The bees (and birds) love to feast on summer’s most beautiful plants – here are some of the best to sow...
It’s a busy time in the garden — I’ve spent several long and enjoyable days pulling out weeds, deadheading, and planting up summer containers. We’ve had plenty of sunshine so I’ve been doing lots of watering too — mainly pots but also moisture lovers such as my tree ferns, astilbes and rodgersias. Midsummer is a hectic time of growth in the garden and it can be hard to keep on top of every job as well as taking time to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
But gardeners must always be looking ahead as well, and watching the bees burrowing into the pink bell-shaped flowers of foxgloves serves as a reminder about sowing seeds for next year’s crop. Foxgloves are biennials, which means they take two years to complete their life cycle — sow now and they will germinate and form a rosette of leaves this year, which will be followed by a spike of flowers next spring. The plant will then set seed and die off in the autumn and winter.
If you already have foxgloves in the garden, they will naturally continue this cycle, self-seeding themselves, but if you want to introduce them by seed, now’s the time to do so — it gives them time to settle in before autumn and you’ll be delighted next spring that you remembered to do this when you see them flower. You can sow them in situ where you’d like them to grow, or you can propagate them in seed modules or pots — scatter on the surface of pre-wetted seed compost and don’t cover, as they need the light to germinate. Good cultivars are the charming ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ and the pristine white ‘Albiflora’.
The biennial group contains many of our favourite cottage-garden plants. Lunaria annua, commonly known as honesty, is grown as much for its attractive purple flowers in spring as for its beautiful disc-shaped, translucent silver pods, which are a florist’s favourite in their dried form. There’s a lovely white variety too, also called ‘Albiflora’. Sow well spaced in seed trays, where they will take about a fortnight to germinate. You want to get them planted into their final flowering positions outside in September/October so they have time to establish roots.
Hesperis matronalis is the deliciously scented sweet rocket, which produces purple or white flowers that are very similar to honesty. It’s adaptable and will grow in sun or shade, and looks so pretty rambling through a partially shaded border.
Echium pininana is definitely one of my favourite biennials — the dramatic spires covered with buzzing bees are the epitome of summer for me. It is from the Canary Islands and is somewhat tender so doesn’t do well all over the country, but a good alternative is our native Echium vulgare, Viper’s bugloss. It is one of the best wildflower sources of nectar — unusually, the nectar is protected by the flower so it doesn’t wash away in wet weather or vaporise in hot temperatures. It’s drought-tolerant and has vibrant blue flowers.
Oenothera biennis or evening primrose is a tall biennial up to 1.5 metres with yellow flowers. These only open at night to release their fragrance — this is done in order to attract night-time pollinators such as moths. It’s a good choice for poor soil so long as it’s well drained and in the sunshine, and once you have it, it will self-seed happily.
Teasel (Dipsacus) is one for the birds. It’s a statuesque native plant often found growing in damp wastelands. It forms a conical, prickly purple flower head and is one of those plants that still look good in winter when it goes to seed. Birds, particularly goldfinches, will feast on the seeds.
This is a jewel of a plant that sparkles — it’s laden with deep pink-red blossoms at the moment and should keep going until the beginning of autumn.
Could you please tell me the best time to transplant a three-year-old magnolia tree? — Barry
The best time will depend on whether it is an evergreen or deciduous magnolia. If it’s deciduous, the dormant season (November to early March) is best, but if it’s evergreen, then do it this October. Magnolias don’t really like to be moved but because it’s only three years old, it is more able than a mature tree to withstand the shock of being moved.
When digging it up, bear in mind that the root spread will mirror the stretch of the branches, so try to dig outside this circumference to avoid root disturbance. Have a sufficient-sized hole prepared in advance where you want to plant it and be sure to replant at the same level it was at. Don’t expect too much from your plant while it settles into its new home, and mulch and feed next spring.
Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden