I realise that the reason the Chelsea Flower Show is in the third week of May is because this gives the best chance of giving us plenty of bangs for our bucks: ie loads of jaw dropping colour. But it occurs to me that there is an unintended and unwelcome consequence.
Have you noticed how almost the moment the show closes and that giant white tent, that for one glorious week displayed the best blooms in the whole country, is dismantled we hit the dread June Gap? This is that seasonal lull after the May flowers have finished, the bulb foliage has browned and flopped over, the last blossom is blowing away and we are left with nothing more to feast on than the emerging spikes of yet to flower iris and the verdant foliage of many perennials but very little in the way of your actual florescence. Clever gardeners plan for this as best they can by providing ferny fronds and other curious and colourful foliage but there is no getting away from the fact that returning from the Chelsea catwalk to one’s own rather beleaguered patch left me feeling distinctly glum.
Ten plants for the June gap
Garden jobs for June
So what to do in a June garden?
First off I find a little gentle tidying works wonders. Shearing the edges of beds and borders, a quick mow of wild corners and, best of all, a touch of strimming.
Strimming the nettles before they flower is key to an easy (relatively speaking) life in the Sheep Garden.
Just over the wall from the compost bins the hill slopes gently away down to a small stream. In winter and early spring this slope is all innocence but come mid to late May what appeared like nice soft turf suddenly springs up into a vile patch of nettles.
Now before you start telling me how wonderful nettles are for wildlife and how I ought to leave them for the bees and so on let me assure you that there are nettles everywhere round here. And where there aren’t nettles there are thistles. And dock. And goosegogs. It is a never ending battle. Left to its own devices this patch of nettles behind the compost bins grows massive, taller even than the bins. The roots can spread five feet a year but at least they pull out easily.
The real danger is letting the females set seed. So I set aside half an hour last week and blitzed the lot with my new Ego Trimmer (ST121OE 30cm) (£109 from egopowerplus.co.uk). This is a lithium battery-powered strimmer with nylon cord and it is brilliant. It has the spread and power of a petrol driven machine but is much lighter, quieter and much easier to use and the battery recharges quickly but lasts a good 45 minutes and more. Put it this way I have yet to run out of charge before the job’s done.
Gravelling, weeding and topdressing are all jobs that seem to me like hard work but they do pay off.
If you can get bulk orders of gravel and topsoil/soil improver/manure it works out so much cheaper and easier than driving to pick up bags. I took delivery of a metre cubed sack of soil improver (top soil mixed with manure) and another of Cotswold pebbles. The key is not overloading the wheelbarrow otherwise the benefit of getting an upper body work out is negated with an aching lower back.
The key to adding top dressing to the beds is to weed carefully first.
Next, make sure not to put the topsoil/soil improver/manure too close to plant stems or they may rot.
And I try to do the job when the rain has made the existing ground damp or when more rain is forecast.
Finally, go round the border tidying things up. This is the perfect time to get things in order before the next mad growth spurt.
1. Spent tulip stems can be pulled out
2. Chelsea Chop those perennials that can get out of control. I failed to do this with the asters last year and they flopping about over the whole bed. I learned my lesson. This year I have CC’d the asters, perovskia, sedum, catmint, helenium and campanula. The idea is to cut away a third of top growth before it starts to flower. You can simply shear it all off, or you can use secateurs, and perhaps cut off the front half and leave the back. The result will be to stagger the flowering and so increase the flowering season. If you have lots of the same type of plant you can chop some and leave others. Another way is to pinch out the flowering tips. I tried a combination of all three different methods.
Find out more about the Chelsea chop
3. Plug gaps.
4. Move unhappy plants if not moved already. I have some grasses that are just not happy at one end of the border where the ground is particular dry. Just make sure to water it well before moving and very well afterwards and generally keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
5. Put peasticks or other supports in place now for those plants that you know are going to need it in a few weeks’ time.
After doing all the above I am feeling much better. And the garden looks a load better too. Now just for a little sun and some gentle rain.