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The July Garden 2023

The July Garden 2023

The July Garden

Here we are into July already and the second half of the year which means mid-summer and all the colours and scents which our summer flowers bring, especially the wonderful roses and sweet peas. Your gardens are probably at or near their best at this time of year and all your hard work sowing, planting, weeding, tending and watering has paid off. Of course there are still jobs to be done but days are long and working in the cooler temperatures of the early morning and late evening always seems less of a chore. Hopefully also, you have planned ahead for the rest of the summer and have added plants which do their best in the warmer, longer and sunnier days of July and August.

Looking back over previous July blogs I see that in 2020 (actually listed under June 2020) it was based on our own garden and included some July favourites such as Penstemon, Hosta, Hydrangea, Buddleja and Hypericum as well as jobs for the month. Also in July 2020 there was a blog on Hardy Geraniums for those of you who rate these plants as highly as I do. In 2021 the blog came from the gardens at Aberglasney and last year I highlighted three great July plants- Dahlia, Penstemon and Salvia. These are all still available on the Old Railway Line website.

 As always good old June did not disappoint even though there was a fair bit of watering to do. In our own garden in West Wales Teresa and I, as well as the bumble bees, have really enjoyed the foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, some of which will continue to flower into July. We will dead head most of these as the tops of the flower spikes finish flowering and cut them back to just above the base growth in the hope that they may flower again next year. There will still be plenty of seed from the earlier, lower flowers to give us lots of new plants which will grow next year and flower the following year. The hardy geraniums have also given us some lovely displays and the more untidy ones will be cut back hard to encourage them to produce some new, more compact growth and to give the plants around them more of a chance to flourish. Our roses have also done well and we have been dead heading where possible in order to allow the second flush of flowers to look their best. We have also been keenly watching the development of flower heads on the Hydrangeas and Buddlejas. Most are not showing any colour yet but there are lots of flowers on the plants and it won’t be long before they start to take centre stage.

If you are anything like us you may well be enjoying garden visits under the National Open Gardens Scheme- the ‘Yellow Book’. Many of these and other gardens which you visit often look as though they have not been designed but have simply sprung up as rich tapestries of colours, shapes, heights and textures in an apparently artless concord. The truth is that they are as good as they are because they are the result of careful thought and planning always with room, of course, for the pleasure created by unforeseen effects such as an unexpected combination of plants. Planning is the key to creating a beautiful garden- one with a sense of unity and style, balance and proportion, in harmony with its surroundings and perhaps most importantly a relaxing place, a joy to the senses and of great benefit to our mental well-being. In this month’s blog and talk on the first of the month (9-30 am in the Tearoom) I am going to explore with you some of the basic principles of garden design and attempt to illustrate them with reference to our plant of the month and subject of the Old Railway Line’s current festival , the wonderful rose. Roses are a particularly good choice for this purpose as they are not only beautiful plants which can grace any garden they also come in different forms and sizes making them useful in a variety of styles and situations.

The design principles apply as much to whole garden design or redesign as they do to designing individual beds, borders or garden ‘rooms’. In essence the three major governing factors in such designs are the practical considerations and features of the site, the proposed function or functions of the garden and personal tastes of the owner – in other words ‘what you have’, ‘what you want’ and ‘what you like’. In dealing with clients in my gardening working life I put this in a slightly different way by asking them to commit to paper three lists- ‘must have’, ‘might like’ and ‘don’t want’! This first stage of thinking about the design process is essential in order to have a sense of purpose and an end point to aim for. The next step is to determine at least the basic framework of the garden or section of garden in the form of a sketch or scale plan. The sketch can be simply done by viewing and roughly drawing the garden from an upstairs window assuming that there is one but the scale plan requires a bit more work as you would expect. This in itself could be the subject of a whole talk or blog and is not for today. However, I did cover this aspect of garden planning in two earlier blogs in July and August 2020 which contain lots of details on drawing scale plans and then turning them into final designs. Once a plan is available either in sketch or scale form it can be used to note site considerations such as compass points, sunny or shady areas, soil variations, frost pockets, slopes and surrounding features beyond the boundaries of the garden. These environmental factors combined with the desired design components allow an outline plan to be produced which shows all the elements of the garden in their approximate positions. From this a final, detailed design will follow and the August 2020 blog considered how this can be done.

Following this at some point the new beds, borders and any other planting areas will be created on the ground and it is at this stage that the use of plant material hopefully including some roses comes into play.

Plants are surely the most important feature of any garden determining the style, character, colours, scents and changing effects from month to month. They are the living essence of the garden which in turn attract other forms of life without which the garden would be much the poorer. Plants are often referred to as the ‘soft’ landscape as opposed to the ‘hard’ landscape of man-made structures and surfaces but with all their great variety and beauty this term really doesn’t do them justice. The problem for the gardener/designer is just that- there are just too many beautiful plants to choose from and there is an infinite number of ways of combining them. For this reason it is helpful when trying to decide on the choice and use of plants to keep some basic points in mind. Firstly let’s consider a few garden styles which might help make the choice a little easier.  The Formal’ style produces a geometric, symmetrical and architectural theme with well-defined boundaries such as low, clipped hedges and tends to use a limited range of plants. Such gardens or areas of a larger garden range from simple geometric shapes such as squares, rectangles, triangles and circles to much more complex Knot gardens and the larger Parterre gardens. Roses can fit into this style really well with either single plants such as a bush, shrub or standard rose in the centre of each shape or groups of smaller patio or ground cover roses filling a shape. These formal beds can be considerably enhanced by under planting the larger roses with less-demanding, low, shallow-rooted plants to cover any bare soil, extend the rose flowering season and possibly also provide some leaf colour through the winter when even the most ardent rose lover will accept that they are not at their best! The yellow-green of Alchemilla mollis, white or pink heads of Armeria maritima and spreading Geranium species are all suitable as are Lavandula, Artemesia and Nepeta. A completely different style of planting is the Free and Mingled’ style which allows the planting to be free-flowing and more natural than the formal style. Free planting often combines a wider range of plants in a charming, sometimes even a little chaotic, unstructured way. This style may range from just one bed or border to a whole garden with different areas following the same theme and once again roses can form an important part within such a theme. Shrub roses, both the older species roses as well as the more modern English roses from David Austin are particularly suitable giving height, structure and flower colour in abundance. Height can also be created by using climbing roses on obelisks or over arches at the entrances and exits from such areas in the garden. Ramblers can be used to cover large walls, garden structures or can be allowed to scramble through trees. The traditional ‘Cottage’ garden style is an example of free planting with its mixture of fruit, vegetables, herbs, shrubs and herbaceous plants and one in which roses, particularly fragrant ones have always played an important part.

Whichever style is chosen for areas ranging from single beds or borders to whole gardens large or small the most challenging but also most interesting part of the design process is to choose the combination of plants for such areas. You will be pleased to know that there are several design principles which help to make this complicated process a little easier. One of the key ones is Harmony’ or ‘Unity’ which seeks to ensure that the planting and the hard landscaping all fits together to form a connected whole. There are a number of ways to achieve this starting with a consideration of the style, proportions and colours of the house and copying some of them in both the hard and soft landscapes. On a similar theme unity can be created by using hard landscaping materials to match the house. On the soft landscape side the use of the same type of hedging in different parts of the garden helps to create unity as does the repletion of plant types and colours. This is an obvious way in which to use roses either with the same variety or colour or with a combination of the same type of rose eg. shrub roses but in different colours. In larger beds and borders as well as in whole gardens another way to create unity is to plant in groups of odd numbers for greater impact and to repeat those groups.

Here in the Upper Walled garden at Aberglasney unity is created by the clipped Yew cones, the low hedging of Ilex crenata (Japanese Holly) and the repetition of the groups of bulbs and herbaceous perennials.

 A second key principle is to create ‘Interest’ in the planting and again there are some basic tools to help the gardener achieve this starting with the all-important one of ‘colour’.  Roses with their often large, vibrant flowers coming in most colours are therefore especially useful plants when it comes to colour combinations in any garden. This is where our old friend the colour wheel comes into its own. As you know this is composed of the three primary colours- red, yellow and blue- which when mixed  produce the three secondary colours of orange, green and purple. These are arranged in the wheel in the order red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple (Richard of York gave battle pathetically!). Adjacent colours on the wheel harmonise with one another and can be used effectively together while colours on the opposite sides of the wheel can be used to create more striking contrasts. As we have discussed before one really good way of using this idea to create either ‘hot’ or ‘cool’ combinations with reds, oranges and yellows producing the former and greens, blues and purples the latter. However, it is not just in colour combinations that colour can be a useful tool. Warm/hot colours tend to catch the eye more than the cool colours and therefore appear to be closer to the viewer so that cool colours placed at the far end of a border will make the border appear longer than it actually is. Light colours are particularly good in brightening up shady areas and white and silver are very useful in creating a break for the eye between other, stronger colours.

However, as you have probably suspected there are other ways of creating interest in planting schemes. Plants come in all manner of ‘shapes and forms ie. outlines and of course roses are no exception to this, ramblers and climbers for their vertical and horizontal shapes, bush and shrub roses for their rounded, bushy outlines in a variety of sizes and ground cover roses for their prostrate form. Interest is created by using a combination of these to provide the eye with contrasts and by repeating such combinations. Contrasts between different textures’ of foliage will also create interest and although roses all tend to have a similar texture their use alongside plants with very different leaves can be stimulating to the eye. There another good reason to use roses mixed in with other plants and that is the reduction in such problems as black spot, rust, mildew and aphids which always seem to be much worse when roses are grown close together. Varying the ‘height’ of plants from front to back of beds and borders and along the length of a border is another good way of bringing interest to a planting scheme. With their great variations in height roses are ideal to use in this way. Patio or ground cover roses are ideally suited to the fronts of beds and borders, bush or shrub roses can grace the middle or even back while climbing roses can be used either on obelisks within the planting areas or at the back on walls, fences or trellis. Using several roses of different heights from front to back but also repeating them along the length of borders and larger beds also reinforces the sense of harmony or unity which we have already seen is a key part of any successful plan. A final way of creating interest in any garden is to suggest a sense of ‘journey’ through the garden from one area to another which allows the viewer to come across unexpected discoveries, even surprises. This is often done by linking different sections with fairly narrow entrances through which there is a glimpse of the area beyond often with a focal point to attract the eye. Such focal points can be statues, sundials, planters or specimen plants and what better than a rose? The entrances can be in the form of arches, pergolas or doorways in a wall or fence and here the climbing or rambling rose can be used to frame the entrance to great effect.

A glimpse through an open door in the Lower Walled Garden at Aberglasney which encourages the visitor to explore the woodland area beyond. In springtime the ‘surprise’ beyond the door is a meadow full of Snake’s head fritillaries! This is a summer view with an impressive Vitis coignetiae beginning to show signs of its wonderful autumn colour but it is also easy to imagine a climbing or rambling rose gracing the wall around the doorway.

I hope the above has given you some insight into at least a few of the ideas behind garden design and possibly encouraged you to look again at some areas of your own garden which you would like to change. I hope also it has shown how versatile the lovely rose can be and that there might be places where you can use more roses in your own plot.

Unsurprisingly perhaps after all I have said today the ‘bee friendly’ plant for July from the RHS article from the beginning of the year is, of course, the rose! It is the single rather than the double roses which attract a wide range of pollinators but the flowers are not the only attraction to some bees. Female leaf-cutter bees use the leaves for nesting material, cutting circular or semi-circular leaf sections to create nectar and pollen-filled, thimble shaped cells for their larvae. To me a few nibbled rose leaves is a small price to pay in order to support the next generation of one of our most fascinating wild bees. Other plants on the July list are our old friends Lavender, Marjoram (Origanum), Sea Holly (Eryngium) and Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea).

That’s all from me for this month but I will be back in August with another blog and talk (Saturday 5th at 9-30am in the Tearoom) on the topic of ‘Preparing for Spring Colour’, plus a look at some good August plants and some suggestions from the RHS for summer plants which flower over long periods. Until then enjoy your summer garden and make sure you spend plenty of time relaxing in it and basking not only in the sun but also in the glory of all your hard work!


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