July is often what I think of as the midpoint of the yearlong cycle of the garden from the barrenness of winter to the abundance of late summer. The spring shrubs such as Deutzias, Philadelphus and Viburnum have retired to the back of the border, peonies have given all their sultry beauty for this season and many roses have finished their first flush. Amongst herbaceous plants such stalwarts as Lupins, Astrantias, Poppies and many geraniums are in need of deadheading or cutting back to promote a second flush.
We have been cutting back the Astrantias here at Hodnet. I prefer to cut away all of the spent foliage which has usually flopped out wards as well as the old flowers. In its place you should find new leaves growing from the middle of the plant, which will flower again. Geraniums also benefit from removal of old foliage and flowers. The oxonianum varieties can be particularly prolific and the explosive mechanism of seed dispersal means they can become invasive. A hard cut stops this invasive habit. Similarly poppies such as ‘Goliath’ will flop untidily and not flower again. If the plant is cut back it will produce a crop of tidy fresh growth, which in some cases will be kept through winter giving it a head start. One hard and fast rule is to make sure any plants you do cut back are watered to help them recover.
All this means work for the gardener but it is also an opportunity to assess what is working and what is not, where color might be added for better harmony or contrast and how much things are really paying their way. You can even identify plants which might need moving come winter.
The obvious problem is that all this good garden maintenance leaves gaps which can appear unsightly. The answer to this can be half-hardy annuals. Grown from seed in the spring or in the winter if you have the right facilities they are fast growing and can be kept in pots until ready to go out. Cleomes come in shades of pink, as well as white and combine well with grasses. Tithonia are orange and are particularly effective planted amongst Euphorbia characias subspecies. wulfenii.
Whether you grow annuals or not, or you prefer to leave plants to do their own thing take the chance now to plan for the future.