23 July 2014 - 9:26pm

The Chelsea chop, getting the hang of astrantias, and fab ferns

Have you heard of the ‘Chelsea chop’? If not, it’s nothing to do with what you may be having for dinner. It refers to the practice of cutting back your perennials early this month (or bit earlier, hence the nod to Chelsea flower Show at the end of May) to make them shorter so less likely to flop and flower a little later. It works well with plants such as the bigger sedums, phlox and helenium. It does look a bit drastic, so what I do is cut some back and leave the rest. That way you get a longer flowering season. Of course if you have wonderfull y staked, sturdy plants there is no need. The other job to be getting on with is deadheading. Most flowering plants benefit from it, if you let them set seed they can think their job is done and stop flowering. Roses, sweet peas, bedding plants such as geraniums and most of the daisy family all benefit from a regular snip. I cut back hard alchemilla mollis as well, although they are a great plant they can take over. I’ve finally got the hang of astrantias. They are lovely this year in the borders at Charnwood obviously thriving after the early wet weather. If you are not familiar with them, the pretty little flowerheads look like little pincushions, lasting for weeks. Astrantias belong to the cow parsley family and prefer moisture retentive soil in light shade and an occasional mulch of compost. They have a reasonable colour range, mainly pale pinks through to the ones I love, the dark, rich reds. My experience here is that they don’t look much when you first plant them and take 2 or 3 years to clump up and get established, but when they do it’s clear they are worth a bit of patience. It’s the kind of plant that doesn’t take up too much room and mixes well. Another plant that has loved the wet weather are ferns. Again they take a while to get going, but we now have a good collection. The shuttlecock fern Matteuccia struthiopteris has been absolutely spectacular, growing to around 5 feet. That one likes damp soil, but some, such as the Dryopteris family (pictuired), can tolerate drier conditions. Ferns prefer to be planted or divided in the spring with a good mulch of leafmould if you have it. This is the time of year I do a bit of cheating. I have a few dahlias in pots ready to pop into gaps in the border. I keep them in the pots so can stick them back in the greenhouse when the frosts do for them. Works well for me and you can try it for other plants such as lilies or fuchsias. Usually there are cosmos to plant around early perennials such as poppies which can be cut back hard to make space. But the rabbits ate them all this year the little critters. I am normally a peace loving vegetarian, but if you have a gun and fancy rabbit pie please give me a ring…