Neil Wormald on summer vegetables (Google / Times Online)

Read at : Google Alert – gardening


April 6, 2008

Gardening tips: Neil Wormald on summer vegetables

– If you want to brighten up the vegetable plot this summer, then Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’ is an ideal crop. A fast-growing, decorative plant, it produces stems in shades of red, orange, yellow, gold, pink and purple, topped with large green or bronze-coloured leaves. It prefers a sunny spot and a fertile and moist but welldrained soil, and can be sown now. Scatter the seeds in drills, 1in deep, and once the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them to 9in apart. The mildly flavoured leaves and stems will be ready for harvesting in early summer.

– Forsythia ‘Lynwood’ is an almost indestructible deciduous shrub grown for its long, arching stems, which are soon covered in sprays of golden-yellow flowers during the early spring. It is ideal for raising in a sunny or partially shaded corner of the garden and usually reaches 6ft-8ft. To keep an established specimen under control and encourage healthy new growth, the spent stems should be pruned back as soon as the display is over; cut them down to obvious buds or nonflowering sideshoots. It is also a good idea to remove one or two of the oldest stems at ground level.

– All good gardeners know that the vibrant flowers of border dahlias are perfect for bringing dramatic splashes of colour in late summer and early autumn. My favourite varieties include the deep-red ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, ‘White Ballet’ and the intense purple-black flowers of ‘Nuit d’Eté’. All reach 3ft-4ft in height. In mild gardens, the dormant and fleshy tubers can be planted now in a sheltered, sunny border and a fertile, welldrained soil – bury the tubers so their crowns are 4in-5in deep and space them 24in-30in apart. Alternatively, in colder areas, plant the tubers in mid- or late April. Once the young shoots emerge, they are vulnerable to slugs, so surround them with circles of coarse grit, as the slimy pests hate crawling across sharp surfaces. If a late frost is forecast, you can cover the shoots overnight with horticultural fleece. During the main growing season, stake the plants and keep them well watered, especially in dry summer weather.

– In suburban gardens, neighbourhood cats can be a real nuisance, as they often scratch up outdoor seed beds, using the freshly cultivated ground as a litter. Fortunately, it is possible to deter persistent pusses by surrounding and lightly covering recently sown areas with prickly stem prunings from holly, rose and hawthorn. The best way to hold them in place is with wire hoops pushed into the ground. Once the seedlings emerge, don’t forget to remove any stems that might obstruct their growth.

– Now that the weather is warming up, it’s time to check ornamental ponds for signs of duckweed. This tiny floating plant spreads rapidly and, when left to its own devices, will soon cover the entire water surface with a green carpet. To prevent this from happening, use a long-handled shrimping net to scoop as much duckweed out of the water as possible. Repeating this procedure on a weekly basis should keep levels down.

– Most fruit trees and soft fruits like a lot of sun, but if your garden is shady, don’t despair – there are plenty of varieties you can grow, provided they get some sunlight during the day, and now is a good time to plant them. Try acid (morello) cherries, blackberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries and alpine strawberries. For the best results, prepare the ground by incorporating plenty of organic matter before planting and keep the fruits well watered until they establish. The most reliable vegetables and culinary herbs to grow in shady spots include beetroot, chives, hamburg parsley, kohlrabi, mints, parsley, sorrel, summer radishes and summer spinach.


Neil Wormald is a qualified horticulturalist. Send your question to Garden Expert, Home, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST, or e-mail

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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