Every day the plants in my herbaceous borders look as if they have put on a few more inches of growth.
They’re nearly growing as fast as my teenage son but thankfully they eat less biscuits! It’s at this time of year that we should consider how and when we are going to support our plants as they continue to thicken out and reach skywards.
In my own garden I confess to playing fast and loose with my border perennials. Supports are only put in as they are required. My garden is usually open to the public so the main reason for supporting plants is to keep them from flopping over the paths. I love to walk a path and have my ankles tickled by leaves, but many visitors don’t. However, the danger of adding supports later in the season is that they are hard to place without damaging blooms or making the plant look trussed up. There is an art to fitting a support in mid-summer and in many cases, it can take two people – one to hold the plant back and the other to push in the support. Summer supporting is made trickier if you work on a heavy clay soil. Pushing a metal support in to sun-baked clay isn’t easy – trust me I know!
You may well be asking why I leave supporting plants so late in the season if there are so many disadvantages. Well, it’s down to aesthetics. I’d rather view a border of plants that are free to flow in the breeze and with a four-acre garden it would be almost impossible to find or afford enough supports. The most important reason I hold off though is because I have all too often witnessed decapitated plants the morning after a wild and windy night. The point at which the plant meets the support often acts as a guillotine.
It’s for all these reasons that the decision as to whether to support or not is so complicated. You need to consider how sheltered your garden is and look at the needs of individual plants. The plants that I always support are the climbers. Clematis are supported with hazel stems pushed into the soft ground in spring and I direct their growth into a nearby shrub for extra support. I prefer clematis to roam more freely in a border than see them trussed up against a wall. It’s vital that the new growth of these climbers is lifted off the floor early in the growing season or the voles will soon munch through the new shoots. My sweet peas are also supported with hazel stems that were coppiced in late February.
Some gardeners with a good crop of hazel will place hazel supports around their perennials in early spring. If artistically placed this can look attractive but to my mind it can be overwhelming if overdone. I love to see the perennials in spring unhindered. The benefit of using hazel however, is that it can be simply shredded and composted in autumn or the dry twigs are a great way to start the winter wood burner.
The lofty delphiniums that leap to astonishing heights are always supported as the flowers start to form. This is done with a single metal pole and natural twine. Peonies are also very vulnerable as their flowers are often wonderfully top heavy. Without a support your peony show can be cut short after a heavy shower of rain. However, plants such as agapanthus with flowers held on long and mobile stems seem to fair well after being battered by the weather.
In the vegetable garden my uncle, who I share the garden with, has always grown his runner beans up a wigwam of scaffold poles. This might sound a little industrial for a country garden, but it works. Between the scaffold poles his constructs a very neat cobweb of hop string which the runner beans sprint up.
My advice is to think back to how plants faired in previous years and choose a uniformed way of supporting plants. Go to one supplier if creating a formal look (I adore the rusty looking supports from https://www.plantsupports.co.uk/) or add interest, or even a bit of humour with make do and mend supports. Why not prop an old push bike against a wall and train your ipomoea up it?
As with so many aspects of gardening it’s trial, error and a little holding your nerve. Let’s hope for a calm summer!
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