To be honest, August isn’t the best month in the garden. Right now, there’s a bit of a breeze getting up. Last weekend it was positively stormy. There were leaves and bits of broken tree branch all over the lawn that needed clearing up. My runner beans, long and lush after all the recent rain, are flopping precariously from their supports; the tomatoes have taken a buffeting too. I should have tied them to their canes rather more carefully – but back in early June it was hard to imagine they’d ever get this big. My lavender (it’s one of the earlier varieties) is over and looking windswept and sodden, flattening out over the lawn making it tricky to mow. The pots I planted so carefully back in May with lobelia, geraniums and cosmos, and which looked so sparse I could barely imagine them filling the containers, are blousy and straggly.
But all is not lost. And I have to remind myself of this every year. If your garden’s lacking a bit of its summer sparkle, there are ways to pull it back – if not to the glory days of May and June, then at least to a place you can be proud of, and one with new life to come, too.
Here are my top tips for a late-summer revamp.
Don’t give up on the veg patch
Cut the growing tips off runner and French beans, and tomato plants, if you haven’t already done so. And remove some of the bigger leaves and any directly covering trusses of tomatoes from cordon varieties to speed up the ripening process. There are also a few seeds you can sow in late summer, including cut-and-come-again lettuce and rocket, beetroot, radishes and Florence fennel, which will germinate quickly in warm August soil. Fennel actually does better sown at this time of year, as it’s much less likely to bolt and go to seed. I’ve even planted late new potatoes in August for a Christmas harvest.
If you’re a bit bold with some of those flopping perennials, you may well be rewarded with a second flush of flowers in early autumn. Hardy geraniums will often oblige, as will delphiniums and lupins, especially if you follow up with a dose of all-purpose fertiliser and a good water. Cut off any tatty leaves while you’re at it and things will look a lot more manageable in your borders.
Cut back lavender
If it’s looking straggly, it’s time to cut back your lavender. There’s no room for sentiment here, as cutting back early will give it time to bush out again before next year’s growth – and timely pruning will stop it getting leggy. They’re not long-lived shrubs though, so if your lavender hedge is looking gappy, order more to plant now.
Shape up your shrubs
I know you’re supposed to prune early summer flowering shrubs straight after flowering, but if you haven’t, or if they’ve put on a lot of growth and are looking
straggly, a judicious prune will help. Cut out stems that have flowered and they’ll still give you new shoots that will flower next year. Cut just above a bud, stepping back to take a look at the shrub’s overall shape as you go.
Sow a few seeds
My nasturtiums are a mess. They’re in a really sunny spot, and living in the south, they come on quickly. I think I’ll hoik some out and sow a few more seeds as
they’ll germinate quickly and I’ll probably have nice bright new plants with flowers in early October, until the first frosts. They really are foolproof, relentless flowerers, plus they don’t care about the soil; they’ll do their thing in even the ropiest earth.
Give pots some attention
Most annuals, such as cosmos, geraniums, petunias and lobelia will look a lot better if you give them first a trim and then a feed in late summer. With cosmos and
geraniums, take back all the flowered stems to the base. Petunias can be given a similar treatment, although you might have to be bolder, getting rid of a few flowers that have yet to flower, cutting entire leggy stems back by half. I’m also going to plant up a new late-summer to autumn combo, maybe a lovely late clematis such as Duchess of Albany, combined with pheasant’s tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) and Cyclamen hederifolium. This will be a lovely combination for a semi-shaded pot, and I’ll make sure I keep it well watered, as cyclamen don’t like to dry out.
The wind has dropped and the sun’s come out, so I’d better get out and start taking my own advice…
Enjoy your late-summer garden.
Francesca Clarke, Journalist and Garden Designer