“Oh so you’ve done the Chelsea Chop have you?” – accompanied by a knowing nod of approval and a slight air of smugness. It’s one of those gardening rites of passage, a little piece of jargon that makes those in the know feel just a little wiser than the rest.
It’s nothing to do with illicit substances or even anything vaguely highfalutin’ – merely a seasonal shearing of some of May’s more exuberant growth on your herbaceous perennials. But why, one might ask, on earth would you cut something back just as it’s starting to grow so well? Especially when there are legions of slugs waiting to do the job for us…
To answer this question, we must look ahead to the other end of summer. All those tall lanky stems currently zooming skyward will have bloomed madly in July and early August, leaving a late summer gap before the asters, salvias and early autumn performers hit their stride. Get the shears ready now, however and you can spread the flowering season of plants like phlox, feverfew, echinacea, rudbeckia and the taller kinds of campanulas and sedums such as ‘Autumn Joy’ now known as ‘Herbstfreude’.
It’s a simple procedure – with shears or secateurs remove the top third of the growth. Put it in the compost heap and pour yourself a glass of white to congratulate a job well done. I tend to do only half of any one kind of plant; that way I get to enjoy both the late and the early flowers. The growth will be bushier (less need to stake them), and the flowers often slightly smaller on the plants which have been trimmed. They’ll normally bloom anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month later than un-trimmed plants.
I guess that part of the ‘exclusiveness’ of the Chelsea Chop comes from the fact that it only works on certain plants. As a general rule, anything with daisy-like flowers should work, as will most herbaceous perennials that grow from fibrous roots. If it’s evergreen or grows from a bulb or rhizome, steer well clear.
If you’ve not tried it before I can thoroughly recommend it as an easy way to spread the flowering season of the plants in your garden. Remember to be kind to those which have been sliced; give them a feed and a water too, if the weather is dry. And enjoy those flowers when you come back from holiday – even if the lawn is parched, your borders will still be bright and colourful.