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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    The English Lady: From peonies to container gardens, a whole host of useful tips

    I am so in awe of the miracle of Mother Nature; the symbiotic relationship among plants and all of God’s creatures. As I looked out of my window from my old home a few years ago, I could see the buds opening on my long border of peonies planted by the original homeowner in the early 1900s. As I looked, I was reminded of the symbiotic relationship between ants and peonies.

    A question often asked of me is “Maureen, should I worry about ants on my peonies?” My answer, “That’s not a problem, lots of ants on the peonies just demonstrate that you have healthy plants with big buds producing bountiful nectar which attracts the ants.”

    By the way, ants are very useful creatures; their presence indicates that there are aphids and white fly in the area, and ants feed on these troublesome insects.

    Please ensure that peonies get plenty of water; check the PH of the soil which should register between 6.5 and 7.0. In early June, I pinched off the side buds on the peonies which ensured big terminal blooms on the plant.

    When the bloom has passed, apply a light application of composted manure to encourage the soil animals and the manure bacteria to keep the soil healthy.

    Do not cut the peonies down until after the first frost in November. In September, plant or transplant peonies and in the process barely cover the pink eyes on the roots with soil, just enough so the plant does not fall over.

    Beginning in spring, many insect pests appear in the garden; a useful creature against the pests is the lowly toad. I suggest putting some toad houses in and around your borders. You may purchase toad houses from the garden center if you so desire. Or you can do as I do, which is to use an old clay pot that is cracked and make sure that the crack is two to four inches wide for a door so the toad can enter. Also put a small saucer as a floor under the pot with some rocks, which you keep damp, so that your friendly bad bug eater has his or her ideal home environment and will snack on hundreds of pesky bugs.

    Mulch: Mulch your gardens this month when the ground has warmed up to 55 degrees. When mulching, take care mulching around trees. Apply the mulch at least six inches from the base of the trunk; any closer can cause rot and disease in the bark and roots of the tree.

    Any trees that are mulched too deeply near the trunk invite mice and other rodents to come to nest and gnaw on the trunk. Your garden can be mulched to a depth of between two and three inches. I use fine dark brown hardwood mulch; please do not use dyed RED MULCH, and keep the garden natural, not looking like a Disney theme park.

    June is the month when roses begin their bloom. I prefer David Austin roses; I find David Austin roses are the most trouble-free roses and offer great reward as they are repeat bloomers with wonderful fragrances and colors.

    Some of my favorites are:

    ‘A Shropshire Lad,’ a soft peachy pink

    ‘Abraham Darby’ with blooms showing a blend of apricot and yellow

    ‘Fair Bianca’ a pure white

    ‘Heritage’ a soft clear pink

    And my favorite is ‘Evelyn.' Evelyn has large apricot saucer shaped bloom with a fragrance that is second to none, offering a luscious fruity tone that reminds me of fresh peaches and apricots.

    Feed your roses with composted manure, keeping the manure and mulch about six inches away from the base of the rose, adding a few more inches of manure once a month until mid- August. At that time stop feeding so the roses can gently move into a much- needed slow dormancy. Japanese beetles are very attracted to roses, so any Japanese beetle traps should be placed far away from your borders on the perimeter of the property.

    A tip for keeping cut roses fresh: cut the roses in the early morning, cutting just above a five-leaf cluster and place stems in a container of lukewarm water. Inside the house recut the stems at a one and half inch angular cut, under warm running water, then place cut roses in a vase filled with warm water. Do not remove the thorns on cut roses, because removing the thorns reduces their indoor life by as much as three days.

    Hydrangeas: need plenty of water, as in the fields where they were originally discovered, they grew close to water and were classified as a wetland plant. Then lucky for us, gardeners introduced them into their gardens.

    Apply aged manure around the hydrangeas and space them at least four feet apart for good ventilation in full sun; this spacing will help to prevent mildew.

    If you have blue hydrangea macrophylla and desire a more vibrant shade of blue, add some peat moss on top of the manure. The acidity in the peat will produce a lovely shade of blue.

    Wisteria: regular pruning through spring and summer is the main factor to help this arrogant vine to flower; by that I mean prune several times during the season. Prune every two weeks, at least six inches on each stem.

    Clematis wilt: if you have this problem with the clematis, you will notice it early because the shoots wilt and die. This disease is impossible to cure, as it is soil borne. Soil borne means it is not possible to plant another clematis of that species in that area of the garden.

    However, you can plant the Viticella clematis selection; these are vigorous, free flowering blooms and are not susceptible to wilt. Some good choices in this variety are Blue Belle, Etoile Violette (both are purple( and Huldine (which is white),

    Container gardens: If you have room for one pot you have room for a number; placed close together in different shapes and sizes. It creates your own miniature garden.

    Apart from regular pots, the most unexpected objects make interesting containers. A friend who cut down trees this past winter left the stumps and hollowed them out to make containers, one large and two smaller stumps together, an interesting combo.

    Check in your basement, shed or barn to see if you have an old wheelbarrow, even if the wheelbarrow has a wheel missing like mine which I painted in eco conscious paint and placed near the kitchen door filled with bright colored vines and small perennials.

    Or you may come across a large old ceramic jar; I came across an old 2-foot-tall ceramic vinegar container in the barn, replete with a hole where the vinegar tap was inserted, ideal for drainage. The jar planted with multi-colored perennials will look great on my newly painted blue bench beside my red milk shed).

    Lawn care: Do not forget to add organic grub control thru July, so that you keep down the mole infestation; remember no grubs, less food for the moles.

    Powdery mildew: keep an eye open for powdery mildew, especially after a rain when humidity returns. In a sprayer, mix two tablespoons of baking soda, one tablespoon of vegetable or horticultural oil in a gallon of water and spray the mildew. Hydrangeas and summer phlox are particularly prone to be bothered by this problem. I recommend Phlox Miss Lingard or Phlox David, white ones of the species; these are the most mildew resistant.

    Monarda, commonly known as bee balm, are also affected by the mildew; the one I have found to be the most resistant is “Cambridge Scarlet.”

    Do be careful when introducing Monarda into the garden; this plant, like Purple Loosestrife and Evening Primrose are extremely invasive and can take over your entire border. On invasive plants, if you plant mint, plant it only in containers, otherwise mint will spread throughout your borders.

    I hope these tips are useful to you in this busy time of year in the garden. Stretch, hydrate and enjoy the burgeoning promise of your garden and I’ll see you next month. If you would like some more gardening advice, contact my son Ian at LlandscapesbyIan.com.

    Maureen Haseley-Jones is a landscape designer, writer and broadcaster. She lives in Old Lyme.

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