The overwhelming theme of my garden this month seems to be scent. There are masses of sweet smelling blooms on the roses, honeysuckle and philadelphus. It’s a pleasure to walk along the borders and now much narrower paths, especially on a warm day when the the flowers’ scents seem strongest. There is a climbing rose growing by my front door which fills the front step with a delicate fragrance like turkish delight, and I love the idea that my postman might enjoy that when he delivers our letters each morning.
Between all of the end of term assemblies, ukulele concerts and new teacher meetings, in gaps between rain showers and thunderstorms, and when I’m not trying to get some garden design work done, I am occasionally managing to get outside into my garden. Here are some things I’m hoping to do in my garden this month:
Pick A Posy
As this July’s weather is reliably unreliable, to say the least, you could bring colour and scent from the garden indoors by cutting a few stems and putting them in a vase. Sweet peas should be flowering well now and these delicate, papery little blooms make a pretty posy. Sweet peas should be deadheaded often to maintain the display anyway, so put some in a small vase or glass that can stand beside the sink or on your bedside table. Roses, lavender, pinks and phlox will all be in flower this month, and make great cut flowers that smell wonderful too.
And do add some foliage to liven up the arrangement. You can use anything really. I like the tall stems and purple-brown leaves of lysymachia firecracker, when arranged with a vase of lime green and yellow flowers (try alchemilla mollis or rudbeckia). Silver, feathery artemisia leaves would work well with pink or purple flowers (roses or liatris maybe). And don’t forget you can also cut the stems of some plants, such as honesty or aquilegia, just for their seed heads.
Divide congested clumps of irises
Every few years, large clumps of bearded irises should be lifted and divided. The best time to do this is after they have flowered, in June or July. There is a large clump of irises in my garden that is growing in less than ideal, slightly shaded conditions. This year, the leaves developed rust and didn’t look great, so it’s definitely time to fork them all up, and carefully break the clump up. I’ll need to cut away any dead sections of rhizome, and chop the leaves down to 6 to 8 inches, so they don’t suffer from wind rock before they’ve growing new anchoring roots. I’ll replant them in a sunny border, probably in three smaller groups, with their rhizomes sitting on top of the soil, pointing south. You can see a more detailed ‘how to’ guide here.
Our raised bed of strawberry plants produces at least a full colander of shiny, red fruit, each week in midsummer. I have picked a lot of lovely looking strawberries in the last few weeks, but sadly we’ve found that they are not as sweet and tasty as last year’s crop. I assume this is because the weather hasn’t been warm or sunny enough. And because they’re not super tasty, we’re not eating them quickly enough to keep up with the number being produced. In other words, we have a glut of not-quite-sweet-enough strawberries.
So to save them from going to waste, I’ve been making jam. The cooking process is very quick and easy. You don’t need a jam kettle, a stainless steel pan will do. And I’m using a simple recipe* that uses only fruit, sugar and vinegar. Once the jam is cooked, I’m freezing it in batches, to save the bother of sterilising jars. Plus I didn’t actually have any jars, and this saved me going out to buy some! I’m planning on doing mixed berry jam too, when the currants are ripe.
*My Strawberry Jam Recipe
2 x the weight of chopped strawberries, to 1 x the weight of granulated sugar, and 2 tablespoons of white wine or balsamic vinegar. Multiply accordingly.
Bring to a rolling simmer, and then cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly. When your jam has the consistency of honey or has reached 104 degrees C, it’s ready. Allow to cool before tasting!
One job I’m currently half way through is the garlic harvest. A week or so ago, I harvested the bulbs. Use a hand fork to lever the bulbs out of the soil, don’t pull, as you want to keep as many roots attached as you can. This helps to preserve them longer. I’m happy with the size of the cloves, although I think the ones growing near the poppies are a bit smaller. I couldn’t bear to weed out all of the wild poppies, as they’re so beautiful! The crop looks good and healthy, apart from one bulb that seemed a bit pinkish and squidgy. I’m wondering if it had the dreaded onion rot, and will look again after it’s dried. Just in case, I’ll rotate the crops in the raised beds next summer, to avoid growing anything from the onion family in that bed again.
I’ve hung all the bulbs upside down, stem and all, on washing lines in the garage, to dry them out. After a fortnight or so of drying, I’ll plait them, and then they can be stored in a cool, dark place. Hopefully, they’ll last us until next summer’s harvest, and I’ll be living the dream of garlic self-sufficiency. *looks into the distance and sighs a self-satisfied sigh*