Cornish summertime is truly here. You can tell by the warm days, the slightly damp, mouldering whiff we all have about us at the moment, and the fact that Sarah’s long legs are once again in shorts. Fear not, Helen’s will NEVER come out, so no need to avert the eyes when you come into the garden centre.
Normally, at this time of year, we look up country and envy their dry heat, but at the time of writing, despite our odd days of heavy rain, we are getting a much better time of it. We have to feel sorry for those gardeners whose gardens are supposed to be coming into their best, only to be battered to the ground by floods and thunderstorms. How sad and dispiriting.
ANYHOW… back to us. We are going to give you a few easy jobs for July, given that you’ve all worked so hard this year, and then give you some slightly funky new plants to think about adding to your gardens.
The first thing to do is to take a look at your fruit trees and decide if you need to thin the fruit. This applies principally to apples and pears, but also peaches and nectarines, if you’re lucky enough to be able to grow them. Mother Nature may have done some of it for you in the “June drop”, whereby a tree with lots of baby fruit will drop a good proportion of it.
This is perfectly normal, and is the tree’s way of lightening its load to avoid overstretching its resources. If all the fruits were allowed to remain, you are likely to end up with lots of tiny fruit instead of fewer fully developed fruit. Quantity, but no quality. In addition, it may mean the tree does not fruit well the following year, because frankly, it overdid it, and finally, it can weaken the tree to the point that disease can take hold.
What you are looking for is to leave one fruit per cluster, giving it plenty of room around it, and avoiding fruits touching once thy are fully grown. Depending on the eventual fruit size, this could mean leaving a gap of 6 inches between standard dessert apples for example, but a much bigger gap for cookers. Just snap or snip off any excess. It is slightly heart-breaking to do so, but it is good for the composter, where these thinnings can all go, and better for the tree ultimately.
Deadheading is a pleasant, light job that pays dividends in July. The more you deadhead, the more new flowers you will encourage. If you stop a plant producing seed (it’s raison d’être, after all), it has to try again with a new flower. And so it continues. It’s a lovely job to partake in at the end of a busy and stressful day, preferably with a glass of wine or a G&T in one hand, and the secateurs in the other.
And finally on the easy jobs, keep an eye out for blight. Normally, we’d be auguring this particular doom much later in the summer, but if you’ll pardon the pun, Sarah’s early spuds have been blighted already – the foliage has started to blacken, droop and become quite mushy.
It’s the warm and damp conditions again, we’re afraid, but once it’s in your spuds and tomatoes, there is only one thing to do. With potatoes, cut off the foliage straight away, and burn it. Dig up the tubers, as they won’t develop any more without any top growth, and eat quickly – they are unlikely to store for any length of time. Blight is an airborne fungus, so needs to be cremated to kill it. Wash all your tools thoroughly as well, so as not to transmit it elsewhere.
Luckily our tomatoes have barely started to develop yet, but they are also very susceptible to blight, so be careful not to cross infect. If you notice it in your tomato plants, the same rules apply – slash and burn. It is brutal, but the only way.
Getting a little funky, then. It’s that time of year when everyone gazes at fences and walls, and thinks, “I must grow something up that – I’ll get a clematis”. But there are so many other interesting climbers (clingers, twiners and those that need a bit more support) at your disposal, and we wanted to throw a few more unusual ones in your direction for consideration.
We are lucky down in Cornwall, that our mild winter temperatures enable us to try more exotic species, so try them we should. They can be great talking points as well, if you have something different and want to engender a bit of envy in your fellow gardeners.
When we first drew up this list, it sounded a bit like an extract from a medical dictionary, because they were such unfamiliar names. But we’ve been able to source them all, English grown too, so they are eminently growable down here.
Let’s start with Mitraria coccinea, or the Chilean mitre plant. This is a vibrantly scarlet/orange evergreen climber, flowering in early summer, and is not too rampant. It likes a blast of sun, and shelter from cold winds, but as it is evergreen, is great for covering an ugly façade.
Cionura oreophila is an evergreen twining climber with grey-green leaves, which has creamy white highly scented flowers, not unlike a jasmine. It is quite a rare plant. Again, a sheltered and sunny wall will suit this one, with good soil at its base.
Araujia sericifera, another evergreen hailing from South America, has highly scented pinky- white flowers in summer. They are slightly tubular and crinkly in appearance, quite unusual-looking. It likes well-drained soil, and will tolerate sun or part shade.
Sollya heterophylla, the bluebell creeper, has the prettiest truly blue flowers you are ever likely to see on a climber. They are so delicate that they look like they are made of china. Australian this time, so they enjoy a bit of sun or part shade, and shelter from cold winds. It doesn’t get too big (2m) and is a delightful feature plant to turn heads.
And if none of those catch your eye, how about a Pandorea jasminoides (no, not a JK Rowling character), Hibbertia aspera, Cissus striata, Kadsura japonica, Akebia quinata, Plumbago capensis, or Holodiscus discolor. So many more things to try than just a clematis.
Oh, there’s one more thing we forgot to mention for July. ENJOY. Not only your own garden but other people’s gardens too under the National Garden Scheme, to get new ideas, see private gardens you may not get the chance to see again (Crugsillick just outside Veryan on 17 July, for example) and raise a little money for charity. Go on, you’ve justified that cream tea.
Sarah Daniel and Helen Robins, Pengelly Garden Centre