At last! High summer is finally here and it’s time to relax, pour a glass of your favourite tipple and savour the sights and scents of the garden. Here are a few stars of the season that you won’t want to miss out on…
July Flower of the month: Agapanthus
The finer things in life are worth waiting for, and it’s a principle that applies perfectly to agapanthus, better known as the African lily. For much of the season, plants comprise little more than mounds of strap-like foliage. But when flower spikes reach for the skies in summer and explode into firework-like, spherical blooms that tower above everything else in the border, the wait is truly worthwhile.
Agapanthus love growing in containers, too, as long as they’re sitting in a sunny spot. A series of plants in pots (fill with John Innes No.3 compost), sat alongside a path or clustered together on a patio, creates a show-stopping summer feature. Most agapanthus plants flower in shades of blue, purple and white (although bi-colour blooms are all the rage) and while many of us buy on impulse as a result of gorgeous blooms, hardiness should be taken into account.
As a general rule, evergreen agapanthus are often tender, and while plants may survive mild winters or live outdoors all-year-round in sheltered regions of the south, they are best grown in containers and overwintered in a cool greenhouse or conservatory.
Deciduous Agapanthus are widely regarded as the toughest and will grow happily in sunny borders all year round, as long as the soil is well-drained. Always check the hardiness of your chosen variety, though, to determine whether to grow it in the ground or in a plant pot.
Which variety to choose? The most talked-about newcomer is Agapanthus ‘Fireworks’, crowned Best New Plant at the HTA National Plant Show in 2019 and runner-up in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year contest. Already deemed worthy of an RHS Award of Garden Merit, ‘Fireworks’ has been bred for bigger flowers and better colour – blooming in eye-catching white and blue. A big attraction is its long flowering season, often blooming for up to three months – as late as September – long after other agapanthus have gone over. It’s tough, too, shrugging off winter lows as chilly as -10°C.
Agapanthus ‘Brilliant Blue’ is another great choice and is hardy throughout much of the UK. Semi-deciduous and compact, the variety produces an abundance of intense, deep-blue flowers. For a strikingly different agapanthus that will bring an architectural display to your borders, try ‘Black Magic’ – an evergreen that’s claimed to be one of the darkest varieties available with drooping indigo flowers, but plants may need protection from frost.
For a great display, liquid feed every two or three weeks, starting when plants come into growth in April or May and carrying on until flowers begin to colour-up. A balanced liquid fertiliser such as Miracle-Gro, Phostrogen or Flower Power will work a treat. Newly planted agapanthus will need lots of watering if it’s dry during their first year but should require less attention once established. When flowers have gone over, use secateurs to cut flowers and stalks that are spent. It’ll encourage plants to keep the show on the road for longer.
Edible of the month: Sweet Pepper
Whether you’re looking to add a sweet crunch to summer salads, liven up fajitas and stir-fries, or infuse a casserole with flavour, the humble sweet pepper has a multitude of uses in the kitchen. Sweet peppers are simple to grow and will fruit in glowing shades of red, yellow, green or orange. Even those who have never dabbled at grow-your-own are almost guaranteed a brilliant crop.
Sweet peppers appeal to fans of healthy living because fruits are rich in vitamins, A, C and K. While it is possible to get a decent crop outdoors in a sunny spot, results are often superior when grown in the warmth and shelter provided by a greenhouse or conservatory. If you’ve bought young sweet pepper plants at the garden centre, simply grow them in a pot with good drainage, filled with quality multi-purpose compost.
Support plants with canes as they grow bigger, tied loosely to the main stem. When the first flowers begin to open, feed weekly with a high potash liquid fertiliser – tomato feed is ideal – and more flowers will quickly follow, leading to further crops. In hot weather, make sure that greenhouses are well ventilated, and spray water on the floor each morning because it’ll help to keep temperatures down and increase humidity.
Flowers of sweet peppers benefit from being misted with tepid tap water, which can help fruit to set in hot conditions. As for plants themselves, water regularly as needed, but don’t leave compost saturated.
It’s easy to tell when mature fruits are ripe because they’ll quickly turn from green to the colour of your chosen variety (unless it’s green, of course!). To harvest, never yank peppers from plants but use secateurs to cleanly cut the fruit’s stalk. Freshly harvested peppers are bursting with flavour, but will store for longer if kept in the kitchen or fridge – they’ll quickly deteriorate if left in the heat of a greenhouse.
The biggest threat to sweet peppers is from hungry caterpillars, which emerge in mid to late summer and ferociously attack plants. Tiny pellets of black poo on leaves are a tell-tale sign of trouble, so examine plants carefully – paying attention to the underside of leaves – and remove any offenders. Caterpillars are masters of disguise, often hiding alongside leaf stalks and stems, so take care not to miss any! In the event of a severe infestation, spray with an organic bug killer that’s approved for use on edible crops.
Tree/shrub of the month: Blueberry
Whether you have a tiny terrace or traditional garden, everyone can enjoy a fruit tree/shrub in a pot – and the health benefits that this superfood brings. Now hugely popular for growing in UK gardens, sweet and juicy blueberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins C and K, and fibre. Oh, and they’re delicious to eat fresh or cooked.
Blueberries love acidic soil, so if your soil isn’t acidic (with an ideal pH of 4-5.5) then grow in a pot, planting into a John Innes Ericaceous compost. Sit the container in a sheltered, sunny spot, water regularly (plants will thank you for rainwater rather than tap water) and come late summer to early autumn, you’ll be rewarded with a bumper crop of delicious, healthy treats.
Are you planning any seed sowing or planting in July? Do you have any tips on what to sow this month? We’d love to hear from you, let us know in the comments!