Few flowers can ring in the true glory of summer like the delicate, bell-shaped blooms of the campanulaceae family. Commonly known as bellflowers, these elegant plants are perennial, easy to grow and work well in any part of the garden.
Extremely versatile, there are campanulas to suit most positions including deepest shade or the cracks in old masonry. Their colours are mostly blue with a scattering of white and the occasional pink. The vision of china blue bells swaying among the borders or fairy thimble heads nodding among rock crevices is captivating in summer.
Borders are the main planting ground for campanulas. The large bells of both blue and white forms of campanula persicifolia, displayed on waist high stems contrast perfectly with the blooms of old roses. Campanula pulla is an alpine variety that has deep purple-blue flowers. It is one of the finest plants for an alpine bed, where it will smother its low mats of foliage with colour for several weeks in summer. Campanula garganica ‘Dickson’s Gold’ is another alpine bellflower with beautiful golden foliage that perfectly complements its starry blue flowers. The blooms appear just above the leaves in late summer. This variety will thrive when tucked into an alpine trough or wedged in between gaps in paving stones or on walls. Campanula lactifolia ‘Loddon Anna’ produces soft lilac-pink flowers.
Campanulas are all reliable perennials and require no special care. It is worthwhile splitting up the clumps every few years and putting the strong pieces back into enriched soil in the autumn.
Delphiniums are another group of herbaceous plants is full flower now. The produce tall spikes in a range of colours that cover all three primary colours, although when we think of delphiniums we tend to think of blue. Delphiniums will grow in any fertile, well-drained soil in full sun, with shelter from strong winds. The trouble with most delphiniums is that they grow tall and so need staking. Water plants freely and apply a balanced liquid fertiliser every two to three weeks. An exciting development in development in delphiniums is the production of dwarf compact varieties, such as ‘Fantasia’ mix delphiniums . These grow only 2 feet tall and do not require staking and are just as showy as their taller cousins. If the flowers are removed before they set seed and the plants are given a good feed of fertiliser, they may produce more flowers later in the year.
Continue to sow seeds of lettuce to provide a succession of delicious plants all summer long. Lettuces grow best in moist, well-drained soil with plenty of compost added in. ‘Lolla Rossa’ is a loose-leafed variety with frilled, red coloured leaves that is not attacked by slugs. Lettuces can bolt easily, producing long, thick stems that are bitter and useless for eating. This is often caused by poor soil and lack of water.
Water onions in dry weather, if the soil dries out the sets will bolt and go to flower. If flower heads appear remove them at once.
Seeds of spinach can be sown directly into the ground. Spinach is a fast growing plant with highly nutritious leaves that can be eaten lightly cooked or raw in salads. The seeds are sown thinly in drills half an inch deep. Thin the seedlings to 2 inches apart when large enough to handle. Spinach likes a rich, moist, well-drained soil. ‘Scenic’ is an F1 hybrid that produces a heavy crop of dark-green leaves. The leaves can be harvested as required by removing a number of leaves from each plant.
Jobs for the week
Lilies will be growing quickly now and as their flowers start developing they will need some support. Use stakes to support the lilies.
Tie new canes of raspberries and blackberries on to support wires as they grow. Keep them separate from last year’s shoots which are now flowering and producing fruit. When the fruit is picked these old canes can be removed. Gooseberries are almost always attacked by caterpillars, a preventive spray will stop leaves being eaten away to their skeletons. Spread nets over soft fruit bushes, such as currants and strawberries to prevent birds taking all your fruit.
This week I had a request for my beetroot recipe, this is for you Paddy. Pull the beetroot and twist off the green leaves two inches from the top. Wash well in cold water, be careful not to break the small roots or cut the skin, do not peel the skin.
Place the beetroot in a large pot and cook steadily in boiling water for 2-3 hours until tender. Test by applying pressure with your finger. Do not use a knife, fork or skewer to test for tenderness.
Drain the water, allow to cool and remove the skin from the beetroot. Cut the beetroot into slices a quarter of an inch in thickness or cut into large cubes.
Place a pint of vinegar, a cup of finely chopped onions, a bay leaf, some parsley and thyme, an ounce of butter and a half pound of sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently with stirring for about 30 minutes to infuse the mixture. Add the sliced beetroot and heat for a further 30 minutes. Place the cooked beetroot in sterilised jars for storage over the winter.