The English Garden

Jim’s Garden Diary

This month, Jim Cable adds accent plants to the flower garden, harvests earlysumme­r crops, divides bearded irises and tidies up tired perennials and shrubs


The Deanery garden is reaching peak abundance. Amid the hazy froth of plants, I appreciate the ‘vertical accents’ as designers like to call spike-shaped blooms. They serve to punctuate the borders and break up the mounds. By giving the eye somewhere to rest, they slow down our visual assessment of a garden and thereby increase our pleasure in it. Hollyhocks and acanthus are classic examples of this. I grow Veronica longifolia ‘Marietta’, which is smaller in scale with densely packed purple spires, and Verbascum blattaria f. albiflorum – a biennial that self-seeds. My plant of the moment is Sanguisorb­a hakusanens­is ‘Lilac Squirrel’, not quite a ‘vertical’, since the flowering ‘tails’ that inspired the wonderful cultivar name are somewhat droopy. It is definitely an accent plant though by virtue of its flowers’ cerise-pink hue.

Harvesting from the garden has begun with the first courgettes. I no longer fear a glut since I equipped my kitchen with a spiraliser that devours them and churns out a vegetable spaghetti, healthier and, to me, tastier than the real deal. I savour the first broad beans picked whole, blanched and served with butter and a light sprinkling of finely chopped thyme.

It is time to stop pulling rhubarb so the plants can build up strength for next year, but the red and blackcurra­nts are ready to pick. Time for the first summer pudding of the year, which marks the return of al fresco meals. The outdoor dining table resembles an exhibition bench laden with sweet peas. They will keep on coming if I water daily through dry spells and obsessivel­y cut or deadhead the blooms before pods form.

Another job is to divide and replant our bearded irises. I grow ‘Carnival Time’ for its rusty tones, and pale blue ‘Aigue Marine’. The contrast between the two is striking, but the show is over for another year. I lift each clump of rhizomes with a fork and use a knife to slice out the central ones which look tired and shrivelled. These are discarded and the plump stock replanted on a slight ridge. The rhizomes need a good baking in the summer sun so must not be buried. A very thin covering of soil that will soon wash away is acceptable. If there is insu cient root to anchor the sections, I use a U-shape of sti wire as a staple, pushing it into the soil over a rhizome. Cutting the leaves back into a fishtail also helps by reducing wind rock. Finally, I give the replants a good water.

Other early-summer performers that benefit from attention now include Alchemilla mollis, a useful groundcove­r for shade. When the foamy lime green flowers and pleated leaves are beginning to look tatty I cut the whole plant right back. Fresh new foliage soon appears if the ground is kept moist. Aquilegias get the same treatment along with any hardy geraniums that are looking scru y.

Amid the hazy froth of plants, I appreciate the ‘vertical accents’ as designers like to call spikeshape­d blooms

I also tackle the deciduous shrubs that have recently finished flowering; plants such as deutzia, philadelph­us, weigela, kolkwitzia and kerria. I aim to remove around one stem in three, targeting the oldest and weakest first and keeping the bush well-furnished and balanced. It helps to keep standing back from the plant to assess its shape from all angles. Pruning encourages vigorous new shoots from the base of the plant that will flower next year. The common butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii does not belong in this pruning category. I cut that back to the ground in March. However, there are a couple of lesser-known but gardenwort­hy buddlejas that do. B. alternifol­ia can become a small tree of around 7m tall. It stands out in June with its cascade of branches bearing lilac-coloured flowers. Buddleja globosa is sometimes called the golfball bush. The name alludes to the orange-yellow flowers that form tight balls clustering at the tips of arched stems. It forms a semi-evergreen shrub to 4m in height with crinkled, dark green, lance-shaped leaves. Both are useful for filling large gaps in borders quickly.

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