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1 June 2018 - 12:00am

Make space for annuals

Summer is here and the garden needs a bit of a tidy. Once the forget me nots, poppies and other spring flowers are over, I try and have a bit of a clear out to make space for some colour later on. Cosmos seems to be the go-to plant at the moment; it is certainly a class plant that fills those gaps beautifully. The main problem I find with them is that slugs and snails love them, especially when young. The best defence is to plant them as fairly well established plants, the younger and tenderer the leaves, the more slugs will happily munch them down to the ground. Cosmos come in a wide range of colours and sizes including pinks, purples, white, orange and red. They have pretty fern like foliage that makes the border look really graceful, and flowering goes on for a long time if you dead head them regularly. I have managed to get some cleomes to germinate this year. These are also tall, classy plants, usually in the pink/purple/white range of colours; highly recommended if you want something a bit different.. Averaging around a metre in height, cleomes provide a focal point and (hooray) they don’t need staking. Bees seem to love them too. Cleome flowers are really pretty; the petals radiate from a central point, forming an umbel, or cluster and the long stamens give flowers a spiky look, hence their common name ‘spider flower’. Foxgloves are going over now and are setting seed. Left undisturbed they will germinate in a few weeks. If you thin the seedlings out to give them some space, they will grow a rosette of leaves and flower most likely next year. That is why they are referred to as biennial plants. If you want white foxgloves only, you can tell from the seedlings they are going to be white by looking at the central veins that are pale without any hint of purple so you can weed the rest out. If you don’t have foxgloves in your garden and want some, now is the time to sow for a show next June. You can buy all kinds of different foxgloves, my favourite are the excelsior hybrids, like foxgloves on steroids! Other biennials you can get going now are forget me nots, wallflowers and sweet williams. An unusual and very dramatic biennial is the scotch thistle, or Onopordum. It grows to around 3 metres in a sunny well drained spot, has amazing jagged silver grey leaves and purple flowers like a giant thistle. Not to everyone’s taste I know (Peter hates them!) but I love them for their shouty ‘look at me’ presence. One task to do as often as you are able is to deadhead, and not just cosmos. Roses, most bedding plants, penstemons, salvias, in fact most perennial and annual flowers will carry on producing new blooms if you cut off their heads once finished. If they set seed they think their job is done and stop producing flowers. A little regular feed helps as well: like you and me, if they are often hungry they won’t be at their best. Plant food can be given in all kinds of ways. A liquid feed of Phostrogen is my preferred method for plants in pots, but if you venture into a garden centre you will find endless products. One method I’m going to try this year is comfrey feed. We have loads of comfrey here, so it is a cost free option. Just cram a bucket with comfrey leaves, cover in water and leave it to stew for a couple of weeks. Get a lid as it smells like a teenager’s bedroom/rotting cabbage/unclean dustbin! Then put a cupful of the liquid in a fairly large watering can and water well. I have a mate who swears by it for producing a great crop of tomatoes, but I haven’t tried that myself, perhaps I will this year!