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The Hampton Court Hack

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Helen Yemm Helen Yemm | 14:45 UK time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

For flower-junkies like me May and June and are prepared-for with a precision that belies the deliberately random look of the planting. The aim of all the elaborate border corsetry, the primping, poking, fuss and bother - the most gentle of gardening, it has to be said - is that my garden will transform itself into a seamless tapestry of colour that will last, with a bit of daily grooming, for the weeks that form the classic show-off time for an English garden.

That's the theory, anyway, and barring freaks of wind and weather, things generally go according to plan. At the risk of sounding smug, high summer in my stuffed little garden is sublime - wafting around it deadheading at dawn and dusk give me enormous pleasure.

High Summer at Eldenhurst

High Summer at Eldenhurst

My annual response in early July is to have a serious day with shears, secateurs and a wheelbarrow, giving the whole place what I have come to call (with a nod to the Chelsea Choppers), a Hampton Court Hack. The results are immediately satisfying and, a two or three weeks later, little short of a miracle.

The resulting barrow-loads of greenery added to compost bins speed things up in there nicely - as long as the bins are covered to retain the heat. Furthermore, seeing the odd patch of soil emerge in the sea of floral greenery for the first time for weeks reminds me to give roses and other flowering shrubs a summer feed, while any herbaceous plants cut back to the bone also benefit from a drench with goo from my wormery (diluted to look like weak tea). I am even tempted to neaten the edges of the summer-weary lawn and give it a quick 'green-up' feed as well.

Eldenhurst in High Summer


So here; for others who have been prinking around deadheading with kitchen scissors for weeks and for those who fancy a day of real gardening, are just a few of the plants in my own patch that really benefit from The Hack - with an assurance that after a proper work-over, both garden and gardener will truck happily on towards the autumn, refreshed and revived.

Shrubs: Philadelphus, Weigela, Cistus corbariensis, Cistus purpureus, Phlomis fruticosa, Helianthemums - all these can take quite tough mid-summer pruning which will prolong their life and stop them becoming unattractively untidy or too big for their boots.

Roses: Old (once-flowering) shrub roses and ramblers: I remove short lengths of stems that have flowered (then winter-prune a major stem or stems from ground level). Repeat-flowering roses are continually deadheaded.

Herbaceous plants: I cut back messy growth of anything that has finished flowering, threatens to seed madly or overwhelm other plants (Alchemilla mollis and untidy Iris sibirica leaves, for example). To encourage further flushes straggly pansies and violas, astrantias, herbaceous geraniums are cut back. I also remove ex-flowering stems of shrubby Euphorbias (E. wulfenii and E amygdaloides var. robbiae) and Hellebores with biennial stems (H. sternii etc.) to smarten them up. I would also cut down anything that looked 'blighted' (Solomon's Seal that has been 'sawflied', for example).

Helen Yemm is a garden writer, best known for her regular column Thorny Problems in The Telegraph.


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