If we are lucky, we keep on learning.
Horticulture is no exception and that, to me, is one of the fascinations of this world. Right from the start, plant names have always baffled and intrigued me in equal measure. As time has gone on, I have learnt to appreciate the logic, stories and history behind some of the names.
For instance, did you know that the charming Lupin derives its name from the Latin word for ‘wolf’ or ‘destroyer’? It turns out that some vigorous species of Lupinus could devastate agricultural land. On the other hand, the common daisy is named as Bellus in horticulture which means ‘pretty’ in Latin.
The most common form of sage has the botanical name of Salvia officinalis: Salvia was the name given to it by Pliny because it had medicinal properties that made it safe, saving and healing. Officinalis means ‘of the shop’, implying that it is common and readily available. The late summer flowering Aster is named after the stars (as in asteroid) due to it’s stella-like flower shape.
As with the human family, behind every name lies a story, not least of the plant hunters who risked their lives finding and transporting plants to the west from around the world. Next time you tread on the rather unglamorous Viburnum davidii, think of the French missionary and plantsman Father David out there in the wilds of China. Pet shops up and down the land are forever indebted to him as he also introduced us to Gerbils !
So when you are ready to get off your sun lounger and away from your book on the history of plant names, there are a few essential tasks to be done this month:
Water your containers and newly planted trees and shrubs: it is surprising how quickly they will dry out.
Deadhead roses and keep an eye out for signs of powdery mildew, blackspot or rust. Prevention is always better than cure so water, feed and pick off rust or blackspot affected leaves.
Cut back delphiniums and geraniums after the first flush of flowers to encourage a second flowering period. Feed after cutting them back.
Prune June-flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus and Weigela after flowering. Prune deciduous magnolias if necessary.
Fast-growing hedges such as Leyland cypress should be clipped as necessary throughout the growing season.
Box plants and hedges have been increasingly susceptible to damage by caterpillars in recent years. If you find any, pick them off or spray them but be aware that warm, wet weather will cause leaf drop due to box blight fungal infection.
If your floral displays need perking up give them a weekly shot of high-potassium liquid fertiliser. Deadhead the flowers when they are over.
The bird population will appreciate keeping the bird bath topped up but by keeping them clean, you prevent the spread of diseases such as bird pox.
Ponds are never maintenance-free! Thin out vigorous oxygenating plants leaving the prunings on the side of the pond to allow the aquatic creatures back into the water. Try to keep about 30% of the water clear of plants.
Try to use your hose outside the times when the water system is most in demand.
If your garden and your holidays seem a bit tame, then pick up a good book on the adventures of the plant hunters. The huge Douglas fir was named after David Douglas: he began life in Scotland and ended his days in Hawaii. Not bad for a plant nerd.