SUMMER TOPICAL TIPS
Flowers are the real stars of summer, whether it's bedding plants in pots and hanging baskets on the patio, perennials in the borders, or those old stalwarts, the roses. This is the time for being a bit more co-ordinated with your colours, now there's so much to choose from.
old favourites like pelargoniums and fuchsias still rate top of the pots, but now that everyone goes so mad on container gardening, demand has risen to a heck of a lot of new and different patio plants such as scaevola - the pendent beauty with fan-shaped blue flowers. Modern strains of petunias put on some of the best and most long-lasting shows possible in hanging baskets; choose the "Million Bells" type, with trillions of small flowers, or the popular "Surfinia series", which have a wonderful scent if you grow them in a sheltered spot. The equivalent flower-power among the pelargoniums is to be found among the "Cascade" type; they are a big improvement on the trailing, ivy-leaved pelargoniums. The plants are completely covered in narrow-petalled flowers all summer - like the old favourites seen in those spectacular window-boxes on Swiss chalet balconies, but with a modern twist.
You don't need to have a traditional herbaceous border to be aware of the welter of perennials in flower during summer, from old favourites like delphiniums, lupins and bearded irises, to loud red-hot pokers (Kniphofia), drought-tolerant pinks (Dianthus) and penstemons, or trendy euphorbias and alstroemerias - which are both pretty drought tolerant too.
For damp borders or watersides, you could pick tall rodgersias, with horse-chestnut like leaves, pink spired loosestrifes (Lythrum), and the plant that looks like chains of gold coins, the golden version of creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) "Aurea".
But in any situation, don't forget the foliage; plants like heucheras and hostas are handy for seperating colours that 'fight', or for making individual flowers stand out from the horde.
Nine out of ten gardens grow roses, even though very few feature traditional formal rose beds now - the sort with bare soil beneath the plants. Nowadays, you'll more often see shrub roses grown in mixed borders, or prickly species roses, such as Rosa rugosa, grown as a hedge. Among the new developments of the past few years have been the compact patio roses, which are brilliant for pots. They have all the long flowering season of bedding, but without the need to replant every season, as you can leave them in the same pots outside all year round. Ground-cover roses are similar but, instead of being neat and bushy, they are low and spreading - perfect for covering a bank, or the front of a border. Standard rose are ideal if you want a bit of height and formailty in a border. They look pretty good rising above a carpet of ground-cover roses, or a bed of knee-high perennials, but use them carefully if you want to avoid that retro 1950s look.
KEY JOBS FOR SUMMER
Feeding, watering, deadheading bedding plants and keeping the grass mown are major priorities in summer. Perennials and vegetables by now shade the ground, so most annual weeds will 'smothered' out, but watch out for nasties such as bindweed.
Early summer (June)
Paint liquid shading on to the outside of the greenhouse.
Feed and deadhead roses after the first flush of flowers.
Use netting to protect soft fruit from birds.
Clear early vegetables and salads and replant beds.
Feed and water tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers and melon plants outdoors.
Pick soft fruit.
Water containers regularly and feed once a week.
Keep up the feeding and deadheading of bedding plants.
If the weather is dry, raise the lawn mower blades slightly; grass will stay greener if allowed to grow a little longer.
Late summer (August)
Water rhododendrons in dry weather, to help initiate their flower buds.
Summer-prune soft fruit and trained apple trees.
Clip slow-growing hedges such as beech and yew.
Pick open flowers from patio plants before going on holiday, so you come home to fresh new blooms instead of deadheads.
For more tips and advice see also the RHS Wisley Website May advice page