Summer time recline

GARDENS: THIS HAS BEEN the slowest spring I can remember, and it has been a trial

GARDENS:THIS HAS BEEN the slowest spring I can remember, and it has been a trial. But it has lulled me – and a lot of other gardeners too – into thinking that there is more time than usual to prepare for summer. Nonetheless, that season is just around the corner, and there are a few jobs that must be done before it is upon us.


Organised gardeners did this weeks ago, before the stems of perennials developed minds of their own and started going all wayward. The rest of us are only thinking about it now. Match the size, shape and weight of your staking device to the plant so that there is adequate control without the support taking centre stage. Pea sticks are my favourite material for propping up plants: these are simply lengths of twiggy brushwood, usually birch or hazel, but any wood with plenty of fairly upright growth will do.

They are easy to use, and blend inconspicuously into a border. Ideally, pea sticks should be cut when the host tree is leafless. Use different lengths and thicknesses depending on the weight and height of the plant you are supporting. Strip the lower twigs off the stick, and cut the end at an angle, so that you can plunge it firmly into the ground. Use as many as you need to create an encircling buttress around a clump of perennials, and if necessary, loop together with gardeners’ twine (brown or green jute). You can also bend the sticks inwards to make a domed cage for stems to grow through. Just aim for subtlety as well as support. Perennials with weighty stems of flower, such as delphinium, lupin or hollyhock, may need individual stakes. Use bamboo canes or slim rods of hazel or ash. Iron hoops are useful for heavy plants, and also for floppy things that have plenty of foliage to obscure the metal. Our hardy geraniums, for example, are kept off a path with low iron hoops.



This gardening technique is quite in vogue, perhaps in part because its name is memorable, and sounds so chic (“May-end snip” doesn’t really have the same cachet). It refers to the cutting back, by about half, all or some of the stems on certain late flowering perennials, around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show (which starts next week). It is used on plants that tend to get too leggy, and then splay outwards – especially in their second and subsequent years. When they grow back after the chop, they are shorter and sturdier. Suitable candidates include the large sedums such as ‘Herbstfreude‘ (also known as ‘Autumn Joy’) and ‘Purple Emperor’; and phlox and helenium.


Spring-flowering shrubs, such as rhododendron and lilac can have their spent blossom removed with a secateurs. And small spring perennials such as Aubreitaand Brunneracan be tidied by going over them with a shears. Don't worry if they look a bit frightened afterwards: they will recover in a couple of weeks. Hellebores and euphorbias that have finished flowering should also be deadheaded, unless you want them to seed about the place.

Remember that the milky sap of euphorbias is extremely hazardous, especially to the eyes. With the smaller varieties the entire plant can be cut back by about half, but with the larger ones (such as E characias), remove only the flowering stem.


Dahlias, cannas and other exotics that you have overwintered in the greenhouse or polytunnel can be brought outside, unless you live in the chilly midlands. If that is the case, give them another fortnight of shelter. Frost may still hit in the next week or two. In milder areas, tender veg such as courgettes and runner beans can be planted. For the latter, make sure to build them a climbing frame before you put them in the ground. If you make a wigwam for your beans, you can plant lettuce or other salad leaves under the poles. They will give you a good crop before the beans grow up and exclude the light. Intercropping such as this is invaluable where space is tight.


I can’t repeat the old adage enough: “One year’s seeding: seven years’ weeding.” I like to weed on my knees, so that I can rescue any interesting seedlings, but others prefer to use a hoe. If you have beds that you don’t want to walk on, the Chillington Canterbury fork hoe (from uproots weeds and cultivates the top few centimetres of soil. It has an angled head and is used with a slightly aggressive, chopping motion, which makes it particularly satisfying to wield.


There's nothing like an old-fashioned deckchair for making a person feel summery – whatever the weather. Online garden centre DYG ( offers traditional wood and slung-canvas chairs in bold stripes or plain primaries. The folding chairs are made from sustainably harvested local wood in the seaside town of Bournemouth, at a facility that provides work for people with disabilities. DYG also has an interesting range of good garden perennials including more than two dozen herbaceous peonies and a dozen varieties of Miscanthus.