With the weather starting to get milder, now is the time to dedicate some time to your garden, patio or balcony, so you can enjoy it throughout spring and summer. Here are some top tips from Tom Coward, Head Gardener at Gravetye Manor in West Sussex.
Which plants do you recommend for providing a wonderful fragrance throughout spring and summer?
Fragrance is one of the most evocative senses and is so often overlooked. When a beautiful plant can catch your attention before you have even seen it, it’s a wonderful thing and for this reason we are quite strategic in positioning scented plants for their full effect, by doorways, paths and windows, where their fragrance can be made full use of, or tucked around corners of the garden so the perfume can surprise guests. Early spring is an especially interesting time for scented plants with things like Edgeworthia chrysantha, with its light yellow flowers powerfully scented of spice and cloves. Later in spring the azaleas are particularly amazing. Planted en masse above the flower garden they fill the air with the most beautiful perfume, just before the summer really gets going. Summer has so many flowers we are almost overwhelmed with fragrance but the roses are probably the plant that stands out the most. There are so many good scented ones out there but the one named ‘Paul McCartney’ remains my favourite. I am always especially excited when our Kiftsgate rose flowers; it is trained to grow under some of the bedroom windows of the manor. When you open the window in the morning the room is filled with the most heavenly delicate scent, at one of the loveliest times of year.
Which are the best plants for attracting butterflies and bees?
Gravetye Manor is known for ‘The Wild Garden’ and one of the most important aspects of this is the wildlife. We are lucky to have a large estate which we manage in a way to care for our biodiversity but there is also a lot that can be done in a small garden to attract and help wildlife, particularly bees and butterflies. Wild flower meadows are one of the richest habitats for insects and so having an area of long grass where nature has a little more freedom is one of the best things you can do for bees and butterflies. Also growing a range of plants, which flower throughout the year, is important, supplying the bees and butterflies with a constant food supply of nectar. One year we had some space to fill in the kitchen garden so we sowed a big block of a plant called Phacelia. This is a green manure, which will improve the soil, and has very pretty mauve flowers, which butterflies, bees and hoverflies go crazy for. I will never forget the clouds of butterflies that year in the kitchen garden.
Which wildflowers do you recommend to anyone planning to plant a wildflower bed or area in their garden?
Foxgloves are wonderful things, which are quite easy to grow and will self sow. They are also rather useful in shady areas. Field poppies are also one of our most beautiful wild flowers, which can be grown quite quickly from seed. One of the best ways to grow wild flowers is to leave a patch of grass uncut and see what turns up. To add colour, you can plant native bulbs such as snowdrops, daffodils and fritillaries, and the grass can be cut when it gets too scruffy at the end of summer. Sometimes it’s good to give nature space to work her magic.
What are the best spring/summer flowers to grow in pots or small spaces?
Anything can be grown in a pot, which makes container gardening very exciting. It allows us to garden in almost any situation. Plants grown in pots do demand more care though, so before selecting which plant it is important to ask yourself how much time you have to care for it. Dahlias are excellent candidates as well as hardy annuals like poppies. Bulbs are lovely as well and the point is that all of these could be used in the same pot in the same year giving a long season of flower. Fruit and vegetables are also excellent in pot culture.
Can you recommend some plants which thrive in shady or north-facing parts of a garden?
Sarcococca confusa, Liriope muscari, Digitalis purpurea and Trachystemon orientalis are all ideal for shady plots.
Can you recommend some edible plants which can be grown and added to drinks and salads?
Borage, nasturtium and cornflowers are all lovely flowers to use. Salad burnet is interesting, as is chervil, an especially lovely and versatile herb that isn’t used so much in England. I also love the humble parsley and the flat-leaved kind has the best flavour.