Weed now to avoid the jungle look

Brave the elements and tackle weeds before you set off on your summer holiday, advises Dr Jonathan Holliday

August should be the driest of months but, as I write, who knows — perhaps I should be focussing on water features. All this rain has made for more uncontrolled weed growth and less chance to get out and stay on top of things. But I am afraid that you do need to have a go at it before you go off on holiday if you don’t want to come back to a jungle.

In the vegetable patch I find it easiest to use a Dutch hoe. The push-pull action slices through the weeds just below the surface of the soil. This not only looks good, but in drier weather stops the ground from cracking and actually retains moisture deeper down.

Two things need more careful treatment: weeds going to seed, like groundsel and thistle, should be removed and burnt. And when you see ground elder you should always stop to dig it out.

Turning to happier things I can recommend two flowering plants for this time of year. Yucca can survive outside in most parts of the country, and is tolerant of dry conditions — should that be an issue. Their spiky leaves and size make for architectural 'presence' and they can be used to complement a vista, or paired to form a gateway. At this time of year they carry tall spikes of many flowers rising above the rosettes of leaves.

Abutilon is a rather spindly shrub with pale green leaves, sometimes variegated. Its flowers, inverted bowls of pink or orange, have a feel of the Mediterranean. I have always grown one on the back wall of my greenhouse behind the tomato plants, but this year I have seen several growing outside, covered in flowers. Plant them in a sunny but sheltered spot, preferably up against a wall.

This is the final call for summer pruning of wisteria, to encourage next season flowering. Similarly it is time to prune rambling roses once they have finished flowering, not forgetting that next season’s flowers will be on this year's new growth. Cut the new stems back to within a bud or two of the main stem. New strong stems can be chosen to tie in to replace older stems, which can themselves be cut back to the ground.

Hedge growth has been more than usual this year but you might escape with final trimming toward the end of the month.

Finally a couple more fantastic finds from this summer's gardening shows. Black Forge makes 'ultimate barbecues'. The chap who makes them was a shipbuilder and, although they are stainless steel the thickness of the metal would make you think he had taken the left over materials when the yard shut down.

These are the Rolls Royce of barbecues — the attention to detail is all. My wife is always disappointed when half her fish has stuck to the grill. Not with this one — the Black Fryer has a special holder for the kebabs and more, which allows them to float over the coals with the flesh not in contact with anything but heat.

So, in time-honoured fashion, the men gather round the barbecue, beer in hand, waiting for the coals to be 'just right', and the girls are left to shiver as the sun goes down. Well no more. Joff Hopper makes the most fantastic wood burning braziers, baluster shaped with curved rods of iron supporting cones — in the shape of arum lilies — which burn as torches above the brazier. Heat and light — but watch out, you’ll have the boys deserting the barbecue.

Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor

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