In the Garden Spring/Summer 2012

Planting doesn't just happen in the spring. The summer months are a wonderful time to grow your favourite vegetables and flowers!

Go wild with native strawberries!

We’ve answers to all your your Spring/Summer gardening questions

The big question this time of year is . . . When is the best time to start growing organic edibles so that I have a supply through the fall, winter and early spring?

Believe it or not, June through July is the time to plant hardy cabbage, leeks, sprouting broccoli, Swiss chard, and – the easiest and most reliable of all – kale! Sow seed for all overwintering veggies sparingly, transplanting single seedlings to 10-cm (4-in.) pots when they have four or so leaves. Keep plants watered, feed occasionally. Move into vacant spots in your garden late August through September.

Green green grass
Be green: let your lawn go brown

Don’t stress about your lawn if it goes crispy in the heat. Brown is the new green, and conserving water is the good karma here. Despite your lawn’s dormancy, the roots are alive and it will green up quickly in fall rains.

Fall is also the best time to seed grass, rather than spring. After mowing, leave the clippings – they add nitrogen and are a natural (and free) “lawn food.” If you choose to irrigate, do this just once weekly, dousing your turf with a total of 2.5 cm (1 in.) of water measured with a tuna can in the sprinkler’s line of fire. Frequent shallow waterings only create shallow roots.

Set mower blades high – taller grass shades out weeds. And never water at night, as this encourages disease.

Attracting the birds and bees enhances biodiversity in the backyard and on your balcony. Beneficial insects (that eat so-called “bad” bugs) need nectar to energize their airborne searches for prey, and help with pollination while they gather this fuel.

Key plants that attract beneficial creatures to your outdoor space are perennial Nepeta, Salvia, Veronica, yarrow, lavender, Eryngium (sea holly), heather, blossoms of oregano, mint, fennel and other herbs; annuals alyssum, buckwheat, calendula, Nicotiana, ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia, sunflowers (with pollen) and zinnia. Bees go mad for yellow broccoli and kale flowers too.

Feed tomatoes in planters weekly. If well amended with organic matter, in-the-garden tomatoes will be just fine. Pinch suckers (those little shoots that form like crazy on indeterminate-type tomatoes). You want the plant’s energy to go into forming delicious fruits and not the leaves.

If lettuce tastes bitter, water more frequently. Lettuce needs to grow quickly to be sweet, so provide occasional feedings and never allow it to dry out.

If you haven’t started squash, pumpkins and cukes already, direct-sow by the first week of June, or purchase plants. Container gardeners might try compact but vigorous ‘Astia’ zucchini.

Delicate, delicious and difficult to find at the market, wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are undemanding, easy in the garden or in pots. Search out white and red varieties in garden centres or grow from seed if you are very patient.


Pink veronicaFresh green leeks
Left: Pink veronica is honey to bees. Right: Plant leeks in June for winter and spring crops

Time-challenged would-be gardeners craving homegrown produce can take advantage of crops that linger for years in the garden: strawberries, raspberries, asparagus and Egyptian walking onions. Reliable self-sowers like kale, cilantro, mache, miner’s lettuce, orache, arugula and lettuce (allowed to go past regular harvest stage to become tall and pretty plants before going to seed) – all are boons to the busy. In this case, it’s best if you are not a tidy gardener, as seed must be left to “volunteer.” Vigorously perennial “wild” arugula (‘Sylvetta’) is ideal for those who enjoy its particularly spicy (hot!) flavour.


Wishing for organic leeks? It’s easy to grow them yourself and they can tolerate less than full sun. In cooler zones, purchase transplants or try winter-hardy varieties like ‘Siegfried Frost’; on the coast, direct-seed in June or buy plants.

Try Jamie Oliver’s approach to growing peas: lightly rake ready-to-grow soil, toss in the seed, rake lightly, water well and stand back. Small branches or sticks pruned from your own garden serve as supports, stuck in here and there. Try this with a mixture of seed – including peas, lettuce and any other salad or Asian green, radishes, turnips. All grow surprisingly well nuzzled together – insects are baffled, and harvesting is interesting and fun.

Grow real French tarragon, avoiding the ersatz (virtually tasteless) Artemisia dracunculus often proffered as tarragon. Not grown from seed but from divisions, this licorice-y green thrives with a caveat: unlike most perennial herbs, it prefers to be well fed. Left in the same spot, tarragon gobbles up nutrients, losing vigour and becoming straggly. So, move it around in your garden every three years to new fertile ground or in containers, mulching with organic material. Tarragon is super easy to divide so you can share with friends. Snip into finishing sauces for fish or chicken, toss into French potato salad, enjoy in salad dressings.

Fresh herbs in pots
Keep culinary herbs close to
the kitchen door

Speaking of herbs, they’re lovely in the garden, of course, but they’re also growing on my sunny back porch in plain terra-cotta pots near the kitchen for last minute snips. Chives, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, basil – they are all delicous additions to salads and cooking; if you make it easy to use them, you will!

Garden suffering the blahs in summer? You don’t necessarily have to turn to annuals to satisfy your craving for colour in the summer garden. Two sure things: Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and many of the new repeat-blooming Echinacea cultivars, my favourite being ‘Tomato Soup’ – this is one wild colour; tomato soup should be so lucky.

Other reliable summer bloomers come highly recommended by knowledgeable plant lovers:

  • The UBC Botanical Garden Shop’s Kathy Shynkaryk – both a F.O.G. (Friend of the Garden) and master gardener – recommends roses like ‘Frau Dagmar Haustrup’ and repeat-flowering rugosas. Clematis ‘Vyvyan Pennell’ and ‘Walter Pennell’ are her top two choices if you have the vertical space. (And I love red C. texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty’.) Balcony gardeners who grow their plants contained will want to check out the Raymond Evison series of these popular vines, especially bred to be low-growing and ideal for smaller spaces.

  • The Natural Gardener’s Bob Tuckey named the two stars of his summer garden: statuesque Thalictrum rochebruneanum with its cloud-like masses of soft pink flowers. His other recommendation is Actaea ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ – elegant black foliage followed by tall spikes of white fragrant blooms.

  • “Yarrow (Achillea) makes me happy,” says Heather Neilsen, secretary of the Master Gardeners Association, and she most particularly admires ‘Cerise Queen’, with magenta flowers fading to pink. I happen to know that it makes the honeybees visiting her garden very happy too.

  • Karen Luke, landscape architect and my wonderful neighbour, names Magnolia grandiflora, hydrangeas and daylilies as a few to rely on through summer. Later in the summer, dahlias are what she craves, and lots of them!

Pink hydrangea
Hydrangea is a summer staple (Image by Baileys)

Protect new evergreen plantings by:

  • Avoiding the volcano effect of hilling up soil around the stem or trunk. Instead, make a crater to catch water and allow it to soak into the roots.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch – just like the forest floor – with fir bark, cones and pebbles. Mulch retains moisture, regulates soil temperature, deters weeds and releases nutrients over time.
  • Watering deeply and regularly, avoiding light sprinkling (which creates surface roots easily burned in hot weather). 

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.