Time to root out the dead wood; One of the greatest garden pleasures is snipping a straggly shrub or tree into shape. And it will thank you for it too.
THIS might seem a strange time of year to be pruning but with some shrubs it is only now that dead wood and wayward stems are becoming evident. A sharp pair of secateurs used with diligence and discrimination can transform an untidy straggler into a star of the garden.
When you finish pruning a shrub or tree and stand back, there is always a sense of satisfaction. It's not just the immediate effect that gives pleasure but the knowledge that what you have done will mean a better shape, better flowering and possibly fruiting and a happier, healthier plant.
It is usually in spring and autumn that the spotlight is turned on trees. We look at spring blossom and emerging foliage or on autumn colour and fruit and berries.
But trees are important in any garden. While you can ring the changes with bulbs, annuals and even perennials, if you have room for only one tree it is important to choose the right one first go.
Visiting summer gardens is an eye-opener for seeing trees in their summer outfits and helps assess their eventual scale.
Some arboretums include planting dates on the label, as well as details of height and spread.
But it's so much better to look at the real thing.
We are lucky here at Glebe Cottage in having a tree-filled backdrop.
On our scant acre I have probably planted too many trees. It is a bad habit. When we lived in London our tiny, temporary Ladbroke Grove garden had at least 10 trees.
Fortunately, we moved before they formed the first North Kensington forest. Each was carefully lifted and went to a loving home.
Apart from two copper beech and an underestimated Prunus padus - often known as bird cherry - most of the trees we have planted at Glebe Cottage are on the small, slow-growing side and many have much to commend them during the summer. The one that holds sway at the moment, and has for the past few months come to that, is Cornus controversa 'Variegata', with spreading tiers of growth lit by its glorious cream and glaucous-green variegated leaves.
Its spreading, horizontal branches are symmetrical, cantilevered and seemingly defy gravity. It has made blossom this year - blue-black fruit may follow - but its main attraction is its striking architecture and the brilliance of its foliage.
It was lovely too in spring when its polished mahogany twigs were adorned with pointed red-lacquered buds that unfurled almost overnight into illuminated shoots.
Eventually it would demand centre stage in a small garden. If space is at a premium, Cornus alternifolia 'Variegata' is a mini-me. In summer our cornus is a brilliant beacon. It is framed by other small trees - one of them is Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendulum', also known as the katsura tree.
This is probably my favourite tree - we've planted several. In an attempt to curb my enthusiasm (katsura can become big) we put in an elegant weeping form whose waterfall branches with heart-shaped leaves trail down to the ground. You can walk through it where the branches form a natural arch over the path. It's a lovely feeling to be almost part of a tree.
As with many pendulous trees, a branch sometimes dies for no apparent reason.
Summer is a good time to prune out dead wood - you can see clearly what needs to go.
I'm using secateurs to prune back twiggy wood and a pruning saw where a bigger branch needs to come out, leaving a neat nub protruding.
At one time the horticultural wisdom was to cut flush with the trunk and paint the wound. Nowadays we leave a small protrusion so the tree can heal itself.
Japanese acers are popular in small gardens. My mum bought us several acers (one each) after our daughters were born. They do well on our substantial, neutral soil. The one that outshines the rest is Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'.
It has something to commend it in every season though is lauded most for its autumn crimson. It is lush now, its palmate green leaves tinged with crimson.
But beware planting acers in a wind tunnel. They need the protection of walls, hedges or big-brother trees to do their glamorous best.
It's not because they are sissies - they are as hard as nails in the cold - but in their native habitat grow under a canopy of trees that protects their thin leaves.
ASK CAROL QCAN I save seeds from my aquilegias? Will they come true? Liz Freeman ABECAUSE aquilegias flower so early, their seed is set and very often ready for collection by July. Wait till the pods go brown and the seed turns black and shiny.
Sow some and save some until spring. Aquilegias can be notoriously promiscuous so they may not be identical but most are special with their own personality.
QSHOULD I put my orchid outside for the summer? Frank Young ACYMBIDIUMS and phalaenopsis (moth orchids) are two of the most commonly grown orchids and both will benefit from spending a summer outside.
Put them somewhere sheltered, out of direct sun.
Water frequently and every few weeks feed with orchid food or a very dilute solution of general liquid fertiliser.
Let them enjoy the rain but take them back inside before any frost.
QCAN I grow courgettes in a grow bag? Philip Gibson AYES, you can. But it's unlikely they'll have enough nutrients to flower and therefore fruit adequately.
You'll need to feed them a lot to get a halfway decent harvest.
A moth orchid in bloom
Cornus alternifolia 'Variegata' with its horizontal branches
Carol gets to work pruning dead branches from Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendulum', above, and leaves of the Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki', inset
Picture by JONATHAN BUCKLEY