Summer gardening tips: from our garden to yours

Nymans South African meadow in August

We're excited to start welcoming you back to your favourite gardens. But we realise that it may be a while before many of you can experience the summer blooms at the places we care for. So we'll continue bringing the best of our gardens to you at home and help you make the most of your own garden or growing space.

Our gardeners will be sharing their tips and updates on a variety of topics including roses, container growing, flower borders, and much more.

While you've been away, a small number of our gardeners have been working hard to look after the gardens in our care. They have been irrigating precious plants in glasshouses, managing the weeds, and carrying out lots of other vital work.

We'll continue to take your gardening questions. Beccy, Kate and Simon, our gardening experts, have already started answering our members' gardening questions, and will continue to do so during the coming weeks.

August: keeping the show on the road 

Many gardens begin to look tired by August, as they have been flowering hard all summer and now feel the time has come to go to seed. The weather has been fairly kind this year, so that at least we have had some summer rain to keep things going, but there are some other tricks of the trade to make sure there is some colour amongst the foliage.

Summer haircuts for herbaceous perennials

Lots of flowering plants come back stronger than ever after a trim at the right time. The Chelsea Chop is done at the end of May to ensure that some plants that would otherwise need staking are stockier, sturdier and flower a little later. The Hampton Court Hack is normally in July when the famous flower show happens, and encourages a second flush.

Now we have invented the Lockdown Lop as flowers flag at the end of the summer, just as we humans emerge from Covid incarceration. Hardy Geraniums, Alchemilla mollis, Linaria and even Aquilegia will reward you with fresh foliage and even flowers, given a well-timed trim.

In a normal year, cutting back just as you leave to go on holiday ensures a verdant welcome home two weeks later (as long as you water and mulch well before you go). This year, perhaps you will be enjoying watching those fresh leaves emerge during a well-earned staycation.

Our gardeners will continue caring for our green spaces

Keep gardens growing 

Now more than ever, we need gardens and parklands to escape to. Give today and together we can help nature recover and ensure our shared history continues to inspire us all. Thank you for your continued support, we couldn't keep gardens in bloom without it.

Summer gardening

Caring for cucurbits 

Courgettes, cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins are closely related and collectively known as cucurbits. These all like plenty of sun and regular watering. 

Courgettes and summer squash are some of the easiest and most prolific plants to grow and should be beginning to produce fruit now. Common problems early in the season are flowers appearing but not forming fruit, or tiny fruits developing but then dropping off. The usual explanation for this is that they haven’t been pollinated by bees or other insects. Don’t worry, within a few weeks there should be plenty of male and female flowers with insects moving between them, leading to pollination and good fruit.  

Cucumbers can be grown outdoors or in a greenhouse, depending on the type. Outdoor ones tend to have thicker skin that needs to be peeled before eating but they are delicious and very prolific. Greenhouse ones have been bred to set fruit without being pollinated, as there are no bees indoors.

All cucurbits are prone to powdery mildew, which is worse in late summer and autumn. Spacing plants well apart for good airflow helps avoid this, as does watering during dry weather. If your plants begin to show signs of mildew, water them well at the base and try picking off the worst affected leaves to slow the spread. Mildew looks ugly but won’t usually stop the plants from fruiting.
 

Summer lawn care

Summer is when we use our lawns most but also when hot and dry weather can put them under stress. If your lawn is looking a little brown, try to resist the urge to water it. Tap water has been treated to make it drinkable and is wasted on lawns. Grass is very tough and, even if lawns go completely brown, they will bounce back when the rains return. If your lawn feels a little spiky to lie on, just use a towel or picnic blanket.

Don’t be tempted to get the mower out too often at this time of year either. Leaving grass to grow longer than normal can help it cope better with heat and drought. Letting areas grow long can also allow lawn weeds such as clover and daisies to flower, which looks lovely and provides food for insects. You may also be surprised how pretty grass seed heads can be. To create places to sit or sunbathe, simply mow an inviting path or clearing through the grass. 

Feeding, raking and weed control are also not needed in summer when lawns are growing slowly. Leave these tasks until autumn or next spring, when grass is more able to cope. For now, just spread out a blanket or position a deckchair, sit back and relax. You might even hear the bees buzzing in the buttercups.
 

Roses

Roses are a firm favourite with many gardeners. Not only do roses look and smell amazing they are also incredibly versatile and can be grown over fences, walls, arches and even in pots. The roses at the gardens in our care are in full bloom at the moment and we want you to experience the beauty of these flowers at home. From choosing sweet-smelling or thornless varieties to dealing with flowers affected by black spot, we've covered all the important topics so you can get the most out of your roses this year. 

How do I tackle blackspot?

Blackspot is a very common fungal disease that causes dark spots to develop on leaves, causing them to fall off. Some roses are more prone to it than others, but almost all will succumb if they are stressed from drought, poor soil, congestion or all three.

If your rose has a small amount of blackspot, you can pick off the affected leaves to help slow the spread. Watering and liquid feeding the plant – and even spraying the foliage with a foliar feed, rose tonic or plant invigorator – may also help boost its health. If the plant is badly affected, you may wish to try a fungicide – look for products that don’t also contain an insecticide, which can harm pollinating insects.

The most important treatment will be in winter when you should clear up all the fallen leaves, pick off any still hanging on the plant, prune out any damaged stems and put a thick mulch of garden compost or well-rotted manure around the base of the rose. This way there will be far fewer fungal spores overwintering to re-infect the plant in spring.

If your rose succumbs to the disease every year, no matter what you do, it might be time to dig it out and try a more disease-resistant variety in a new position. Rugosa roses are very tough and almost never affected by blackspot.

 

Keeping on top of the weeding

Meet the experts

Rebecca Bevan at Mount Stewart

Rebecca Bevan, garden researcher

Beccy trained at RHS Garden Wisley and has worked as a Head Gardener and a Horticultural Researcher for BBC Gardeners’ World before coming to the National Trust. Her job involves providing advice to Trust gardeners and writing books and articles about gardening. During lockdown she was delighted to be helping members with their gardens by sharing hints and tips, plus spending more time than ever before in her own.

Kate Nicoll demonstrating pear pruning in the walled garden at Attingham

Kate Nicoll, gardens training specialist

Kate spent 15 years as a BBC producer before her childhood love of gardening led to a career change. After completing a gardening apprenticeship she became senior gardener at Attingham Park. Kate is now responsible for training opportunities for all our gardeners and apprentices, but during the current crisis she is busy writing and even filming in her own back garden in North Wales.

Simon Toomer, national specialist, plant conservation

Simon Toomer, national specialist, plant conservation

Simon is the Trust’s specialist for all areas of plant conservation in gardens and parks. Most of his career has been in arboriculture and forestry and Simon was previously Director of Westonbirt Arboretum.

Codger's Fort on the estate at Wallington, Northumberland

National Trust Podcast Episode 78: The ice shelf garden

In this episode we’re bringing you another story to inspire you during lockdown. Paul Zabel, an engineer and novice gardener, was sent to work in his first greenhouse in one of the most extreme locations on Earth. At the end of his isolation, as Paul eased his way back into society, he realised he had discovered some valuable life lessons which we could learn from as we go through the same motions.