June is the month when growth and flowering usually hits its peak in our garden. This year, while growth is now lush and has caught up after a slow and cold start to the growing season, flowering of many plants, such as peonies, is several weeks behind and their floral performance is notably less abundant and more fleeting.

While an Irish summer is never dependably sunny, here in the midlands, it certainly seems that we are experiencing cooler, dull and more overcast days than normal, punctuated by occasional days of warm and glorious sunshine alongside deluges of rain and with everything in between.

For me, one thing that provides reassurance that it is indeed summer is the fragrance of philadelphus in the garden. With fully double, large, white blooms from June into early July, philadelphus ‘Virginal’ is a shrub that I have known and loved since childhood. It still grows in our front garden and exudes one of the most evocative scents of summer.

Known as mock orange, the delicious perfume of philadelphus flowers is similar to that of citrus or orange blossom: sweet and heavy with notes of orange and jasmine. Philadelphus coronarius ‘Belle Etoile’ has a particularly strong, fruity fragrance. The single blooms are stained purple at the base of the petals which surround golden stamens and they are a wonderful source of pollen and nectar.

It flowers profusely, forming a neat shrub with arching branches. Another favourite is philadelphus microphyllus. Growing to about 1.2 metres high, this has slender, arching stems and tiny, silver green leaves. The white blooms, which feature a purple blotch at their centres, are just opening now all along the stems and their scent is truly captivating.

Philadelphus are generally best placed at the back of a mixed border because their visual offering diminishes when not in flower, but their powerful perfume will pervade and travel on the air. Some compact varieties, such as ‘Snowbelle’, ‘Sybille’ and ‘Manteau d’Hermine’, are available for smaller gardens, and these can also be grown in a large container, near a seating area or doorway where you can make the most of the fragrant flowers.

Philadelphus grows best in moist but well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. If the soil is too rich, it tends to grow taller and more leafy, with fewer flowers. The golden-leaved form, philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’, and Philadelphus coronarius ‘Variegatus’, pith broad, creamy margins on its green leaves. However, they are a little fussier – give them some protection from bright sunlight to prevent the leaves scorching.

I grow both in locations that are shaded in the morning and get afternoon sun and they seem happy. Philadelphus plants flower on their previous year’s growth so make sure to carry out any required pruning immediately after flowering. This will give your plant the maximum amount of time to develop strong, new growth to produce next year’s flowers.

This month’s to-do list

1 Tie in sweet peas as they grow – this ensures they don’t flop and break their stems. Pick sweet peas regularly or flowering may start to slow down or even stop. Regular liquid feeding will help ensure a profusion of blooms throughout summer.

2 If you must prune your flowering cherry tree, do so only in late June or early July, after flowering and when risk of exposure to the air-borne fungal spores of silver leaf disease is at its lowest.

3 Guide the new shoots of climbers in the direction you need them to grow to provide good, even coverage of their supports. If necessary, carefully tie them in with string or similar soft material.

4 Be alert to drier spells of weather when you will need to ensure plants have plenty of water. Concentrate on newly-planted plants, young vegetables, and plants in containers, as these need water most.

Timely reminder: sow seeds of biennials

While we mostly associate spring with sowing seeds, biennials are a group of plants that are best sown from early to midsummer. Biennials take two years to complete their life cycle. Sow them now and they will germinate and form a rosette of leaves this year, which will be followed by flowers next spring. The plant will then set seed and die off in the autumn and winter. The ripened seeds can be harvested and sown to start the cycle again.

Sow seeds now of sweet William to flower next year.

Biennials include many old-fashioned favourites, such as foxgloves, forget-me-nots, sweet William, wallflowers and Queen Anne’s lace. These all tend to flower early in the season and can be extremely useful to bridge the floral gap between spring and summer. They can be added to pots or containers.

Out and About

  • Saturday, 22 June: Tullynally Plant Fair: Time: 11am to 4pm. Venue: Tullynally Castle, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, N91 HV58.
  • Saturday, 29 June and Sunday, 30 June: Open Weekend at Clonohill Gardens<, Coolrain, Co Laois R32NF80. Time: 2pm to 6pm. Admission €10 includes afternoon tea. All proceeds to Laois Hospice.
  • Open Gardens

    Whether you are a keen gardener or simply like a day out immersed in beauty and nature, there is little that can be more enjoyable than losing oneself rambling around a garden on a summer’s afternoon. Visiting other people’s gardens can also be a great source of inspiration and ideas.

    Many garden owners are very gracious in sharing their gardening knowledge and experiences and are often the best resources for learning some great gardening tips. Recently, I was privileged to be invited to launch Shirley Lanigan’s new book The Open Gardens of Ireland, RRP € 25, where I met several delightful garden owners whose diverse creations feature amongst the 375 gardens described in the book, and that can be visited across Ireland’s 32 counties.

    Shirley Lanigan’s lyrical writing style brings out the distinctive and unique character of each garden and vividly paints enticing images that makes this comprehensive guide an essential companion for garden visiting.

    Keep it in your car for reference as you travel around Ireland this summer.

    The Open Gardens of Ireland by Shirley Lanigan is available in all good bookshops.

    Mary Keenan and Ross Doyle run Gash Gardens in Castletown, Co Laois which is open to the public. gashgardens.ie