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Tips for planting a summer garden

27 June 2017

Gardening experts from across the country share their top tips for planting a gorgeous summer garden, including tips for choosing plants and design ideas.

Summer garden border
Grow some extra plants in pots to plug any gaps that appear in your summer border

Choosing your summer plants

When buying plants choose decent-sized specimens and don’t be tempted to overcrowd the space. Plants that are crammed in to create the ‘instant garden’ look won’t thrive.
- Jamie Butterworth, RHS Show Support Manager at Hortus Loci and RHS Ambassador

In my experience the only hardy geranium that doesn’t need cutting back and will continue in flower for most of the summer with a little deadheading, is Geranium sanguineum.

If you are thinking of buying an aster, Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ as an easy-care option. Unlike many asters, it will flower from July until November, doesn’t get mildew and hardly needs deadheading.
- Susie Pasley-Tyler owner and gardener at Coton Manor

Whatever size your garden, grow a few things from seed which are cut-and-come-again. I love cosmos 'Rubenza' or 'Purity' - both wonderful garden fillers which you can cut to your heart’s content to fill your house as well. Cut-and-come-again salad and herbs will give almost daily harvests too - stalwarts include the lettuces ‘Salad Bowl’ and 'Black Seeded Simpson', and 'Giant of Napoli' parsley. They are delicious, very easy to grow and will add to countless meals.
- Sarah Raven, gardener, writer and TV presenter

Visit our Home and Garden section for gardening guides, home improvement tips and much more.

Plan to use plants that thrive in summer as this will save you work and help conserve water. Herbs are fabulous plants, with garden and kitchen uses galore, and are particularly useful in a dry season. Rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme, winter savory and chives are among my favourites in the garden and the kitchen, and they will do well in a sunny spot even in a drought.
- Barbara Segal editor of Herbs magazine and author of Secret Gardens of East Anglia (Frances Lincoln, September 2017)

With the fear of frost behind us, it's time to get the last tender perennials out into the summer sunshine. Among the best for pure flower power are Salvia and one of my favourites is 'Amistad' – a real doer. Its rich purple flowers are borne in a profusion from mid-summer until the first frost. Plant now into any good soil in full sun and, although tender, it can be overwintered as softwood cuttings taken in late summer.
- Lawrence Wright Head Plantsman at Tregothnan, Cornwall and Chartered Institute of Horticulture's Young Horticulturist of the Year 2016

Find out what you need to know about buying plants online

Sowing seeds

When sowing annuals, fill module trays with compost and press the compost into a dip with your thumb. Then sow 3 to 5 seeds in each module, depending on the seed size (the bigger the seed the fewer you need) and cover with compost or vermiculite. All the seeds should germinate and this will give you much bushier plants, that flower far more prolifically, than if you just used one seed.
- Sarah Venn grower and nurserywoman; now runs Incredible Edible Bristol, a community organisation that creates beautiful, productive gardens in lost and unloved spaces.

Sow vegetables little and often throughout the growing season, a metre or two of beetroot, carrots, French beans or radishes sown every three weeks will provide you with a procession of perfect crops, and help to avoid the dreaded glut.
- Lia Leendertz author and garden columnist for the Telegraph

Grow a few extra pots of flowers to fill any gaps that may appear in borders through summer, perhaps where something has failed to flourish or has just passed its best. Try summer bedding, dahlias, perennials like Rudbeckia, ornamental grasses … in fact anything that you fancy. If gaps appear just pop in a pot to plug the gap, adding extra colour and interest to displays.

Sow little and often to ensure regular pickings of ‘baby’ salad leaves right through until autumn. Just sow a pinch or two of seed every week or two, selecting your favourites like rocket, spinach, cut-and-come-again lettuce and beetroot. Also, sow pots of coriander and basil to grow on the kitchen windowsill.
- Adam Pasco, Gardening Consultant and Journalist

Planning your borders

Place pots in the middle of your borders to punctuate your scheme with structure and add height in amongst the perennials. Repeat the same choice of pot along the length of the bed for continuity and pick a colour that compliments the rest of the garden.
- Matt Keightley award-winning Garden Designer and Director of Rosebank Landscaping

Dare to use orange! After all, who would you take garden style advice from, Vita Sackville-West or the neighbours? Though Sissinghurst Castle is thought of as the last word in good taste, it's not all white. Vita S-W didn't seek approval, and the Sunset Garden at Sissinghurst is ablaze. Life is simpler with sunset colours; they don't clash when they're together. Green is the key: temper hot colours with plenty of foliage and keep disruptive white flowers elsewhere.
- Kendra Wilson is a writer with an interest in garden style and author of My Garden is a Car Park and other design dilemmas (Laurence King)

Find out how to design a herbaceous border

Planting in dry weather

Help new plants establish by creating a shallow dish in the soil around them. This will help the water soak into the soil and down to the plants’ roots.

Reducing water loss from the soil is key to success with new plants. A layer of mulch will also help prevent weeds growing which would compete with the plant for moisture and food.
- Jonathan Webster Curator at RHS Garden Rosemoor

They say a pint watered at the roots is worth eight at the surface so when planting out courgettes, squash and pumpkins in their final positions, 'plant' a plastic pop bottle next to them. The bottom of the bottle is cut off beforehand and it is positioned with the neck facing downwards. I then water my plants via the bottles. These plants are thirsty and this way uses less water as it goes directly to the roots, cutting down on evaporation. It also makes the task an easier one as less bending and stooping is needed.
- Michelle Chapman, gardener, freelance writer and author of popular blog Veg Plotting

Containers are my nemesis and I do everything I can to aid my less-than-regular watering! Tricks include lining terracotta with plastic, using swell gels, mulching and planting pipes in large pots so water can get straight to the roots of the plants. Group pots together to limit water loss and use as big a pot as you dare.
- Ann-Marie Powell award-winning garden designer, TV gardening presenter, journalist and author

Read our practical guide to watering the garden efficiently

Summer container

Planting in containers

Visiting grandchildren will enjoy your garden far more if they feel they own part of it! Rather than sacrifice your borders, why not let them plant up an old wheelbarrow. Add some drainage holes to the bottom and they can create and decorate a mini mobile herb or vegetable garden. What’s more, you can wheel it into pride of place whenever they come to visit.
- Dawn Isaac is a Chelsea medal winning garden designer who specialises in family gardens and a prolific author

If you’re planning an impactful container display this summer but don’t have the budget to buy top notch pots there is solution. Put the majority of your plants in cheap plastic pots and only plant those that are in the front in your best containers. No one will ever know that the plants in the middle and back of your display are in plastic pots!
- Tamsin Westhorpe, Garden writer, lecturer, Open Gardens Ambassador for The British Red Cross & director of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire

Planting under trees

Solve the difficulty of mowing around trees by not mowing around trees. Think of a traditional orchard, with spring bulbs slowly progressing toward cow parsley, with butterflies fluttering about amid the chirping of birds. Put a swing in that picture. We need creatures in our gardens and they like long grass – and so do children, especially with paths mown through. The mini 'meadow' can be cut in July, and kept neat-ish thereafter; it's not messy, when it's planned.
- Kendra Wilson is a writer with an interest in garden style and author of My Garden is a Car Park and other design dilemmas (Laurence King)

Planting to soften walls and fences

If you are fed up with your harsh, fenced boundary, and hedging will simply take up too much room; try planting panels of pre-grown climbers. These have all the benefits of hedging – a haven for wildlife, much softer naturalistic boundaries and instant colour – but only take four inches out of the garden. Trachelospermum jasminoides and ivy ‘Woerner’ are good choices.
- Matt Keightley award-winning Garden Designer and Director of Rosebank Landscaping

Planting in raised beds

Raised beds are great in small spaces as they bring height and interest into a garden as well as removing the need to bend or kneel. They can also double up as a convenient resting spot. Make them 450mm high, the average height of a dining chair, and add a cushion – they’re perfect for extra seating for visitors or the odd cuppa in the midst of weeding.
- Jo Thompson award-winning garden designer

Read more about the benefits of planting in raised beds

Planting for night scent

Night phlox, Zaluzianskya ovata, is a lovely little perennial from South Africa. Use it to plant up some pots and place them in groups near the back door or conservatory. The flowers stay closed in the sun showing the pink reverse of the petals. In the evening, they open pure white and emit an incredible scent. Keep them moist with cold water from the kettle and trim with nail scissors occasionally.
- Jinny Blom Landscape- and garden designer, author of The Thoughtful Gardener (Jacqui Small)

Find out about scented flowers for a sunny garden

Planting for wildlife

Try and have plants in flower from Spring all the way till the end of the butterfly season in October or November. A good late-season nectar plant is the ice plant. The pink Sedum spectabile species is better than newer red varieties, as these can be nectarless.

Leaving a messy area of long grass and weeds in your garden is a great way to encourage, not only butterflies, but also insect species such as lacewings and ladybirds that can help provide natural pest control.
- Anna Platoni RHS Entomologist and PhD researcher at The University of Cambridge

Find out how to create a wildlife-friendly garden

Planting ahead

Dahlias are the queens of autumn. Plant them out in June, in rich, moist soil that has been well prepared. If you want to produce larger blooms, practise disbudding. Carefully remove the two smaller flowering buds, to enable the larger one to form without competition, and see the amazing results!
- Richard Baines Curator at Logan Botanic Garden in Dumfries and Galloway

Don’t forget to sow some biennials in June in order to steal a march on next year. Come the dark days of winter, you won’t have to garden if you don’t want to as you will already have masses of foxgloves, sweet William, sweet rocket and wallflowers on the go.
- Georgie Newbery, author, artisan florist and founder of Common Farm Flowers

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.