Christopher Lloyd is busy putting in place the spectacular of exotic plants that has become a superb feature of his garden at Great Dixter and ensuring continuity through the summer in other departments.
With the nights at last no longer worryingly cold, here at Great Dixter our most important task is to plant up the exotic garden with all those tender perennials that we cannot resist collecting.
They have been under glass since last autumn but love to get out of their pots and to be able to stretch themselves for a few months. They give us the feeling of being quite a lot nearer to the tropics than we know we are.
What used to be our rose garden is sheltered and gets really hot - far too hot for the comfort of roses, in fact, so that is where we now splash around. In the driest, sunniest area, we plant out some cacti (opuntias, especially) and succulents. Where it is shady, close to yew hedging, we grow some of the shade lovers, especially begonias with interesting and beautifully patterned foliage. Ferns, too, and Streptocarpus, the Cape primrose.
There are lots of good foliage plants to make shade, like elephant's ears, Colocasia Esculenta whose huge, beautifully veined leaves sway from side to side when there is a breeze. Plants like that need a lot of water and we try to see that they get it. Of course, the wet April and May will have helped.
For colour, we lean heavily on dahlias and cannas. Cannas also have beautiful leaves, which they tend to hold rather upright, allowing low sunlight to shine through them. A pink-and-green variegated one called Durban is particularly attractive in this way and its orange flowers pull no punches.
The Long Border, which is a mixed border, is nearing its peak now, and we try to be on top of the work needed to stop anything spoiling the show. I don't like the look of stakes, however necessary they may be, so the taller phloxes like Phlox paniculata, won't be staked till shortly before flowering and it is the same with dahlias. The taller Michaelmas daisies, however, need support a good deal earlier.
What do you do about your lupins when their display has finished? We treat them as biennials, sowing next year's display now and throwing out the year-old plants when they have flowered.
There are lots of late-sown annuals waiting to replace them. If you keep your lupins, the flowering spikes, now heavy with seedpods, need removing. The chances are that their foliage will get mildewed and I would recommend spraying against that.
Protective anti-mildew sprays are used on a good number of plants at Dixter, in summer. On some of the summer-flowering clematis, for instance. Monardas are so mildew-prone that we have given up growing them and if that is the nature of a rose, I give it a miss.
In fact, we don't need to spray our roses at all. We don't herd them into beds, which is an open invitation for mildew, rust and black spot to move in. They are scattered among other plantings and keep healthy without encouragement. Dead-heading is necessary, but even there it is wise to grow varieties that don't hold on to their dead petals but shed them naturally. I know that one cannot always be wise.
Still, a garden in which roses that need dead-heading but don't get that attention promptly, looks prematurely senile, and that's a shame. So I think we should face up to the realities of the situation. This, in my garden, means that I don't grow more than about sixty roses of any kind.
We sow some nasturtiums in small pots, now, for bedding into gaps. They come on so quickly and, if pot grown, can soon be turned out of them to make a display from August on. Both the climbing and the bush kinds come in handy.
Shortly, we shall sow pansies and violas for next spring's display. The seed germinates badly or unevenly in hot weather, so keep the containers as cool as you can and don't let them dry out.
I'm not bothered about winter-flowering pansies, myself, as the slugs make a great mess of them but in containers like window boxes, they can be fun.