Chronicle June 2008 | Chronicle August 2008

"A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows." Doug Larson

Mid July 2008

The month of July is the ‘monsoon’ season in Sweden. With all due respect to the Swedish summer and Swedish gardens, it’s a question of survival. The weather is usually very unstable during the summer months and the garden certainly takes more than a few knocks from all the rain.

Some plants cope with a rainy summer better than others; some flowers are crestfallen, while others stand boldly upright.

When I go around our garden at the height of the summer, I do so with a degree of wonderment; there is now so much that has already passed and yet so much still to come, to which I’ve been looking forward so long.

Now, when the rose season has passed, there’s really only one rose which is still blooming in my garden in the middle of July. It’s a rambler called Mulligani. It’s a real monster, which grows and spreads its tentacles like nobody’s business, so it’s essential to keep a watchful eye on it. The weight of it caused one of the apple trees to fall, but I love this rose so much that the poor tree had to pay the price. But then I thought: I’ll have to rein you in a bit, my beauty. In fact, with these types of ramblers and climbers in general, it’s best to bend the branches down towards the ground, instead of merely letting the rose shoot straight upwards. By doing so, you can enjoy flowering also down at ground level and upwards.

I’m no great lover of roses, but there are some that I can’t do without. My favourites, which are allowed to climb up trees and on trellises with abandon, include Lykkefund, with itslarge, compact clusters of semi-double, creamy-yellow flowers, and the Danish rose, Aksel Olsson. They are both exquisitely scented and produce wonderful rosehips in the autumn. Apart from Mulligani, another favourite is the multiflora rose, Seagull, an old-fashioned rambler which is happily climbing in an old damson tree. It’s full of white, semi-double flowers when in bloom, and sprinkled with red confetti when the hips mature.

But the thing that most astonishes me at the moment, in the middle of July, is that we have so many lilies in bloom, including the usual Regale trumpet lily (so named because of their resemblance to trumpet horns), but also Regale Album. Unfortunately, lilies generally don’t fare too well with the rain – but that’s something one just has to put up with. Despite the elements, the lily season is truly in its element, and will be so until October.

The most grandiose display just now in the garden is being provided by a clematis, Summer Snow. Ah, how can I describe Summer Snow? Let me start by saying that I’ve tried countless different types of clematis. Just to think of all the clematis I’ve planted in the garden over the past 11 years! Most of them have simply disappeared; I’ve either mistreated them or, quite simply, they haven’t enjoyed it here. There must be some reason. But many years ago I came across a wonderful clematis in the Vitalba group, namely Paul Farges (fargesii summer snow). I can only say one thing – this clematis transforms our garden at the end of July and then remains in bloom long into the autumn.

I’ve planted it here and there around the garden, depending on how it thrives. In some places, it’s clearly not so happy and barely grows at all. But where it thrives, it does so with a vengeance. Not only does it grow, but I don’t need to fertilise or water it; quite simply, I do nothing. It just grows and flourishes and, in its chosen spots in the garden, has developed into a real little monster. But what a beautiful little monster. It’s as lovely after the rain as it is in the glare of the sun. It’s a clematis that can be cut back as hard and often as you like; it comes again. In those places where it thrives, we’re talking about 3-4 meters’ growth a year. Often, when I see people at a garden nursery with a little Summer Snow plant in their hands, I have a word with them and let them know what they’re getting themselves into...

I’m eternally grateful that Summer Snow enjoys our garden. It literally covers several of our trees. It’s so nice to have such flowers in the trees since, as it were, it also gives the trees a second flowering. I’ve now abandoned all other clematis – it’s Summer Snow that counts for me. A real high point – literally speaking - in my garden now, in the middle of July.

I want to blow the horn for Summer Snow; if only it were found in more Swedish gardens.

Let Summer Snow take over where it feels best and remember that it’s in bloom from the middle of July until well into the autumn. It’s an amazing clematis which now, with its brilliant, small white flowers is glistening in the evening sun. Just let it climb, creep and live its own little life, but don’t hesitate to take the pruning shears to it as required.

The shade-loving hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ provide another highlight which is now coming into its own; it’s a plant one can’t live without – provided you have time to water it. With their spectacular oversized flower heads, the Annabelle shrubs light up the top of the slope in the back garden.

All that  remains now is to wait for the perennials that haven’t yet got into their stride, and all the lilies that are biding their time and waiting in bud. This is a waiting period, but one in which something is happening all the time. There we are again: the art of keeping things going in the garden. As a garden person, I believe that one goes through different phases in a garden. You test this, try that, and hopefully find your own, personal style during the course of the journey. 

A big hug to all garden lovers.

A Gentleman Gardener