The long, warm, hazy days bring fields full of bright red poppies and verges dotted with ox eyed daisies; an abundance of flowering plants, swaying grasses, fragrant scents and wildlife to our gardens. Plant growth reaches a peak and nectar is plentiful, enticing a wealth of butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Moths are frequent visitors, many have fascinating, characterful names such as the Dingy Footman, the Beautiful Hook-tip or the Smokey Wainscot. On summer evenings bats are at their most active, feasting on the insects attracted to night scented flowers, garden ponds and open water. With longer, warmer evenings it’s the time of year to sit out, to enjoy the garden and its wildlife.
In the garden
Flowering plants, many sweet smelling or brightly coloured, are the attractions of the month. Star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, a wonderfully fragrant, evergreen climber with clusters of star shaped white flowers, flourishes throughout July. Lavender, Lavandula, is often at its best with mauve clusters of perfumed flowers blooming on long stalks providing a mecca for bees and butterflies. Bowman’s root, Gillenia trifoliata, with its delicate five petalled flowers, dances between more sturdy plants. The tobacco plant, Nicotiana sylvestris, with fragrant, soft yellow, trumpet shaped flowers and evening primrose, Oenothera fructicosa, with large bowl shaped bright yellow flowers are both night scented, making them attractive to moths.
The dense, brightly coloured clusters of Phlox paniculata, which will flower through until autumn; button shaped masterworts, Astrantia sp, which are happy in shady spots and do well as dried flowers and the tall, lighter sprays of the purple top vervain, Verbena bonariensis, that sway gently and frame glimpses of planting through their stems are all in bloom. Amongst the perennials the bold purple, pink or white slightly raggedy daisy like flowers and feathery foliage of Cosmos bipinnatus can be found, a free flowering annual plant blooms, grown from seed every year, it can fill in any unexpected gaps in the borders.
It’s high summer for butterflies, which are becoming more common to spot day by day and joining the rest of the nectar loving hordes to feast on and pollinate the variety of plants on offer. Birds are still nesting, often with repeat clutches through July and the earlier batches of fledgling chicks are finding their wings. Aphids and other garden bugs are a reliable food source for fledgling birds but intense competition for food means topping up the bird feeders and providing fresh water for birds can be very helpful. Be alert for fledglings that may have left the nest and be unable to fly for a couple of days yet. Their parents will still be keeping an eye them so do not get too close unless they are very visible or in danger, in which case carefully reposition them somewhere close, high and sheltered, out of the way of prowling cats.
The more diversity of plants in the garden the better it is both for visual pleasure and also to attract as much beneficial wildlife as possible. This will keep a balance with the pests and predators that are inevitable invaders. Ladybird adults and larvae, Coccinellidae sp, are a frontline defense beetle that feed on aphids, thrips, whitefly and mites amongst other pests with each of these little, rounded, spotty adult beetles able to eat up to 5000 aphids on their watch. A female ladybird will lay her eggs on the underside of leaves often near larval food such as aphids and the emergent larvae will munch on these and also wander some distance in search of food. Be aware that the flightless ladybird larvae look nothing like their adult selves and are often mistaken for a pest when in fact they are a great pest munching ally.
Sadly, the non-native Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, has landed in Britain and is fast invading the country. It is much bigger and spottier than our native species and is predicted to spread rapidly and possibly outcompete our homegrown ladybirds and other insect groups too. There’s more information at The Harlequin Ladybird Survey (link removed) where you can help track their spread.
Planting summer containers
Even with only a windowsill, balcony or small back yard, colourful containers can help pollinators, provide culinary crops and brighten up your home. Tender perennials often flower for long periods and with regular deadheading, feeding and watering can last for months; try marguerite, verbena or petunia. Herbs can grow well in containers and can also be used for cooking, try sage, thyme or oregano. Annual bedding plants such as nasturtiums, marigolds, gaillardia and zinnia add a bright and colourful element. Mediterranean plants with their grey, hairy leaves are drought tolerant. Lavenders, salvias, lambs ears and catmint, with a little care, can cope with the hot, dry conditions of sitting out on a windowsill or rooftop.
High summer is usually hot and dry and watering is necessary. It’s easy to get out the hose and water everything on a regular basis, but water is a limited resource so think carefully about where and how you water. Most importantly, if you have the space, get a water butt. Water can be diverted into a butt from a downpipe and summer storms often produce a large amount of water that often just runs off the dry soil surface and overwhelms the sewers. If you don’t have the space for a butt use some grey water from the bath or sink to water the garden when possible. The plants that most need water are those in containers and those that are newly planted, especially trees and shrubs. Lawns do not need watering in dry periods, they will turn brown, but quickly recover after new rainfall. Borders can be mulched after heavy rain to retain as much moisture as possible and watering in the evenings will help reduce evaporation.
Drought tolerant plantings
All plants are adapted to grow well in the conditions provided for them by their native habitats, those growing in Mediterranean regions and other dry places have developed to be drought tolerant. Climate change, longer, dryer summers and conditions on rooftops, balconies and windowsills often require a plant to tolerate drought to survive and flourish. There are many plants that do well in these conditions. Some have silvery or grey leaves to reflect the sun, others have fine hairs to trap moisture around the leaves. Some have shiny, thick leaves to prevent moisture loss and those with succulent leaves have developed to store water within them. If you are gardening in these conditions, think about planting drought tolerant species rather than trying to grow moisture loving alternatives. Drought tolerant plants include, euphorbia, sedum, lavender, atemisia, hebe, perovskia, santolina, baptistam ballota, nepeta, echinops, verbena, eryngium and many more.
Reducing plastic use
The ratio of plastic to plankton in the sea is now 1:2 and the gardening industry is heavily reliant on plastics. The RHS states that gardeners use 500 million plant pots per year, most composts come in large plastic bags, and then there are polytunnels and plastic cloches, much of this plastic once used, is headed for landfill. On an industrial scale, changing practices and legislation are needed; on a backyard scale there is plenty we can do.
- Make your own newspaper pots with a ‘Paper Potter’ a small wooden former that can construct a simple seed pot from newspaper. Seedlings can be transplanted without being repotted as the pot biodegrades. Buy wooden or plant based pots and trays made from bamboo, grain and natural gums.
- Use wooden lollipop plant labels, or make your own with a bit of whittled stick, write on them in pencil so they can be reused.
- Use natural jute or sisal string.
- Try biodegradable netting and liners.
- Buy fertilizers and other granular products in cardboard containers, just remember to keep them dry.
- Find your local plastics recycling company where used plastic can be picked up and recycled into other products.
- Remember the maxim: Reduce, reuse, recycle!
July is a great time of year to visit public gardens that are open year-round or local gardens that may be open for a day or two as part of the National Open Gardens Scheme.
Visiting a variety of other gardens is an opportunity to get inspiration from their layouts, material use and planting combinations. There is often a stall to buy plants from and teas on site for refreshments. Personal favourites include Great Dixter in East Sussex, which has spectacular meadows and contemporary saturated colour planting combinations, and Beth Chatto’s Garden in Essex with it’s woodland garden, perfect for inspiration for shady courtyards and an inspiring drought tolerant gravel garden, developed on what was previously a car park and managed without irrigation.
Gardening tasks in July
- Water plants well at least once a week during periods of dry weather. A good soaking is better than a quick spray. Newly planted trees and shrubs need a lot of water so don’t skimp with these.
- Container grown plants are likely to require more watering and be sure to water these so that the water just dribbles out of the bottom of the pot.
- Keep ponds topped up with harvested rain water if possible. Clear dead foliage from the pond to avoid it building up to a stinky sludge.
- Step back and take note of the beds for autumn remedial works on plants that are in the wrong place due to poor height, colour or texture combination or those that will need of dividing.
- Deadhead plants such as repeat flowering roses and hardy geraniums to encourage further blooms this season.
- Collect seeds for next season. 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, bearing in mind that they may self seed and become much more invasive in time!
- Have a general tidy of dead and damaged foliage on plants throughout the garden. Thin out competitive plants to give their neighbours some space.
- Keep an eye out for pest and diseases.
- Order spring bulb catalogues.
- Prune June flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus and Weigela after flowering.
- Continue to tie in climbers
- Continue to stake tall plants.
- Divide Iris tubers.
- Feed roses to help with a second flush of flowers.
- Do not prune hedges until the last of the fledglings have left their nests.
Bees, Bugs and Butterflies
A book for adults with children who want to inspire an interest in the outdoors and a love of nature in them.
The Complete Gardener: A Practical, Imaginative Guide to Every Aspect of Gardening
A conversational book, full of practical information on gardening, plant knowledge and inspiration from nature.
Garden and wildlife events
Hampton Court Flower Show
The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is on from the 3rd to 8th of July. Gorgeous gardens, fabulous florals & fantastic shopping in an unforgettable setting
3rd - 8th July 2018
Hampton Court Palace
Festival of Urban Landscapes for Nature and People
The first ever Festival of Urban Landscapes is happening from 21st to 22nd July, celebrating ways to design city landscapes and buildings for nature and people. Gathering to celebrate resilient cities filled with nature
21st - 22nd July 2018
Hilldrop House and Gardens, Horndon-on-the-Hill
Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman
Last chance to catch the Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman exhibition at the Garden Museum, which is on until 22 July. The first museum show of Morris’ work in over 30 years, will show how the two disciplines, of art and botany, intertwined to form one of the most remarkable artistic lives of the 20th century.
18 April - 22 July 2018
The Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, London