How to tweak your summer flower colour to perfection
Midsummer is a good time to tweak your flower colour. The extra steps you take now will keep your border looking good throughout the summer and into autumn.
You put in some hard work, planning and planting last autumn and spring. Or maybe many of your favourite plants have been in the border for years.
Now, suddenly, at midsummer, everything has grown. Except, of course, for a few precious plants that are about to give up, because they’re being crowded out by the others.
And if you had a lot of rain, much of the border may be looking too green, with not enough flowers. We won’t, perhaps, even mention the weeds. Everyone is complaining at the moment…
One of last year’s most popular videos on the Middlesized Garden’s YouTube channel was ‘How to Make a Flower Border Look Amazing.’ So I went back to the garden this week to find out how the garden owners, Frances and Paul Moskovits tweak their flower colour to perfection.
Keep a pair of snippers to hand when you’re in the garden
Once all the main planting is done, Frances’ most valuable garden tool is what she calls her ‘snippers.’ She keeps several pairs to hand in the greenhouse and also in the house, near the door. So every time she goes out into the garden she takes the snippers.
Firstly, and mostly importantly, this means she can dead head flowers every time she goes out.
This is one of the best ways to ensure good flower colour for a long time. Repeat flowerers will pump out more flowers this summer. Flowers that come back year after year will put all their energy into next year’s flowers instead of into making a seed head.
Towards the end of the summer, you may want to leave specific seed heads on, either for winter interest, as food for wildlife or to encourage self seeding.
Note that links to Amazon are affiliate, which means I may get a small fee if you buy, but it doesn’t affect the price you pay.
How to dead head flowers
Frances says that the most important thing is to take the flower head off. So if you can’t dead head perfectly, don’t worry.
But if you can reach the flower to snip it off just above the first leaf junction, then that is best.
How to edit the border to add more flower colour
Many gardeners I’ve spoken to recently have complained that their borders have too much green and too little flower colour.
It’s a common problem, especially when we’ve had plenty of rain. Frances cuts back some of the most expansive characters in the border.For example, this year the crocosmias have multiplied.
‘You get the same effect from 6 crocosmia as from 60,’ says Frances. ‘The colour all comes at once and it all goes at once. So I’d recommend just having the 6 and freeing up space for something that will flower for longer.’ She ripped out half a dozen stalks of crocosmia in order to replace them with several cosmos plants.
And some plants get too tall, so they over-shadow the more delicate plants, she also gives them a bit of a ‘Chelsea chop’. That means going in and cutting a few stems down by half. The plants will re-grow, but they won’t be as tall and they’ll flower later.
Sometimes you can get a longer flowering time from a group of plants by ‘Chelsea chopping’ half of them, but not the other half.
Plants you can ‘Chelsea chop’ include monarda, phlox, campanulas, asters, penstemons, achillea and rudbeckia.
Keep spare plants in pots
Frances grows many of her plants from seed or propagates them. This means she always has lots of spares. If her border is lacking flower colour – or if something dies – she always has a replacement to hand.
However, she doesn’t always plant these plants into the ground. Sometimes she drops the pot into the space. The sides of the pot will be covered by the rest of the plants in the border.
The pot gives the new plants some height. It also means you don’t have to disturb the soil around the roots of the plants that are already in the border.
‘If you’re going to drop a pot in the border, it needs to be a bigger, heavier pot,’ advises Frances. This stops the pot falling over, and also gives the roots of the plants more nourishment.
‘If you’re going to drop a pot in, it’s important only to choose good flowerers,’ she says. ‘There’s no point in doing it otherwise.’ She recommends salvias, cosmos and tithonia for this treatment.
This is a good tip if you’re getting the garden ready for a special event. For example, Paul and Frances open their garden for the National Garden Scheme – this year on a ‘pop-up’ basis. Look for Ouden in Faversham, Kent in the NGS Find A Garden page.
Cut back allium leaves to create space
Allium leaves can take up a lot of space, says Frances. That’s what makes them so useful in early spring. They cover bare earth.
However, soon we need the bare earth for planting. Frances says that she finds alliums very forgiving. As soon as there is any sign of the allium flower heads, she takes away all the leaves to create more planting space. ‘They always come back.’
How to have a border packed with flower colour without it looking messy?
Staking is the key ‘Staking is any kind of wood or metal pole. You wedge it into the border so that when the plant grows you can tie it to the stake.’
Frances uses a wide variety of stakes and supports. She puts most of them in the border in late spring, but was still adding the odd stake when I visited at midsummer.
When she first puts the stakes and supports in the border, you can see them. ‘They don’t look great when they first go in,’ she admits.
But within a few weeks the plants grow and the supports disappear from view.
Frances says you can never have too many stakes and supports, especially if you have tall plants. I think I counted half a dozen different supports in about two square metres of border.
She has a mix of supports in her garden, with different types positioned closely to each other.
A mix of supports can include single chestnut poles, bamboo canes, decorative metal stakes, round ‘peony’ plant supports, u shaped ‘bow’ hoop supports and more. Personally I’ve always found the thinner wire supports too flimsy. Regular readers of this blog will recognise the rusty iron ‘bird’ stake, which I bought from Cranbrook Iron several years ago. It’s not only useful as a plant support but it also makes a very good focus for photographs.
How to deal with garden pests
Frances and Paul don’t use sprays, so their main pest control is the wildlife in their garden. The garden echoes with birdsong and birds flying across it. Frances thinks that the birds eat some of the slugs and snails, plus aphids, too. They also have a small pond, with frogs and newts. Recently a grass snake moved in, since when they’ve had very little slug and snail damage.
They also have hedgehogs, which eat slugs and snails. At the back of the garden, they keep a ‘wildlife area’, an area where growth is undisturbed.
Frances planted hostas right by the pond, positioned so that the frogs, newts and grass snake can get to the slugs and snails easily. There is very little damage on their hostas.
Do you use slug pellets?
Frances never uses slug pellets but she does use the sheeps wool barrier pellets around their veg. ‘But use it in a thick layer, then water it so it turns into a thick mat,’ she warns. ‘Don’t just scatter a few sheeps wool pellets – or even a thin layer – around the plant.’
That would be where I’ve been going wrong, then.
Sheep wool slug pellet brands include Vitax Slug Gone.
Whenever I visited Paul and Frances’ garden, I’ve always been struck by how many birds and how much birdsong there is. It just shows you can have a wildlife-friendly garden, even with quite a traditional herbaceous flower border.
How to get into a very full border without damaging other plants
Although the border looks continuous, it is actually split by a small stone path. That leads to another path that runs along the back of the border. This gives Paul and Frances access to plants at the ‘back’ of the border.
Quite a few gardens I’ve visited run a secret path at the back of the border. If you have a deep herbaceous border, this makes a lot of sense.
What percentage of your border is annual and what perennial?
This is a question that’s often asked on the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel. For example, Tom Brown, head gardener at West Dean Gardens, who I interviewed about how to create stunning flower borders has a percentage of around 80% perennials to 20% annuals. You can read the post here.
Frances and Paul have around 70% of their border as perennials. The remainder is largely annuals, most of which Frances grows from seed in the greenhouse.
Is a perfect herbaceous border a lot of work?
Frances and Paul love their garden. They’re happy to be out in it almost every day over the summer. ‘It never feels like hard work,’ says Frances.
I think it’s important to differentiate between a plant-lover’s herbaceous border and a low maintenance garden.
You can have a beautiful low maintenance garden, but you will need to rely on shrubs and easy-care perennials, such as grasses. There’s a good list of 10 low maintenance plants for lasting colour in this post here.
But if you want a real herbaceous border, packed with ever-changing flower colour, then it will be more work. Don’t believe any headlines that suggest otherwise. You will be sowing, staking, dead-heading, fertilising, cutting back, planting and generally tweaking.
And that’s what many people really enjoy about gardening.
What I’m recommending this week
I find that my hands and fingernails get gardening grubby even when I wear gloves. So when Heathcote & Ivory sent me some hand care products to review, I was interested in their In The Garden Barrier Cream.
This is a cream you work into your hands and fingernails before putting your gardening gloves on. Afterwards, when you wash your hands, the gardening dirt comes off much more easily. I found it worked well. It can also be used as a hand cream after gardening.
In The Garden Barrier Cream is also in a pretty pot, which the company suggests you could re-use for sowing seeds. And they have an adorable Hand Care gift set in a tin. It could very easily be re-used as a tin for small gardening bits and bobs, such as twine or tags.
They’re lovely products to use and look very pretty. You can buy them directly from Heathcote & Ivory and they also do the ‘Home Grown Hand Care’ range for the RHS. I’ve also added the Hand Care Gift set to my list of Good Presents for Garden Lovers on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store.
Pin to remember flower colour border tips
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