The June Garden by Keith Cowley
June is without doubt a wonderful month for the garden as well as the birth month of some interesting and talented people! I know that the spring flowers have finished their fantastic displays but June always promises, and then delivers, an equally good if not better spectacle. In our garden we have enjoyed the beautiful froth of the pale blue flowers of Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) and the taller, purple or white flowers of Honesty (Lunaria annua) along with all the spring bulbs. The latter finished flowering some time ago and soon their leaves will turn brown when they can be cut down and composted. During the second half of May the Forget-me-nots are also usually past their best and begin to show signs of mildew. They will have already dropped some seed so this is the time to remove them and to make some space for the summer flowering plants. With the Honesty we remove some plants but leave others, mainly towards the back of the borders, to produce their silvery seed pods for an autumn and winter display and, of course, seed for next year. Honesty is a biennial which grows in its first year and flowers in its second. Hopefully you will have some young plants around from last year’s seed which will flower for you next year.
So what to fill the gaps with? Smaller gaps are ideal for groups of “bedding plants” which you may have grown yourself from seed or will buy from the garden centre. These are known as bedding plants because they used to be planted mainly as part of a formal bedding scheme and include all of your summer favourites. Most are frost tender and can only be planted out after hardening off and when the chance of frost has gone. I think it is fair to say that in modern gardens the more formal use of bedding has given way to their more informal use with the overall planting scheme. This is certainly true of our garden and we are now ready to plant out Antirrhinum, Pelargonium, Fuchsia, Cosmos, Sunflower, Verbena bonariensis, Nemesia and Zinnia most grown from seed that we had at the start of this unusual time. Some will go into pots on the patio but most will be spread around the garden to enrich the overall planting scheme.
Any larger gaps give you the opportunity, or is it an excuse?, to plant some new, permanent plants. With my usual monthly talks at the garden centre I spend a very enjoyable 30 minutes or so before the talk having a walk around the ORL plant area choosing plants which are looking particularly good at the time. For this blog I have had to content myself by walking around my own garden, not quite the same variety but hopefully still some plants which you might consider for your own plot.
The plants naturally fall into certain groups starting with the Herbaceous plants. These have soft, usually green stems and leaves with the stems only ever turning brown and woody near the base. Bedding plants fall into this group but because most of them cannot survive our winters outside they are usually grown as annuals. The more hardy herbaceous plants which can survive our winters and regrow in the following years are known as Hardy Perennials. Their top grow will die down in the winter usually right to the ground but the root remains alive and will begin to regrow the top growth the following year when temperatures rise and day length begins to increase. They are therefore a really useful group of plants which require little attention from year to year except for lifting and dividing the larger, more vigorous ones every few years. I am going to start with one of my all-time favourites- the Hardy Geranium (not to be confused with the not so hardy Pelargonium which I will come back to in a blog later this month). I counted up to fifteen different Geraniums in flower in the garden at the beginning of June plus a few others which will flower a little later. Now I’m not suggesting that you become as obsessed with them as I obviously am but there is room in every garden for at least one! They come in a variety of colours from white, through various pinks to blues and purples, are much loved by bees and have very few pests and diseases. The only work to be done apart from a tidy up at the end of the winter is to cut down the larger, straggly ones after their first flush of flowers in late June/July. They will then regrow in the following weeks, particularly if you give them a good water, as neater and more compact plants and will flower again later in the summer. Geraniums have so many flowers that dead heading them is not really an option so we let ours seed as the “Cranesbill” seed heads are almost as good as the flowers! Also looking good at the moment is the perennial Cornflower, Centaurea montana. This has been producing its dark blue flowers which look almost like an exploding firework for a few weeks now and will carry on well into June. Like the Geraniums it is always full of bees and to keep them and you happy it is always a good idea to dead head the old flowers to keep the plant flowering and producing nectar for longer. When it has finished flowering it often looks a bit sad with a covering of mildew and this is the time to cut it right back to the ground, give it a good water and like the Geraniums it will regrow and flower again later in the summer. While I’m on the “blues” I must mention the Scabious. Some of the Scabious genus like the native Field Scabious are quite tall plants and grow best when held up by other plants but there are several new varieties which are much more compact eg Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’. We have had such a plant for three years now which starts flowering in April and often still has some flowers in November. At the moment it has about 30 of its lilac-blue flowers which will be dead headed as they fade to keep it flowering. You have to be a bit careful with this as the spent flower looks a bit like a new bud but on closer inspection it is clear that the spent flower has a hairy central boss. If you like the idea of a plant which just keeps on flowering then you need to look no further than Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ (the “everlasting” wallflower). This will again start to flower in April, sometimes before, and by June will be in full flow. It has a long flower spike with small mauve-purple flowers very similar to the Honesty flower which open first at the base and finally at the top of the spike. When the whole spike has finished flowering it can be cut off like the Scabious at the base of the long flower shoot. ‘Bowles Mauve’ does get a bit woody and straggly with age (don’t we all?) and after 3 or 4 years is probably worth replacing with a younger, more vigorous plant. However, it is quite easy to take soft wood cuttings at this time of year to make new plants. Talking about plants for free not only gladdens my heart but it also brings me on to the Foxglove (Digitalis). Now it is poisonous so be careful but it is well worth the risk in my opinion! I prefer the native D. purpurea which only has flowers on one side of the spike and which seeds freely around our garden. We leave some seedlings where they have germinated and move others to where we want them in the garden. Their pink-purple flower spikes are looking their best in June and again are great for the bees, particularly the Bumble bees. If you want different colours, flowers all the way round the spike and a longer-lived plant (D. purpurea is really a biennial, growing one year and flowering the next) then there are lots of cultivars created by plant breeders by crossing two different parent plants eg D. x mertonensis. Another tall plant for the June garden is the Thalictrum with its fluffy flower heads in white, pinks and purples. A plant which has become much more popular in our gardens in recent years has been the Geum. Don’t be put off as we used to be by the yellow flowered wild Geum which will seed everywhere if you let it! The cultivar forms such as G.’ Lady Stratheden’ (yellow), G. ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’ (red) and G. ‘Tangerine’ (orange) are much better behaved and produce really bright and reliable early summer flowers. Another striking plant is Cirsium rivulare with its crimson-purple, thistle-like flowers on long stems. This is also worth dead heading early in the summer to encourage more flowers but later on the flowers can be left on to develop their lovely thistle seed heads. Another reliable flowering plant for June is the Astrantia (Granny’s pin cushion) which start flowering in early summer but will continue to flower for many weeks, again to be followed by attractive seed heads. There are many other herbaceous plants which look good in the June borders including:- Aquilegia, Heuchera, and Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). In our gravel bed which covers an area of poor soil where there was once some decking we also have lots of June colour from Erigeron karvinskianus with its small pink and white daisy flowers, Campanulas, Armeria (Thrift), Erigeron alpinus with its large pink flowers, Sedum ‘Cappa Blanca’ with its grey foliage and bright yellow flowers and several small Parahebe shrubs covered in white and pink flowers. Reading this you can almost hear the bees on it!
The second group of plants are the Shrubs. These are woody perennials, many of which can survive our winters, with their woody stems coming either directly from the ground or from a short stem at the base. This distinguishes them from the trees with their longer basal stem which we know as a trunk. There are several shrubs which grace the June garden and I feel that I have to start with the Philadelphus (Mock Orange) with its beautiful, white, single or double flowers which are richly scented. They really are a June specialist and are worth their place in any garden. We grow one of the smaller varieties in a pot on the patio and the much larger P. virginal with its double, highly scented flowers in the front garden. If Philadelphus is a June specialist then the Rose is a June “starter”. Most roses are repeat flowering so they give a wonderful first flush in June and then continue to flower often into the autumn. We grow three particular favourites, Rosa ‘Malvern Hills’, R. ‘High Hopes’ and R. rugosa. ‘Malvern Hills’ is a repeat flowering, rambling rose from David Austin. Most ramblers are too vigorous for a medium size garden like ours and they usually only flower once a year with a fantastic display of generally white, scented flowers in June. ‘Malvern Hills’ is much less vigorous and starts flowering in May with its fairly small, yellow, lightly scented flowers which fade to cream as they open and age but it keeps on flowering throughout the summer into the autumn. R. ‘High Hopes’ is a climbing rose from Harkness and has quite large, lightly scented pinks blooms again from June to October. R. rugosa is a shrub rose with strongly scented pink or white, open flowers which the bees love and following the flowers it has large, round orange hips. Whichever rose you choose it will definitely enhance the June garden and beyond and if you are worried that roses need a lot of attention and get all sorts of pests and diseases- don’t be! Most of the modern roses have been bred to be disease resistant as well as producing colourful, often highly scented blooms and the shrub roses like R. rugosa are as tough as old boots! It is not easy to follow the wonderful rose but I do have a few other good “June” shrubs to mention. The first is the much underated Potentilla. I know that they look completely dead in the winter but they really are very hardy and rarely suffer from winter damage to their twiggy growth. By June they are back in full leaf and beginning to flower well with their simple, white, yellow, orange or red flowers which will keep appearing all summer long. I remember that a Potentilla was the first shrub that I ever planted in a garden of my own which then had to survive the very dry summer of 1976 which it did with flying colours! Next on my list is the very popular Spiraea many of which are grown for their colourful new foliage in spring or for their long, white flower stems as in S. arguta (Bridal Wreath). However, there are many later flowering ones and one in particular S. japonica ‘Anthony Waterer’ gives a real show in June. Ours is about 1 metre high and wide and at the moment has literally hundreds of small, red-pink flower clusters which will gradually open through the month. Next I must give a mention to the Mediterranean Cistus shrub which, as its origin suggests, likes a warm, sunny spot. Cistus are evergreen plants with slightly furry leaves which help the plant to retain moisture and they produce papery, five petal flowers in pink and white often with purple blotches on each petal beginning in June and then continuing through the summer. Each bloom doesn’t last very long but they produce large numbers of flowers to make up for this. I am told by bee keepers that June, surprisingly, can be difficult for bees to find enough nectar but that the Cistus is one of the best shrubs for filling this gap. Finally I would like to end my shrub recommendations with one of the purple leaved Elders, Sambucus ‘Black Lace’. Its dark purple stems and finely cut leaves are good enough on their own for the shrub to earn its place in any garden but in June it also produces large, flat flower heads made up of hundreds of tiny, light pink flowers. We cut ours back quite hard in late winter/early spring so that the plant gets to between 1 and 2 metres by the end of the summer and has plenty of new, young growth which always has the best colour.
I have already touched on some climbing plants in the rose section but no mention of flowering climbing plants in June would be complete without some reference to the lovely Clematis. These tend to put in one of three main groups which can always be found on the label. If you haven’t got a label the basic idea is that those plants flowering in the spring are Group 1 such as the montanas and the alpinas. Group 2 plants flower beginning in May and go right through June into July and usually have quite large flowers. Group 3 plants flower later in the summer and have much smaller flowers. So if you want Clematis for June look out for the Group 2 plants, there are lots to choose from. When planting any Clematis it is always worth remembering the old saying “feet in the shade and heads in the sun”.
I would normally end a talk on plant groups with a section on Trees and there are several which are looking good in June apart from the welcome shade which they provide eg Laburnum and the Hawthorn cultivars like Cretaegus ‘Paul’s Scarlet’. However, June is not a great time for tree planting as it would mean a lot of watering over the next few months, much more than for the smaller herbaceous plants and the shrubs. Tree planting for pot grown trees is best left until the autumn or early spring before the leaves appear. Bare rooted trees need to be planted when they are dormant between November and February.
Hopefully the above has given you some ideas for filling any gaps in your planting schemes with good “June” plants but, of course, there are plenty more that I haven’t mentioned. Have a look at the ORL website to see what is looking good in the plant area and have a “virtual” walk round before making some choices for Click and Collect. You may also find that by the time you read this that the ORL has reopened for customers so that you may be able to do a walk round in person!
As for jobs in June, jobs for each month are given in the archive section of the ORL blog so have a look through what needs to be done this month but don’t forget that relaxing and enjoying the garden are at the top of the June to do list!
In the next blog I am going to look at two of the most popular summer flowering plants- the Fuchsia and the Pelargonium.
Until then stay safe and well and enjoy your garden in June.