Summer gardening tips: from our garden to yours
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.
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 do I get a good mix of wild flowers?
To improve the diversity of wild flower species you should always remove the cuttings after mowing and avoid using fertilisers.
How can I grow wild flowers in my garden?
The best thing you can do to encourage wild flowers is to leave lawns (or parts of them) uncut from mid-spring to summer.
What's the best way to sow wild flower seeds?
To introduce new flowers into the lawn it’s best to create open areas of soil through raking (and ideally turf removal) before sowing wild flower seeds.
Can I plant wild flower plugs instead of seeds?
Yes, you can also plant small ‘plugs’ into the lawn. These rooted plants have a better chance of surviving than just sowing flower seed straight onto existing lawns.
Which wild flowers should I grow?
The choice of flower seed mix is very important. Stick to locally growing native species suitable for your soil conditions.
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.
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.
Summer-fruiting raspberries are just starting to fruit now. The berries develop on long canes, which grew last year and get cut down at the end of summer. Autumn-fruiting raspberries grow differently and won’t be ready until August.
Harvest broad beans in batches every few days, taking the biggest first. The first fresh, young beans are perfect for salads. If your plants have blackfly, just rub them off from time-to-time or use a hose to jet-wash the plants.
Probably the perfect picnic food, strawberries are in their prime right now. Many creatures love them just as much as we do, so keep them covered with netting and put a jam jar with a little beer in nearby, to lure away slugs and snails.
Keep sowing salads
Rocket and lettuce can be harvested now for salads and sandwiches. For a regular supply of young leaves, make new sowings every month, either in large containers or veg beds. For windowsill harvests, try growing cress.
Tomatoes should be in flower now and your first harvest not far off. Feed them regularly with a liquid tomato feed. If they are cordon types which grow up a pole or string, keep pinching off the unwanted side shoots.
Radishes are very easy to grow and can be sliced into salads and pickles or eaten whole. New sowings can be made all summer, whenever you have a gap in the veg patch or an empty container.
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 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.
Sunlight on borders
Watch the way the sun moves around your garden, lighting up the plants at different times. Tall, architectural perennials and grasses are especially dramatic when lit up by low morning or evening sun.
Sun-loving plants, veg plots and laundry lines often compete for the sunniest parts of our gardens. But leave space for somewhere to sit and soak up the rays. West-facing spots, which get the evening sun, are usually the most desirable.
If you have a very sunny, south-facing garden, you may need a shady spot to sit out in during the middle of the day. A large umbrella works well but the canopy of a tree or a plant-clad pergola may feel far more secluded and romantic.
Hard surfaces look best if they are softened by planting. If you only have a few pots, group them together for greater effect. You don’t need to use disposable bedding plants – perennials like lavender and agapanthus are great in pots.
It’s lovely to have scented plants near places you sit. Some species such as honeysuckle, jasmine and tobacco plants release their perfume in the evening. This is great for night-flying moths, which may attract bats.
Water for wildlife
If you don’t have a pond, consider leaving a shallow dish of water out. For hedgehogs it needs to be on the ground but for birds to bathe safely, place it somewhere that cats can’t reach. Change the water often and clean the dish.
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 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.
Strongest scented roses
Old damask and bourbon roses are some of the most deeply scented, used to create perfumes and flavourings. Try ‘Ispahan’, ‘Louise Odier’ or ‘Madame Isaac Péreire’. Newer varieties with delicious scents include ‘Constance Spry’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘The Poet’s Wife’.
Roses for garden fences
Stick to small climbers for garden fences, such as golden yellow ‘Teasing Georgia’ and pink ‘Blush Noisette’. Or you can simply fan out the branches of a shrub rose so it is flat against the fence. The more horizontally you can train the branches, the more flowers you will get.
Roses for pots
Patio roses such as ‘Queen Mother’ are the most suitable for growing in containers. Choose a pot that’s at least 40 cm deep and fill it with loam-based compost or a mix of peat-free, multipurpose compost and garden soil. It will need feeding and watering throughout the growing season.
Keeping roses healthy
Roses like to be planted in a fertile, moisture-retentive soil and be mulched with garden compost or well-rotted manure. Remember to prune each winter to stop branches becoming over-crowded. When buying new roses, look for varieties which are more resistant to diseases.
Less thorny varieties
Some roses have a lot less thorns than others. To keep children and pets scratch-free, try scented, deep pink shrub roses ‘Zéphirine Drouhin’ or ‘Reine des Violettes’, English rose ‘Kew Gardens’ with its clusters of small white flowers, or purple rambler ‘Veilchenblau’.
Once-flowering ramblers and old roses don’t need to be deadheaded and will form attractive hips. For repeat-flowering roses such as climbers and hybrid teas, regular deadheading will encourage more flowers. Stop in late summer to let a few hips form for the birds.
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
Enjoy whatever space you have and experiment with household objects. You could grow vegetables in an old washing up bowl with holes punched in the bottom. Or make plant pots for seedlings out of newspaper.
We will get through this together and our favourite gardens will wait for us. Looking after plants in a large garden, an allotment or on the windowsill is good for our wellbeing as it gives us something special to care for.
Share your love of gardening
Share tips, seeds and small plants or cuttings with friends and neighbours. During my community shopping trips, I’ve shared sweet-pea seeds and tomato seeds. Tomato or bean plants are a lovely gift for new gardeners.
Get to know your fellow gardeners
Gardeners are lovely people and are always happy to share tips, experience and plants. As volunteers we often swap and share plants, cuttings and seeds. Get to know the gardeners on your street and look out for voluntary projects.
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.
Paul Micklewright from Scotney Castle in Kent, says: 'Grass is very good at dealing with a lack of water, even if it turns brown it will bounce back when the rains return later in the year.'
'It’s best to water first thing in the morning or last thing at night to avoid damaging plants,' says Paul from Scotney. When the sun shines on water it can act like a magnifying glass, burning the leaves below.
Regular shallow watering encourages plant roots to stay at the surface. More infrequent but thorough watering teaches them to go deeper and become far more resilient to drought.
Avoid digging in hot, dry weather as it can destroy the structure of the soil, increase moisture loss and disturb plant roots.
Should I feed birds during spring and summer?
What garden birds and their young most need during the breeding season is a natural diet of insects and caterpillars. Well mulched beds and borders provide a rich menu of prey, including worms, caterpillars and beetles.
How can I control greenfly on my roses without harmful chemicals?
Firstly, don’t worry about a few pests as they provide food for insects like ladybirds and help to maintain a balance. For major outbreaks, use ‘contact’ insecticides like soap-based ones that are less harmful.
Keeping on top of the weeding
Are all weeds bad?
No! Weeds growing around garden plants are best removed as they compete for light, water and nutrients but weeds like nettles in the corner of the garden and dandelions in the lawn are great for wildlife.
How do I get rid of weeds?
Annual weeds which grow from seed now have small roots and can just be pulled off by hand. Perennial weeds often have deeper roots and you need to use a handfork to get them out.
Can I ever get rid of bindweed?
Yes. Use a fork to dig deeply and pull out all the annoying white roots. Even a little bit left in the ground will regrow but if you keep digging it out, every time it appears, it will give up eventually.
What do I do with all my garden waste?
You can compost it. Weeds, grass clippings and hedge-trimmings mixed together compost brilliantly. If you don’t have a compost bin, make one with boards or an old dustbin or even just pile it up. If you have space, two bins is ideal.
What else can I add to my compost heap?
Add your veg peelings, eggs shells, egg boxes and coffee granules to your compost heap but avoid any cooked food which could attract unwanted visitors such as foxes or rats.
What do I use compost for?
Compost made from garden waste is great for adding to the soil in flower beds and veg plots. It can be dug in or spread on top. It is different from multi-purpose potting compost which has been specially formulated for growing plants in.
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.