If I can get to work early enough I love to see what has come into flower before I burden myself with all the jobs that need doing. Before long, my thoughts turn to cutting back.
See, us horticulturists need to keep an eye on what that lovely plant will look like in a month's time and aim to keep last month's faded flowers from spoiling this month's display. Sometimes this just means keeping the plants deadheaded like with roses, but some plants benefit from more drastic action. In the Birch Grove as you enter the garden there are large sweeps of field scabious - Knautia arvensis (below) - that have been flowering for the past month.
The pale pink to lilac powder-puff flowers dance atop wiry stems and are still looking pretty good, but there are a lot of faded flower heads forming seedpods and soon the display will be over. These stems, along with the foliage, will only get worse and begin to show mildew, go a bit brown and collapse - all before I’ve even had a chance to develop a good tan!
The only solution is to cut them right down to the ground. At the base there are signs of life though, and there are a few healthy young shoots at the bottom. This fresh foliage will quickly grow and cover up the mess my team and I have made cutting them back.
If the gap was only filled with the bright green foliage, then cutting back would be worth it, but the knautia doesn’t stop there. In late summer and early autumn the knautia flowers again! This trick works for some other plants as well including some hardy geraniums and even delphiniums.
Sometimes this technique looks a bit harsh and I have gotten a few disapproving stares but, done correctly, the end of summer brings a last hit of spring.
For more advice on what to do in the flower garden this month, click here.