Rose scented June
Towards midsummer the evenings lengthen, days are warmer, the sun is shining, time to sit out and enjoy the garden. Adult birds are gathering food for their fledglings and bats are skimming the evening skies for insects. Painted lady butterflies are arriving from North Africa, looking for thistles, nettles or mallow to lay their eggs on. Lacewings, with their green veined, transparent wings are welcome garden visitors; both the adults and their larvae eat aphids. If you’re lucky you may see a hummingbird hawk moth, hairy, grey and orange with wing beats so fast they hum. It can be seen hovering at flowers such as honeysuckle and buddleia, probing them with its long proboscis.
In the garden
There are many flowering perennials putting on beautiful, transient displays. The flowering, pinky cones of Red valerian (Centranthus ruber), the star shaped red campion (Silene dioica), and bright orange and yellow English marigolds (Calendula officinalis) are still showing well from last month while the blue starry flowers of Love–in–the–Mist (Nigella), the jolly bright red blooms of Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’, and the vivid orange bowl shaped flowers of the Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica) are emerging. Meanwhile, in the wings, there are flower buds forming on lavenders, poppies, (Papaver sp.) and corncockle (Agrostemma githago), which should all begin to open this month and go on well in July and beyond. Plants such as Teasle (Dipsacus Fullonum), Cone flowers (Echinecea sp.) and Sneezewarts (Helenium sp.) are still putting on height and weight and prepping for a late summer showing whilst Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation’s pom pom flower heads, and trumpeting Columbines (Aquilegia sp.) are transitioning into to seed heads. It is a sensory explosion of the planted variety.
In amongst the flowering perennials; botton shaped Hattie’s pin cushion (Astrantia), Oriental poppies (Papaver orientalis) with their huge, cup shaped blooms, the long flowering Cranesbills (Geranium sp.), and the upright, showy flag and Siberian Irises there are many flowering shrubs. Cornus kousa, the Korean dogwood with its prominent, four petaled bracts, Mock orange Philadelphus, an unassuming, twiggy shrub for most off the year but with an exquisite scent when flowering, Deutzias with their starry blooms, the reliable, long flowering Hebes and the lax, shrubby Lavateria or Tree Mallow with its large, cottage garden flowers.
Many roses are flowering prolifically this month too. There are a huge range of species and cultivars suitable for almost all locations from dwarf roses in pots to huge sprawling ramblers that can cover walls or scramble up trees. Their lax and informal habit with an abundance of flowers make them perennially popular. In addition to a range of colours and forms many are exquisitely scented and look beautiful in vases. They can look wonderful under planted with perennials that do not compete too much for nutrients as long as the rose is given a good clear space around the stem. Alliums, geraniums and nepetas are all good partners. Roses need thorough watering at least in the first few years in open soil and always in pots. Prolific flowering means they benefit from regular feeding with a liquid feed throughout the growing season and mulching in the spring. Deadheading will mean that repeat flowering varieties continue their display, but leave the flowers of species that produce hips in the autumn, these are hugely beneficial as a food source for wildlife throughout the winter.
These longer, hotter June days can quickly dry out the soil and put many plants, especially those recently planted or in pots, under stress. There is nothing more sad in a garden than to witness a series of wilting, dying plants gasping for the nutrients in the soil to be delivered up their stems in water. Keep an eye on the soil and be ready to give isolated plants or whole beds a good long drink once a week or more. Here are a few key points below to hold in mind while holding the hose or watering can.
A good soaking is much more effective than a light spray, which will barely penetrate the soil and encourage shallow, horizontal roots. Water close to the base of the plant to ensure that its roots are reached and rotate the water source to and fro between the plants so that it can be absorbed gradually. Take time to ensure that the water reaches beyond the base of its roots to encourage them to grow a strong network downwards, which makes for a stronger, happier plant that can seek out water in times of water stress.
Do not be fooled into thinking that if water sits on the top of the soil it means that the soil is well irrigated, it is more likely to mean that the soil is hard to penetrate.
If the soil is compacted, carefully scratch the surface around the plants with a mini fork, a hoe or a three pronged mini fork to loosen it and make it more receptive to watering.
Plants in container are especially vulnerable to water stress and are likely to need a good soaking two to three times weekly, so that the water just dribbles out of the base. Do not be fooled to thinking that containers are irrigated by even the heaviest of rainfall as this rain water is more likely to drip from the plant’s foliage over the edge of the pot and nowhere near the soil.
Deadheading spent blooms
Deadheading is a task to be keeping an eye out for this month as several spring blooms are beginning to fade. This is not, as some might think, necessarily to keep a plant looking tidy, in fact many seed heads are attractive and benefit wildlife too, but rather to encourage more blooms by removing the energy put into seed production and back into flowering on plants such as the repeat flowering roses and hardy geraniums. Simply cut to above a healthy bud further down the flowering stem and let the plant do the hard work. I have just snipped out the fading blooms of my red campion (Silene dioica) to see if I can’t encourage a few more flowers before I allow the seed heads to develop and remain on the plant as wildlife habitat later in the season.
Camelias and rhododendrons should have spent blooms pinched out this month too. For these it is mostly because they are rather unsightly and have no wildlife value. Be careful with removing the withered blooms as the news ones are developing close behind them.
Some of the spring flowering blooms that have not been deadheaded will already have an abundance of seeds ready to harvest in June and these will provide a fantastic bounty for next season’s crop. I have had my eyes on some holly leaved hellebores (Helleborus argutifolius) for some time now, just waiting for the right moment to harvest the seeds before the seed pods explode and cascade into the beds below. Use secateurs to snip out these pods carefully because all hellebores have an irritable sap.
English marigold seed heads (Calendula officinalis) are not nearly so feisty and can be lightly crumbled out of their base and sown directly into the soil or saved for sowing next year. Store all seeds in a cool, dry, dark place such as paper envelope in a cupboard. Remember to label the container with the plant name and date of collection as many seeds look very similar away from their parent plant.
Wildlife friendly lawn care
A lawn can be a cooling, soft space for us humans that can also provide useful shelter for wildlife. Sadly, more and more people are installing fake grass these days as they are tired of what appears to be a rigorous mowing and lawn care regime. Perhaps a shift in view of what a lawn is supposed to be and how it is supposed to look is helpful before opting for the plastic option?
First try to reduce the rigorous (and admittedly rather boring) mowing regime; only mow every couple of weeks or so on a slightly higher blade setting to allow the grass to grow longer and softer. Also allow for even longer edges on the borders of paths and planted beds. Apart from further reducing the work load by taking out the fiddly job of cutting the grassy edges, it creates an attractive, graded planted edge and provides effective transitional habitat for ground based wildlife.
Prune spring flowering shrubs
June is a good time to prune back spring flowering shrubs such as mock orange, Philadelphus, Weigela, and Deutzia, but not until the flowers have faded. For established plants and using sharp tools firstly removed dead or damaged stems cutting back to a healthy stem joint or leaf. Then remove about a third of the oldest and thickest stems back to the ground to reduce congestion. It may help to stand back and assess the plant after each cut to maintain an even form. Water, feed with a general organic fertiliser and mulch the plant to give it a boost to put on new flowering stems for next year.
Stag beetles have a significant population in London. These striking creatures can be sighted particularly on humid evenings in May, June and July, flying rather slowly and clumsily or displaying on roads, gardens, railway platforms or anywhere else they stumble upon. Stag beetles breed on dead wood and their larvae live in the wood for up to seven years while maturing. Clearing of woodland, parks and green spaces means their natural habitat is reducing and their numbers are in decline. Help them by creating a log pile in your garden or green space and recording any sightings on either GiGL or Wild London.
Gardening tasks in June
- Water plants well at least once a week during periods of dry weather. A good soaking is better than a quick spray. Container grown plants are likely to require more regular watering.
- Deadhead plants using sharp secateurs such as repeat flowering roses, and hardy geraniums to encourage further blooms this season.
- Pinch out the faded blooms from camellia and rhododendrons taking care not to damage next year’s buds and also lilac (Syringa sp.) by cutting back the flowering stem to above a pair of leaves or buds.
- Cut out spent Euphorbia flowers to protect against powdery mildew.
- Collect seeds for next season. Wear gloves for the job and use secateurs if the plant has an irritable sap. Store seeds in a cool, dry and dark place. Label the containers with the plant name and date of collection.
- Remove competitive weeds by hand or using a hoe. Aim to catch them while they are small but also consider having some tolerance for less invasive weeds while bearing in mind that they may self-seed and become much more invasive in time!
- Cut back any remaining bulb foliage once it has died down.
- Stake any plants that are tall and floppy such as delphiniums and dahlias to keep borders upright and blooming.
- Plant any small plants you have raised from seed and keep them well watered until they have settled in.
- Thin out any hardy annuals planted from seed to the recommended spacing, it can seem cruel, pulling up infant plants, but those left will grow much better. If you can, transplant them, seedlings can be potted up and given away or planted in a space in your own garden.
- If you want to fill gaps in your borders or to plant out pots and containers there are plenty or summer bedding plants available now. Prune early flowering shrubs such as philadelphus, weigela, deatzia, lilac, forthysia and spirea once flowering is over to give them time to develop new flowering stems for next year’s display. Prune evergreen shrubs such as privet, box, viburnum tinus and Lornicera nitida if necessary.
- Tie in the fast growing shoots of climbers such as clematis and honeysuckle.
- Mow lawns regularly, leaving grass longer and allowing some flowers to grow for a more relaxed and wildlife friendly regime.
- Have a general tidy of dead and damaged foliage on plants throughout the garden.
- Keep an eye out for pest and diseases particularly lily beetle which is bright red, slugs and snails, vine weevils and aphids. Check for unusual scarring, stickiness, webbing, curling, lumps or discolouration on plants. Remember to check under the leaves too. Look for the presence of insects, larvae or pupae. Identify if there is problem with a pest or a disease and remedy as appropriate using organic and biological methods. Bear in mind that many problems with pest and diseases can be prevented and controlled by good garden hygiene and growing and feeding practices.
- Take softwood cuttings from shrubs such as lavender, hydrangea, philadelphus, fuchsia and spirea.
- Continue to put out feed and water for birds.
- Create a stag beetle habitat so they can breed in your patch. Large logs (10-50cm diameter) with bark still attached should be sunk vertically about 60cm into the ground, with some emerging, in partially shaded areas.
The Bumblebee Flies Away
A memoir, documenting the transformation of a small, urban backyard into a wildlife haven, against the backdrop of the paving and decking of her neighbours’ gardens and the threat to biodiversity.
Butterfles of Britain and Ireland
There are 59 species of butterfly currently visiting or living in the UK. Summer is the best time to see them. This is considered the best butterfly book available, great for learning about these ephemeral creatures and their habitats.
Garden and wildlife events
National Garden Scheme Festival Weekend
2nd and 3rd of June is the National Garden Scheme Festival Weekend where private gardens are open all over the country. Check out what’s on near you.
2nd and 3rd June 2018
Open Squares Weekend
The following weekend the 9th and 10th of June is Open Squares Weekend where 200 London green spaces, many usually closed to the public, are opened to explore.
9th and 10th of June
Various locations across London