The August Bank Holiday weekend gave us two days of good gardening weather, before a damp windswept Monday that drove us back indoors.
It was the first weekend we’ve had for some time where we could just immerse ourselves in the garden from morning till late afternoon, and we made the most of it. While digging or bending are slightly out of my repertoire these days, I still had a good list of jobs in my head to tackle, and set to with gusto.
Walking around the garden before deciding on my first task of the day, it was a pleasant surprise to find a late flush of new growth and flowers on one of the Verbascum chaixi album which was so decimated by mullein moth caterpillars early in the year. I cut back most of that moth-eaten foliage a month or two ago, and the plant has responded with this lovely fresh surge of foliage and spires, unmarred this time by predators.
Prevarication over, I then set to work, beginning with a pair of hand shears, trimming the beech hedging that we planted as bareroot whips three years ago along the boundary of our front garden, after we had finally cleared the builders rubble and began to reclaim the garden. There are a few gaps where some of the saplings haven’t grown as strongly as their neighbours, but slowly the plants are starting to knit together into a hedge. A definite improvement on the scraggly young plants at this time three years ago, as we were getting ready to turf the front lawn.
With the beech tidied up, I spent an hour or two on my hands and knees, trimming the lavender and weeding the rest of the narrow borders along two edges of this lawn area. Next on my list was more hedge-tidying, this time the native hedging that we also planted as maiden whips in the spring of 2011, along part of the south boundary of our back garden. Freeing up a narrow corridor to move more easily between the planting in the field border and the hedging was satisfying, and the hedge here is really establishing well, with hawthorn, blackthorn, rosa rubrifolia glauca, spindle and hazel all weaving densely into one another, the hawthorn and roses already bedecked with berries and hips.
Meanwhile, King of the Hill was also hard at work, first modifying the woodstore on the patio, and then unleashing his chainsaw on the garden. He took off some wayward branches on the peach tree, and then cut back hard the wild damson trees that form a shelter belt further along the field boundary between the shed and the greenhouse. Standing tall along the south boundary, these trees really shade the small vegetable bed that we usually tend here, which we cleared of the last crops ready to accommodate the fallen branches. By the end of the day, we had between us shredded most of the woody material that quickly piled up here, cutting the larger pieces for firewood, and once more reclaimed the now fallow bed, which can soon be prepared for crops next spring. The difference in the light levels here after we had finished was enormous – even the cat looked surprised. Although the damsons should shoot up vigorously again in the spring, we hope to keep them a little lower in future to maximise the light in this area, and therefore the crops that we grow here.
Besides the blaze of Dahlias in the kitchen border, the garden is quieter than usual at this time of year, a modest palette of colour coming from foliage and grasses, and a few late-blooming perennials: loosestrife, geraniums, roses, clematis, helenium, gaura, asters, Verbena bonariensis, Echinops ritro, Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ and Japanese anemones. For a number of reasons, many of our usual late-summer flowerers around the garden have not returned this year, including monarda, achillea, echinacea and rudbeckia, which should be some of the season’s stalwarts. Sadly, the vibrant purple Salvia Amistad which I planted out hopefully – and enjoyed – this time last year has not returned, though the seed-raised Lobelia vedrariensis which I planted out this weekend are full of similar deep purple promise, just emerging. The first seedlings that I planted out earlier this summer were immediately devoured by slugs, so I kept the remainder in pots until now, hoping that they are big enough to fight off predators – though they are likely to need protection early next year if they are to avoid decimation. Sadly, as the garden establishes itself, we are experiencing more damage from slugs and snail; a natural response to the increasing cover.
I have been nurturing trays of echinacea, achillea and nepeta, along with various other seedlings, none of which will add colour to the garden this year, but hopefully should bring some impact next year. The best location for these plants, which like sunshine and good drainage, is the long border ( part of which is shown above) which faces south. For a couple of years, echinacea, rudbeckia and other sun-loving plants that I grew from seed flourished in the opposite border, but as its planting (and the native hedge that bounds it) has matured since its initial creation a few years ago, the conditions have changed such that the majority of the bed receives less sun, and these plants have duly disappeared. This year a large hole has appeared in the border, where a clump of Scabiosa drakensbergensis has sprawled in an unseemly wheel of thick stems radiating along the otherwise bare ground for several feet, before the foliage and flowers finally stand up at the perimeter and weave into their neighbours. Not an ideal posture for a plant!
With a large and vigorous clump of Geranium x magnificum taking up valuable space in the long border, its ample lush foliage in the spring providing the perfect foil for slugs and snails to munch through any later emerging plants that try to push up beneath this canopy, and the similarly sized gap in the field border, I decided to transplant the amiable geranium across the garden to join the other two clumps already flourishing in the field border, and make space in the sunnier border for my fledgling sun-loving plants. The roots were rather more substantial than I’d anticipated, so after wrestling briefly with a spade, I had to ask King of the Hill to finish digging out the plant and complete the transfer for me.
This geranium does have a short season, but for the month of June it is a glorious blaze of huge purple flowers that thrum with bees, and the rest of the year it forms a pleasing well-rounded hummock of green foliage, performing equally well in the conditions of either border. While three is a more pleasing number in the border than two, it may prove one too many for this area in terms of value for space, but we shall see. For the time being it has filled in the unsightly gap nicely, and freed up room in the opposite border for some of my seedlings, including a couple of the Lobelia vedrariensis which are still coming into flower. I then reverse-transferred a couple of plants from the field border to this sunny patch: the rather better behaved Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’, which has a more modest footprint, and Eryngium planum ‘Blue Glitter’, which has flowered happily for a few years in its border, until this year when it was swamped by the sprawling foliage of one of those clumps of Geranium x magnificum and almost shaded out by the tall growth behind it to sulk with little decent growth and no flowers. Hopefully returning it to a sunnier spot will restore it to its full glory next summer.
The change in conditions of the field border since planting it out three years ago is a fascinating example of the constant evolution of a garden, and is really making me think about some of my plant choices. In the main, the border is thriving and I am pleased with the developing planting, but there are always small tweaks…