with Charlie Wilkins

The July Garden 2023



Midsummer’s day is hardly a memory and already the mood of the garden has changed. The garden is uncertain now, layered with ambivalence and suggestion, carrying something of both summer and early autumn in its strange chemistry. Plants are growing heavy now and the luminous quality of delicate blooms and foliage is taking on a faded grandeur and harder tone. In particular I notice the deterioration on a large planting of Cosmos, their diaphanous petals prematurely bleaching and fading like a butterfly’s wings in late September. Gone now the youthful freshness of spring, the anticipation of June, and the first flush of ‘balled roses. However, whilst many plants in the treasure-chest of ornamental gardens may be aging we must remain positive and hopeful of good growing and weather for relaxing. Remember that there are still three months (and more) of potential colour, scent, and texture to be enjoyed if conditions improve.
From the bevy of these, let me introduce you to a beautiful thing in bloom as I write the blue and white Campanula known and sold as ‘persicifolia’. Rain suits them admirably! These are of the thin-leaved variety whose slender stems are set with open cup-shaped flowers in shades of blue and white to knee height. Totally hardy, these reliable perennials (which anyone can grow from seed, cuttings, or division) can be sourced as mature plants this month at garden centres all around the country. Their roots I assure you will fit in anywhere, even among crazy paving stones, beside a path, in the border with phlox and veronica or mixed through white Watsonias and Bridal gladioli. In a wet year like this, the peach-leafed bellflower will perform positively for it dislikes intensely ground which dries prematurely.
Among the named varieties you should look for and choose plain ‘Alba’ a magnificent and lovely white, worth having in any situation or ‘Telham Beauty’ with its larger blooms in a pretty milky blue colouring. When this latter form opens to warm sunshine (both will also perform in light shade) the plant’s flared ends look as if they had been dipped into watery blue ink and allowed stain the whiteness in the fast drying summer air. Being single-flowered, both ‘Alba’ and ‘Telham Beauty’ will stand handsomely upright without the need for staking or artificial support. I must admit to a little staking for the garden is high and exposed to regular damaging winds. The double-flowered forms (if you would prefer these) boast big blue waxy bells (contained one within another) up along their stems giving each broad bloom pronounced substance and longevity. Like many doubles in the plant world these are sterile and lacking in the wherewithal to make seed last longer than the singles. Still, it is to the singles that I look for sheer perfection in colour and texture.
Campanula persicifolia will be found good mixers, not only among themselves but with their neighbours in the border, in or out of direct sunlight. In fact, they can sometimes welcome partially shaded positions where their glowing hues will be found at their most intense, particularly telling at dusk.


ROSES; Dead-heading roses on a fading summer evening is an occupation that can carry us back into a calmer age, and at times, even into a different century. How things have changed in the past decade and how fast (and cheap) has life has become. So as the light fades, stillness reigns in the evening garden and apart from the drone of a distant lawnmower and the sound of low volume traffic on a busy road out front, one could easily imagine themselves completely alone. Add to this the gentle snip-snip of the pruners and you could think yourself standing in a garden away back in the late sixties. These are pleasurable occupations of course (when you have the time to spare) but it must be even more pleasurable for the roses as they get relieved of faded blooms and useless drooping stems. Dead-heading means not alone cutting off the faded blooms but going lower down to prominent if somewhat dormant buds. These are simply longing to develop!

MILDEW; Signs of powdery mildew diseases is now evident on roses and plants such as hollyhocks, asters and fuchsias. If you are unfortunate enough to have both diseases (along with pests such as greenfly) you can find ready-mixed combinations of insecticide and fungicide that do the two jobs in one spray. Best known is RoseClear Ultra Gun! The product is available as a convenient hand sprayer that allows quick and effective treatment of the major rose problems in one ready-mixed spray.

CONTAINERS; Regular watering and feeding are essential to keep hanging baskets and decorative patio containers looking good. Find time also to pick over your containers in order to remove dead flower heads. This will encourage more flowering. Take extra time deadheading fuchsias or they will produce seed pods the size of grapes using up plenty of plant energy in the process.
Similarly, don’t be frightened of cutting back long trailing plant material that is showing bare flowerless patches. Some trailing petunias, yellow bidens and orange nasturtiums are inclined to rampage but can be cut back quite hard without harming the plants. Feeding containers once a week is recommended especially when these are in a rain shadow or under some form of protection. Use any of the commercial liquid feed you might have to hand.

GRAVEL; Keep your gravel paths free of weeds and wild grass growths. These are heart-scalds at the moment and I feel I am losing the battle yet again. Spray Weedol (if you get six hours of dryness) and be rid of most if these in a day or so. Pernicious weeds like dandelions and dock will need treatment with something stronger like Roundup or other herbicide. If your lawn contains broadleaved weeds such as buttercups, daisies, plantains and dandelions I suggest you apply the D50 I like to use. Creeping buttercup is a nuisance in many lawns but this will kill it off in a matter of days.

TOMATOES; If you are still buying ‘coloured bags of water’ (tomatoes) try a pot or basket of Irish grown baby tomatoes from Hooleys. Mine are already producing fruits (green as I write) but by the time this appears in spring, red fruits will be ours until late September. And if fruits are not to your liking have a look at the super glazed pots!