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ay and June are a feast for the senses for the gardener. A wet and warm spring has led this year to a fulsome explosion of foliage and colour. The roses are tremendous, throwing up statuesque branches of fresh colour. My cardoons have reached spectacular heights already and all around is bursting and budding. It is the season for a bit of blouse; the English cottage garden in all its wanton glory. Or, put a bit more prosaically, it’s time to put in the bedding plants. This year I have decided to mix up my container planting and try to inject a touch of pizazz. First off I’m using any item kicking round the garden as a possible flower receptacle. Chimney pots, buckets, wooden crates … once they’re overflowing with foliage and colour they will provide valuable height and shape. Also I am mixing a bit of vegetable-growing in with the flowers. Tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins will all grow happily in pots in amongst the general mix and help to create that glorious jumble of contained chaos. A good quality compost is essential for container planting. It is worth investing in an organic product which is peat free. Peat dries out really quickly and doesn’t contain much goodness. John Innes produce various specialist soils for pots – all to be found at our own Secret Garden – and are worth spending the extra pennies on. When the flowering season is over, come October or November, the compost can be spread on the garden to enrich the beds and borders. It is also worth administering a good feed of fertiliser every couple of weeks as summer plants can be a greedy bunch. What to plant? There are some summer staples which are hard to ignore. I am a great lover of geraniums. They come in myriad forms: trailing, variegated, ivy-leafed, scented and in every colour from white to deepest purple. They will continue to flower right until the first frosts and are excellent doers in almost any setting. If they are hard pruned in the winter and stored in a greenhouse or very sheltered spot they will perform year on year like the hardiest perennial. Speaking of perennials the African lily (or agapanthus, pictured) works very well in containers. These exotic looking plants are surprisingly hardy and react very well to having limited root space. In fact being almost pot bound encourages them to throw up flowers far more successfully than in the open ground. The foliage is almost evergreen – only dying off with the frosts – and they can be purchased in white or light and dark blue. Another striking perennial is the salvia. This plant produces vivid bluey-purple spires throughout the summer and is loved by bees. It is a good candidate for planting on into the garden after one season where it will flourish year on year. For a touch of downward drapery there is of course the seasonal mainstay lobelia. One type is even named after good old Crystal Palace although there are other options, some of which will return if the winter’s not too harsh. Diascia is a semievergreen perennial which bears loose racemes of delicate flowers with names like Dark eyes, Twinkle and Ruby field. It flowers for month after month and reacts well to planting into the borders where it will proliferate year on year. I for one like a plant that you don’t have to throw away when the summer is over. Probably my Lincolnshire roots. Nicotiana (the tobacco plant) is a good choice for planting near to the house as it will throw off a heady scent in the evenings. Lavender is another contender. Likewise sweet peas grown through a wigwam of canes – a real cottage garden touch – will enhance your nasal experience. Almost anything can be grown in a pot: nasturtiums will grow in very poor soil and clamber in wanton fashion until the autumn; antirrhinum (the wonderful snapdragon) will spread unfettered as will petunias and verbena. There is a huge array of plants available at very reasonable prices at this time of the year and the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. I have used some of my window boxes this year for tomatoes. I’m thinking a few bronze fennel wouldn’t go amiss in the others. So long as the plants are thoroughly watered during a hoped-for dry spell and a touch of feed is administered now and then anything goes. Let your imaginations run riot and hopefully your garden will too. Happy gardening

Sue Williams has wild and wonderful plans for this year’s summer bedding

M

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The Transmitter Issue 40  

A South London Magazine

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