil and keeps the garden looking cared for.

In the case of the vegetables, if you use well-rotted homemade compost or shop bought compost (as opposed to mulch) it will rot down giving them an extra boost of food over the season. Fresh garden material such as old flower heads and tattered leaves rot down very quickly and makes highly nutritious compost. If you don’t have your own compost bin yet, get one now and start rotting things down yourself.

Just remember that for all the green stuff you put in a heap you must mix in some brown stuff, which is rich in carbon because that’s how compost is made well. Brown stuff is just that, stuff that doesn’t have a lot of chlorophyll in. Cardboard is an excellent free choice, rip it up into chunks and add layers between the green stuff and before you know it you’ll have excellent compost.

It’s not too late to sow vegetables either, so if you’re left with a bare ground and want something to eat that will look pretty amongst your flowers then I suggest you sow some beetroot. The variety ‘Bull’s Blood’ has wonderful dark purple, metallic leaves that look highly attractive and at the end, you get a nice deep red beetroot to eat. If you are worried that the slugs are going to get there first, sow in modules and plant as young plugs. 

Another alternative would be to sow chard, particularly Swiss chard; again, these leaves are pretty to look at and hold their own against ornamentals. Varieties like ‘Rainbow Chard’ glow orange, pink, red and white look particularly fetching in the late summer sun. Both beetroot and Swiss chard can be harvested into early winter giving you something to look forward to when the rest of the garden has gone to bed.