As a young girl, Sarah Raven and her father would practise botany on family holidays to the Italian Dolomites and closer to home in Suffolk. And so began a lifelong fascination with plants that has grown into a hugely successful career – Sarah is a regular presenter on the BBC, has written a small library of horticultural books and runs an garden and cookery school at Perch Hill. So who better placed to offer some tips on maintaining the perfect summer garden?
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Armed with these suggestions, you should have no trouble cultivating a dreamy alfresco space.
1. Always cut back perennials that have finished flowering
Regular followers of Sarah on Twitter will know that she likes to set a ‘Job of the Week’. Right now, we should be focussing on geraniums and other perennials that are leaving the flowering phase. It’s also the perfect time to prune lavender, wisteria and clematis.
2. Grow Ammi Majus for your indoor displays
Also called Bishop’s flower, Ammi Majus is, to quote Sarah. ‘the best white filler foliage plant you can grow and spectacular arranged in a great cloud on its own’. For strong, prolific plants, it’s best to sow it in the autumn.
3. Now is the time to sow salads
Sarah cites July as the perfect month to plant out seeds ready for harvest in four to six weeks. Her top picks (in both senses of the word) include watercress, wild rocket, English curly parsley, mustard wasabi, kale and garlic chives. You could mix in Viola ‘Hearts Ease’ for colour – it’s Sarah’s favourite edible flower.
4. Keep your eyes peeled for pests
It’s not just us humans that are drawn to the garden in summer – plant-munching creepy crawlies are also liable to come out and play. Watch out for slugs – which can be repelled humanely by Sarah’s copper bands – as well as ants, whitefly and lily beetles.
5. Deadhead your sweet peas
Sarah can’t overemphasise how important this is – particularly if you aren’t picking flowers for indoor arrangements. To ensure a generous crop of flowers all summer long, cut right down near the base of each individual stem.
6. Water wisely
Sarah has a top tip for watering – invest in several watering cans and dot them around the garden to collect rainwater. When the sun comes out, its rays will kill off any chlorine in the water, so your plants will stay healthy.
Follow Sarah @srkitchengarden