The second week of July you need to take some time to relax and enjoy the garden. Forget about planting vegetables, take a break from adding more flowers and ignore the weeds. The spring rush and June explosion of blooms is slowing down and so should the gardener.
After a recent visit leading a tour to see some of the great gardens of England here are some take home ideas to consider on a summer afternoon while gazing at your own landscape:
Stealing Beauty from Powis Castle
The claim to fame for this ancient castle on the border of Wales and England is that the layers of terraced gardens on the fortified hillside are still intact despite 500 years of garden renovations.
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You may not have a hillside retreat looking out over miles of ancestral land, but you can steal the idea of making the most of your views. Cut back shrubs blocking light and views from your windows and consider removing trees that compromise the view of sea or mountains.
There are plenty of dwarf shrubs and compact trees to take the place of your overgrown monsters. Summer is a fine time to clean the closets of your garden and either compost, donate or create firewood out of your overgrown specimens.
Plant idea: Grow the gray foliage of Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ if you want a low water use perennial that is easy to find at local nurseries and you’ll have a direct link to this castle in Wales. Every plant was first started from a random Artemisia plant that volunteered at Powis Castle gardens and was noticed by the head gardener because it did not send up many flowering stalks to reseed about the estate. Today the Powis Castle Artemisia is a favorite perennial of designers that want to use silver foliage and home owners who want to cut back on their summer water bill.
Stealing Beauty from the village of Portmeirion
A fantasy village of turrets, towers and pastel-painted buildings, some say this seaside town built at the turn of the century by an eccentric duke was the inspiration for Disneyland. There were no giant mice dressed up with huge gloves walking around Portmeirion but there was a story-book quality to the architecture and a creative use of different building materials.
The take-home idea is to make use of architectural fragments to build your own arbors, benches and garden sheds. Create your own style by adding bits of ironwork to a simple shed and use pastel paint to give fences, benches and door frames a dream-like quality. Fearless design is the mother of creativity and the collection of hotels, restaurants, pavilions and gardens of Portmeirion was enchanting and original. (Note: The town charges an entry fee to visitors to keep the streets from becoming too crowded – dirt cheap compared to what Walt Disney demanded to enter his magic kingdom.)
Plant idea: Hydrangeas in pastel shades of pink, lavender and blue dot the gardens of Portmeirion as this shrub thrives in the cool mist along the coast of Wales. Hydrangeas love cool weather, so at home grow them where they are shaded from the hot afternoon sun.
Stealing Beauty from The Lost Gardens of Heligan
This renovated estate garden of Heligan was rescued from generations of decay to become one of the premier tourist attractions in Great Britain. The huge estate has a walled Victorian vegetable garden, a ravine full of tropical plants, a rope bridge and woodland walks and the famous modern sculptures that feature a troll’s head and a giant lady lying asleep covered with moss and ornamental grasses.
Plant idea: Heirloom fruits and vegetables are the stars of the edible Victorian garden and the head gardener told our group of American tourists that the best place to order heirloom vegetable seeds was from American seed companies. Heirloom vegetables are those grown one hundred years ago before our food was shipped to market in trucks. The modern vegetables we now consume have thick skins and slow ripening for ease of transport — often at the expense of flavor and nutrition. The biggest seller of heirloom seeds today is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This family-owned company is also known for their seed bank and National Heirloom Expo out of Santa Rosa California. (Check out the theheirloomexpo.com for more information.)
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.