Summer gardening tips: from our garden to yours

Wildflower meadow at Bradenham

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.

Making meadows 

Meadows are havens for wildlife, including bees, butterflies, small birds and mammals. But as a nation, we’ve lost 97 per cent of wildflower meadows since the 1930s. We're working hard to restore meadows and grasslands and you can do your bit at home. During the run up to National Meadows Day on 4 July, we asked our gardeners to share their advice on creating meadow-like environments in the garden. You can create wildlife-rich grassland habitats by making a few simple changes to the way you manage your lawn. 

How many wild flowers can you spot?

How to spot wild flowers 

During the summer wild flowers bring vibrant colour to meadows, grasslands and verges. Not only are these flowers beautiful to look at they also support bees, butterflies and other pollinators. We've created this guide to help you identify the flowers you see when you're out enjoying the countryside this summer.

What is a meadow?

We use a wide range of vocabulary to describe open spaces. A field is an enclosed area of land used for growing crops or grazing animals, whereas a pasture is grassland used only for grazing animals.

Meadows, however, are distinctive in two important respects. Firstly, meadows are permanent and are never ploughed or re-sown with new grasses, which allows for the gradual development of a rich diversity of naturally occurring plants and insects. Secondly, meadows are cut annually for hay. The grass is left to grow and mature before being harvested, meaning the flowers can complete their cycle of seed production and distribution.

Measures to prevent nutrient enrichment are vital to creating a flower-rich meadow. Vigorous grasses thrive on rich fertile soils and are the enemies of diversity. When artificial fertilisers are added to a pasture or meadow wild flowers can’t compete with fast-growing plants and grasses. Removing the hay crop every year also helps to keep nutrient levels low and plant diversity high.
 

Our gardeners will continue caring for our green spaces

Donate to help look after the gardens in our care 

Coronavirus has caused a sharp drop in our income. This threatens our conservation work at a time when people need access to green spaces more than ever. Your donation today will help us look the gardens in our care and ensure their survival over the coming months.

Home-grown picnics 

Your own fruit and veg, picked fresh from the garden, make fantastic ingredients for picnics or eating al fresco. Not only are they healthy, tasty and packaging-free but they also make a great talking point with friends and family. 

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.
 

Wooden wheelbarrow full of harvested summer vegetables

Seasonal recipes 

Growing your own food is incredibly rewarding, especially when it comes to harvesting and eating your produce. Discover what fruit and veg you can enjoy this summer and try out some of our favourite seasonal recipes.

Summer garden design 

There are lots of things you can do in your garden to get the most out of the long summer days and balmy evenings. Think about how you arrange your seating and planting to catch the sun and consider introducing scent and water.

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.

 

Thanking our volunteers 

We want to say a special thank you to our garden volunteers, whose hard work before lockdown means the places in our care are now full of wildlife and vibrant with colour. We can't wait to welcome them back when it's safe to do so.

In the meantime, we've been catching up with Liz Kemp, a garden volunteer at Emmetts Garden in Kent. Liz tells us how she's been keeping busy during lockdown and shares her top tips for gardening and getting through difficult times. From sharing plants and seeds to getting to know your fellow gardeners, Liz has got plenty of ideas to keep you smiling. Her suggestions below are designed to be done in line with government guidance on social distancing.

Liz's top tips

Liz Kemp, a volunteer gardener at Emmetts Garden in Kent

When Liz returned to the UK in 2008, after 25 years of living in high-rise flats in Hong Kong, she realised that the one thing missing from her life was gardening.

Liz decided she wanted to volunteer for a public garden when she was recovering from a foot injury and started at Emmetts in 2013. Her weekly visits became one of the most special parts of her life and she can’t wait to return to the garden when it’s safe to do so.   

Why is Emmetts Garden so special to you?

Emmetts Garden can be enjoyed on so many levels. It is a wonderful Edwardian garden created in the early 20th century and was lovingly cared for by its owner Frederic Lubbock who was passionate about plants. The garden is not only known for its superb planting there is also a meadow, a forest play area (complete with tepee and outdoor kitchen) and woodland paths for families to explore. But there’s also space for peace and solitude, allowing me to indulge my passion for rare trees and shrubs. 
 
What have you learned from volunteering and how has this helped you during lockdown?

I’ve learned how fun it is working as part of a friendly team to create a gorgeous garden for people to enjoy. I enjoyed giving garden tours and helping visitors see the garden with new eyes. It has been agony during lockdown not to be able to visit. Spring is the most important season and it’s sad not to see the results of all our hard work. But lockdown has also given me time to experiment with growing veg from seed and creating a small veg patch at home. My husband jokes that I’m trying to create a mini Emmetts.

I’ve been sharing seeds and small plants with friends, neighbours and the people I meet during my community shopping rounds. Enjoy nature and smile at everyone you see. We will all get through this together and our favourite gardens will be waiting for us.
 

Summer gardening

Keeping on top of the weeding

Who's answering the questions?

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 normal job involves providing advice to Trust gardeners and writing books and articles about gardening. During lockdown she is delighted to be helping members with their gardens and 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.