Garden Notes: Sunlit pollinator love

July’s garden is full of life, and plenty to clear away.


The heat has hit: I stand in hot sunshine near a patch of last season’s leeks. Their tall stems list crazily, spherical pink and lavender flowerheads abuzz with insects. You would not believe their extraordinary physiognomies, colors, and configurations.

The bizarre array of pollinators whizzing in and out of flowerheads is transfixing: It is a micro, earthbound version of a “Star Wars” space cantina. Just now it seems to be mostly wasps; other times of day, more bumblebees, honeybees, and small, darting butterflies.

Languishing nearby in a slightly cooler place as the sun moves overhead is a lonely hearts club of gloriosa daisies, Verbena bonariensis, and calendula. They are all great pollinator partners, but at this particular sunny moment in time, the insect frenzy is over at the leeks.

In the garden

My own garden contains lots of self-sown nicotiana, feverfew, poppy, and foxglove. These annuals and biennials supply many pollinators with early-season support. By the second week in July, however, they begin to look passé and shabby. July growth also makes staking perennials necessary.

Demonstrating the Chelsea chop, the photos show two clumps of perennial Euphorbia corollata. One was cut back by about half, on June 22. The other, left to grow naturally, is starting to flower, and needs support. The upshot: cutting back in May and June saves staking, creates a bushier, more floriferous plant, and retards flowering.

May and June’s big show leaves behind cleanup debris and growth no longer wanted, such as stalks and seed pods on iris and peonies, hips on June-blooming roses, yellowing bleeding heart foliage, and annuals and biennials that have finished their cycles. Compost it all.

Much of July’s garden work is clearing away and cleaning up. To help with doing it, acquire an extension pruner, one tool that I find most useful, though it’s infrequently seen.

In densely planted gardens, or those with broad and wide dimensions, or climbing roses (more on this below), an extension pruner is invaluable. Even if you have the skills of an acrobat, or especially if you lack them, it makes possible reaching up, or over, to perform deadheading and pruning.

Doing the cutting-back and cleaning up leaves spaces that are perfect for plugging in annual bedding plants — cosmos, zinnias, dahlias — and also perennials that have you itching to plant (I have never seen such an array of echinaceas as this year’s).

July also sees gardeners having to deal with the appearance of insect populations. In addition to the valued pollinators, annoyances appear, such as the various small beetles, announced earlier by “white grubs” found while doing spring soil work.

These, including oriental, Asiatic, and Japanese beetles, spotted and striped cucumber beetles, and potato beetles, are difficult to control; try Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki, and a long-range program of milky spore disease (an endemic soil pathogen of these insects in their areas of origin) in turf.

Sprays containing neem oil may be helpful. Collecting, for gardeners with early morning or evening time to do it, while beetles are sluggish, can reduce populations. Collect by knocking into a jar of soapy water.

Treat caterpillars with caution; many are juvenile forms of prized butterflies.

Dry plants and ones that are hot are easily confused, but overwatering leads to rot in hot, humid weather.

Tick check, every night.

Walsh roses

Ginny Jones of West Tisbury seeks more information about the heritage roses bred in Woods Hole before WWI by Michael Walsh at the Fay estate. These were mostly in a category called ramblers, including lovely cherry-red ‘Excelsa,’ just finishing now in Island gardens and roadsides. There may be other Walsh cultivars in local gardens. (An extension pruner is a great help in maintaining one of these ramblers.)


Looks as if this year constitutes an uptick in the webworm cycle. Webworms form webbed colonies, usually at the end of branches (unlike tent caterpillars in tree crotches), and do not usually fatally harm the host plant. The webs and damage are mostly cosmetic; moreover, the branch will leaf out normally the following season.

Webworms are parasitized by tiny wasps, which lay their eggs on the caterpillar hosts. When the wasp eggs hatch, the infant wasps feed on the caterpillars. Birds and other wasps and hornets also make meals of webworms. For branches within reach, breaking open the webs with a stick so these predators can reach the caterpillars is a control method.

The Land Gardeners: Mess = life

Gorgeous cut-flower bouquets are irresistible, one of the pleasures of having a garden of one’s own, but are also created by Island talent available at various markets. Doing this far from the Vineyard in a sensational way are the Land Gardeners, U.K.-based Henrietta Courtauld and Bridget Elworthy (

For those in the know, the Land Gardeners resemble Washington state’s Floret ( They made their initial splash with over-the-top wedding flowers and supplying posh London florists, followed by walled garden designs, and gorgeous, best-selling hardcover books.

However, their real, ongoing interest is soil health, compost, and the initiative Climate Compost (

This carbon-sequestering mission seems incongruous, considering their privileged backgrounds, houses, and businesses, which grace the pages of glossy British lifestyle and garden publications.

Their inspiration seems in part to be Dieter Helm: “Where there’s mess, there’s life.” Below is an excerpt from a longer interview, in the Australian publication the Age:

“People need to get used to compost around the garden. Just like they need to get used to mess,” says Henrietta. “Where’s there’s mess, there’s life. Pockets of mess are really important. Try to make your garden as biodiverse as possible — not only for the above-ground beings, but for the microbes below too. As always, the more, the merrier.” (