“Our England is a garden” said Rudyard Kipling and there is no greater proof that we are a nation of gardeners than the interest given to the Chelsea Flower Show. This floral spectacle engages visitors and TV viewers the world over. Away from all of the razzmatazz and in the humbler surroundings of our own gardens there is plenty going on for the ambitious gardener to make the most of what the season has to offer.
It is Iris time in the herbaceous border whether the Irises are tall or short bearded with voluptuous standards and falls that shine like satin they will need a good baking their rhizomes planted shallowly towards the full sun.
More amenable in good garden soil with some moisture and in shade is Iris sibirica which come in shades of blue, pink, purple and white and grow from between 30cm and 90cm. We have many stands of an excellent blue cultivar which I do not know the name of. But it has been divided successfully over several years in the autumn and Spring and spread around. Usually the centre of the plant becomes congested with most of the growth on the outside. It is easy to chop it up with a spade and discard the parts that are showing less vigour and replant the rest.
Perennial poppies, Papaver orientalis, are excellent border plants and a good partner for alliums or mingled between late flowerers that are still growing. Poppies have petals which always remind me of slightly ruffled tissue paper. ‘Beauty of Livermere’ has wonderful scarlet petals with a black basal blotch but there are also white, plum and pink cultivars. It is not worth letting them go to seed if you want reliable seedlings as they are easily cross pollinated. They grow from basal foliage and they can become untidy after flowering so cut the whole plant down, leaves and all. It will quickly replace the old leaves with new until the flowers appear next year.
Whether on walls, in borders or shrubberies, Roses are the quintessential English summer flower. I love the climbing rose ‘Madame Gregoire Staechelin’ which has stupendous pink blooms that have a subtle sweet pea scent. It is a shame that it only flowers once but if you partner it with a late flowering clematis then you can enjoy two plants in the same space.
Another excellent climber for a wall or growing into a tree or large shrub are honeysuckles. If left unchecked then they can become rampant though they will respond well to a heavy pruning in winter. If the shrub is large enough then you can happily leave them to their own devices.
Finally for those with patience and space, then the flowering species of Cornus (flowering Dogwoods) are spectacular. I grow cultivars of Cornus kousa which includes old favourites such as ‘Eddies White Wonder’ as well as the species which is worth growing in its own right. There are another group of hybrids hailing from North America and bred from Cornus florida. Cornus florida likes a long hot summer and can sometimes underperform in our cooler summers. It also has an unfortunate habit of clinging onto its leaves in winter, though if you have a sunny spot, cultivars such as ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Cherokee Princess’ are worth a try.
The best thing about an English summer is that there is something for everybody. And it’s not over yet!