The last few wooden boxes of summer annuals are emptied, brushed clean, then stored in the glasshouse to dry for a couple of weeks before being stacked on a high shelf in the potting shed until they are used again in autumn for storing seed potatoes. I always run behind the times with planting out the annuals, never yet managing to complete the job before July. Meanwhile, a few other boxes of perennials and biennials are waiting their turn. I save this job for a morning when there is no rush; it matches the type of plants. After all, white foxgloves and sweet William planted this summer will not flower until next May or June.
It took a little while to finally decide where a batch of young globe artichokes should be planted. ‘Chioggia di Violetta’ is a less vigorous variety than most. I grew them from a packet of seed bought on a midwinter whim sparked by a Mediterranean memory of globe artichokes in full growth, flowers with a metallic sheen, and foliage spreading across warm soil in fields that flank the railway line running south from Pisa. It might seem there should be plenty of options and no shortage of space in Rose Castle garden, but these artichokes need open ground and sunshine, and room for their large silvery leaves to reach out. Set in a row early this month close to the wall of Strickland’s Tower, the young plants should be able to soak up every available ray of sunshine. So often, globe artichokes are placed at the back of a border, but then the flowers can’t be touched. These tough and scaly flowers, like prehistoric purple thistles, deserve to be touched, and this was one of the reasons for planting them so close to the edge of a lawn. And maybe there is just a chance that in the warmest Cumbrian summer the flowers could be harvested and prepared as a table delicacy, just as they are in their native habitats.
In the vegetable garden, there are no worries about random harvests from the dependable crops grown year after year. Early potatoes are always productive here, but I have learned that later varieties are hardly worth the effort because the slugs leave very few of them unblemished, simply due to the fact that maincrop potatoes are in the soil for a longer time and are more prone to attack, especially during wet summers. Peas, beans, courgettes, spinach and other leafy greens are all in full flush this month, mingling freely with roses, cut flowers and flowers for drying; a blend of magic carpet, summer colours.
The garden feels quietly content – admittedly slightly more freeform than planned in some areas, but tamed enough, and brimming with life and naturalness. There is a lull that allows time to clean the potting shed now that summer is in full swing. A pot of agapanthus in bloom by the door brings to mind the South African lady we knew as Barbara Africa, one of the estate’s tenants a few years ago in Chauffeur’s Cottage. Agapanthus reminded her of Cape Town, and when she left Rose Castle to return home, she left behind her pots of agapanthus. As I sweep the floor of the potting shed on a rainy day, dust rises and settles on shelves and bumpy ledges around the whitewashed walls. The whitewash is more grey than white, especially up where the plant boxes are stored, but around 22 years ago it was obviously an ideal canvas for Noel. Walls, wooden beams and doors in the potting shed tell the same story, sometimes in pencil, sometimes scraped with a knife: ‘Noel woz ere 1990’.
Queen’s counsel for July
With rapid growth, varied colour combinations and heights, sunflowers are now one of the most popular annuals. In full bloom this month, ‘Italian White’ has cream-coloured flowers on bushy, 120cm plants. It is also a useful cut flower.
Young plants require fertile, humus-rich soil where they have shelter from cold winds. Although they are classed as hardy perennials, it is always safer to cover the root area with a thick mulch in winter. If growing from seed, flowers should be removed in the first year.
This climbing rose has sunset-pink blooms that are slightly dishevelled and freeform in appearance. It flowers well in semi-shade, and its informal style ensures it is a perfect rose for a country garden setting.
Many varieties of agapanthus are available, but this South African perennial, with blue or white flowers from July to August, requires winter protection. If planted in borders, they should be given a thick mulch, and container-grown plants should placed in a sheltered spot.
Summer is the best time for removing dead or crowded branches, or for generally shaping mature plum trees. At this time of year there is less chance that pruning wounds will become infected with disease.