August crept in while my back was turned; and although the garden still brims with summer, there is a definite sense of change approaching.
This week we have been surprised by darkness once more; no longer are we waking and drifting off beneath what seem to be eternally light skies, but once more we see dusk fall and turn to night; we reluctantly shut the windows and turn on lights. While there are these first faint traces of autumn approaching (more cobwebs glistening with dew to catch your face or ankles), it is a glorious time in the garden, which is full of colour and movement.
The dahlias look fantastic this year: only Twynings After Eight has yet to begin flowering, after a very late regrowth which made me fear for its survival. The cuttings I took in the spring from our other existing varieties have grown into small but happy plants, with their first buds breaking this week, trying to catch up with their parents.
Even before the flowers arrive, the dark foliage of Twynings After Eight makes a lovely foil for the soft fluffy heads of Pennisetum villosum glowing in the sun, amid a tangle of dianthus foliage and stems of gaura, calendula and nicotiana. I raised all these from seed, planting most out earlier in the year, although it is the third year for the Gaura lindheimeri and its white whirling butterflies which are just beginning to cascade.
Several plants of Lythrum virgatum that I also raised from seed somehow managed to escape my over-rigorous weeding sessions earlier in the year (I suspect that I mistook some for willowherbs). This one by the terrace is particularly strong and tall, its spires of vivid purple flowers striking against the dark pink clematis on the fence behind.
Almost two years after my autumn sowing of Echinops ritro ssp. ruthenicus, I am rewarded this year with these beautiful blue globes. The bees love them too; the open flowers are rarely unaccompanied for long.
While the cardoon leans as always at a rakish angle, and its leaves are rather ragged and unlovely, its newly opened flowerhead is stunning, and again seldom to be found without several bees feasting upon it. This week I am also watching the bottlebrush flowers beginning to open as well as enjoying the long-flowering phlox and anemones, rudbeckia and helenium, crocosmias and campanulas and the dark spires of agastache ‘Black Adder’.
These weeks are flying past furiously; fortunately it is that time of the year when for the most part the garden looks after itself, rewarding us for our hard work earlier in the year. We potter outside when time allows, pulling out the odd weed, cutting back and deadheading where required; spending most of our time harvesting salads, courgettes, beans, potatoes, beetroot, carrots and more – while the greenhouse crops have been plentiful for weeks now, with a steady supply of tomatoes, and more cucumbers than we can keep up with.
We’re growing two new varieties this year alongside our usual ‘Burpless Tasty Green’; ‘Crystal Apple’ and ‘La Diva’. We’re very impressed with both; the ‘crystal apples’ yield a crisp, delicious slice beneath their firm peel, and the small ‘la diva’ fruits are a perfect size to share in a salad, without leaving cut portions hanging around in cupboards for days. Both taste so much more ‘cucumbery’ than anything we can buy here, a real flavour of summer.
We have some sizeable winter squashes hiding in the vegetable garden already, and above the canopy of their leaves the sweetcorn are flowering madly, so we can look forward to harvesting these soon. The shallots are ready to lift too: I’ve been waiting for their plump green leaves to yellow and fade for some weeks. Suddenly this week they have no leaves left at all – it appears that the slugs have had a mad feast on the foliage, leaving just green stumps around the split clumps. Definitely time to harvest them before the ghastly gastropods tuck into the bulbs too!
As we enjoy the summer garden, I am making notes in my head of spaces to fill, seeds to collect, things to move or adjust in the autumn. I did not sow any cosmos this year, and the self-sown ones are sadly late, still no more than feathery foliage pushing up: I miss their presence in the borders at this time of year.