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The Great British summer

July is the beginning of the school holiday period, and as many people dream of their annual trip, there’s no better place I’d rather be than a garden. Whether I’m surrounded by the sweet smelling jasmine on a formally planted Italian hillside, by the heady scent of Lavender in southern France, or the gentle aroma of the old English rose, if the sun is shining, and I’m sat in a space filled with plants, I’m on holiday – I guess its lucky that I have a great garden at home which makes me feel like that every time I step into it.

We’re not going on holiday this year, as I’m hoping for a great British summer (support the nation during the recession and all that) so we’ve decided to holiday at home which I believe is fashionably known as a ‘staycation’. Instead of lining the pockets of our European neighbours, we’re going on a road trip around our country to see how many gardens we can cram into one week.

The last time we did this we began our trip in May in the Highlands of Scotland, where we were just in time for the fabulous array of Rhododendrons and Azaleas. The cool damp gardens provide many scenic walks through the woodland and the smell of the fresh clean air really does cleanse the soul. Its as if you can smell the earthy growth of spring.

After a few months back at home, our trip took us to the beautiful gardens of Devon and Cornwall, where a visit to the fabulous Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden project were combined with more modest privately owned back yards where lots of homemade scones were consumed! We then moved across the country to stay with friends in Kent ‘the garden of England’ where we visited a host of National Trust gardens (all much nicer than those the north has to offer!) as well as Sissinghurst, (famed for the white garden) Great Dixter (home of the belated Christopher Lloyd) and finally up to the Cotswolds to see Laurence Johnson’s Hidcote and the much talked about private garden of Prince Charles.

Quite a year and quite a trip but a very British summer filled with afternoon tea, cucumber sandwiches and a G&T … game of croquet anyone?

Plant of the moment – Clematis sp.

It seems strange to include this group of climbing plants as a ‘plant of the moment’, because the moment lasts so long, in fact it could last all year if you plan it correctly. The Clematis family contains varieties which flower over a very long period of time. We begin with the winter flowering varieties such as the appropriately named ‘Winter Beauty’ which fades into spring with the delicate alpina types. For the impatient gardener the monstrous montanas (mile a minute) adds a boost, followed by the large flowering summer group two varieties. Later summer blooms are provided by the group three types such as ‘Amethyst Beauty’ and then finally the year is completed with the beautiful open white flowers of Clematis ‘Jingle Bells’.

The majority of Clematis require damp cool roots but many like their head in full sun, although dappled shade is fine and they look stunning climbing through a tree. Plant an early flowering alpina variety with a Rose and a late flowering group three variety to give you seasonal colour throughout a longer period of time.

When planting Clematis, make sure you bury the plant about 10cm deeper than it was in its original container to allow the plant to regrow should it be struck down with a disease known as Clematis wilt, to which many of the group two varieties are especially prone. If you cannot provide a shaded area for the roots, simply place some gravel around the base of the plant.

Other jobs for the month include:

  • Dead head flowering shrubs such as roses for continued flowering
  • Paint the fence and other wooden structures
  • Raise the height of the blades on the mower so you don’t stress the grass out too much
  • Take cuttings from Dianthus (Pinks/Carnations)
  • Ensure Camellias and Rhodos are fed and watered during July and August to ensure great flowers next year
  • Cut down Delphiniums to around 30cm and they will give you a second flush of flowers later in the year