A marvellously colourful August for the 3rd year in succession

Monday, August 26, 2013

August can sometimes be a capricious month, promising much yet failing to deliver. To some extent how the garden looks in August depends on careful selection of late flowering plants but mostly it is influenced by the weather.  In the  last 3 years it has been the best month of the summer. Although the weather this year was hot throughout July many plants just seem to have held back and decided to wait for the rain to come before getting into flowering mood - the total opposite to2012. Then they held back because of a lack of sunshine. The result has however been the same.

The Paddock Borders in all their colourful slendour


The core border plants which have the greatest impact because of their size and bold colours, dahlias, lilies and daylilies to name but a few,  just refused to get going but when they did there was no stopping them transforming the borders in every area of the gardens. I can scarcely recall them looking better which was great for all our visitors and especially for us as we had substantially added plants to many areas of the gardens during spring and early summer. This is one of those News Items when there is so much to tell you about it is difficult to know where to begin. On the basis that "a picture is worth a thousand words" here is a flavour of the gardens in August.

Dahlias "Wittemans  Best" the red one in the foreground and "Karma Choc" the almost black one with similarly dark foliage



Late flowering large leaved agapanthus around the Koi Pond revelling in the late summer sunshine.



A touch of the tropics in mid Wales. Abyssinian red banana which has grown huge planted in the border soil



 A view across the North Facing Paddock Border with hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle" in the foreground picking up the shape of the clipped yew at the back. Pure chance like many of the best things in gardening.



In a quiet corner of the garden a bridge leads across the stream to the woodland garden, a lovely contrast to all the colour elsewhere. Note too the fine stand of hosta "Frances Williams" still looking perfect in late August.



Rosa "Lolabelle" a fine bush form with good bicoloured flowers and disease free bronze coloured foliage



A dainty clematis specie addisonii from the southern states of the USA but hardy here. Flowers about half an inch or so.




A good mix of weather from warmth and sunshine to heavy rain at times but unlike last August, hardly any wind. As a consequence little watering to do apart from tunnels, nursery and greenhouses - thank goodness!! Max 25C on 22 August and a min of just 6C on 25th. For most of the month it was warm day and night but when it rained, it rained!! 


Garden update

Vegetables have been fantastically successful and all the disappointments of last year have been forgotten as we have been deluged by over 20 types of vegetables during the month. Although too numerous to list separately those that have given greatest satisfaction are peas "Hurst Green Shaft"(none last year) carrots "Early Nantes2" (ravaged by carrot fly and the weather last year),  beetroot a superb crop of evenly sized roots from a variety called Monica, a monogerm type from D T Brown and a wide choice of brassicas untroubled by clubroot and rabbits. Cabbage Primo 2  a long established cultivar and personal favourite, stood for at least 6 weeks throughout the hot weather and most of  August without splitting or bolting, with good tight heads for cooking and excellent too for coleslaw. Highly recommended. Given that the potatoes were planted late by my standards and the dry weather in July, the crop has been good with only late blight in the last week or so. Fine quality and superlative taste from "Exquisa" and the usual reliability from "Charlotte" which stores well and in fact tastes better the longer it is kept.


Buried treasure - a good crop of Exquisa potatoes which were only planted in the middle of May


Finally if you grow corgettes or runner beans you don't need me to tell you about the crops these are producing, especially as my runners have all come at once, something I desperately try tlo avoid, but the weather played havoc with my usual sowing regimes

 3 varieties of runner bean "Enorma", "Polestar" and the best "White Lady" with bigger crops and juicier pods



Water liles have revelled in the sunshine and warm water and flowered prolifically. The Canadian pond weed has gone crazy and I have had to "weed" the Paddock Pond on a regular basis as I like to have some clear water to provide reflection of the pondside planting and to see more clearly the shoals of rudd and all their offspring. 





Our lovely lawns have struggled a bit in spite of irrigation, because of a plague of red thread, a fungal disease which although rarely fatal  to grass, leaves superficial brown patches all over the lawns It thrives in hot weather and heavy early morning dew.

In spite of the fine qualities of all the other areas of the garden the mixed/ herbaceous borders are the stars of the show and the most obvious attractions for our visitors. They are more packed with plants than ever before and augmented by a range of late flowering annuals such as cosmos and rudbeckias which are revelling in the late summer heat. Bedded out tender and half hardy perennials particularly salvias which come into flower as the day length shortens, raise the colour and interest levels still further, all of these flowering until the first frosts. They are easily propogated now for next year from semi ripe cuttings, if only you can find the time!!


Salvia corrugata a ssub shrub to 4 feet with briiliant blue flowers all summer much appreciated by bumble bees.



What's looking good?

A visitor to Great Dixter once asked the owner, the late lamented Christopher Lloyd what was his favourite plant, In the laconic way of his he replied that it was the plant he happened to be looking at. 

I feel the same way which is why it is difficult to choose the stars of this month from a firmament filled with them  but here are some of the current best.

So much it's difficult to know where to begin. What I can be certain of is that until the daylilies, dahlias and late lilies bloomed the borders seemed less vibrant, and the Red Border in particular less red than it should have been. Thanks to great big in your face dahlias like " Witteman's Best" and "Summer Night" all that has changed. In the same border there are numerou plantings of 7 feet tall lilium speciosum "Black Beauty" totally hardy and much more vigorous in the ground than in a pot. Daylilies "Scalet Oak",  "Ed Murray" a really dark red and "Night Beacon" all raise the temperature together with the excellent red annual rudbeckia "Cherry Brandy".


At 7 feet tall this impressive lilium speciosum "Black Beauty"



If you grow daylilies never lose the label! This unknown varietyis a delicate shade of lemon with a lime green eye with a particularly long season of flowering.



Elsewhere crocosmias in a wide variety are coming to their peak with the dark leaved and golden orange flowered "Gerbe d'Or" catching the attention of many visitors alongside a  yellow form "George Davidson" which flowers prolifically even though some of the clumps are congested and probably need splitting. In the red border a more upright and less invasive form and better red than the ubiquitous "Lucifer"is "Emberglow" with a long season of flowering.

 Crocosmia "Emberglow"




In spite of the obvious attractions of perennials I use annuals freely throughout the gardens, the best of which like rudbeckias and cosmos reach their peak in late August. At the entrance to the gardens I have planted a large block of tall flowering cosmos in shades of pink and white to 5 feet  tall (don't always trust the seed packets as to eventual height!) and was very pleased to see tha same approach adopted at Aberglasney Gardens on a visit there last week.



I have also in some areas of the gardens sought to introduce a more relaxed planting regime to the borders a good example being the Park Border on the western boundary of Cilgwyn Lodge. In full sun and well drained soil the large drifts of less varied planted have created a different colour palate which makes a welcome change from the one I usually adopt


Agastache rugosa, crocosmias "Star of the East" and "George Davison", achillea ptarmica, nicotiana alata, poppies and cornflowers.



At the end of this border is perhaps my favourite part of the garden at the moment because I so rarely achieve it. I planted a small block of zinnias as I do every year more in hope than expectation because they need rather more warmth and sunshine than we usually have here in West Wales. This year  however they have gone crazy and reached their full potential. Sumptuous glorious flowers - hope I don't have to wait too long for another show like this.


Zinnias! They look much better than this in the garden.



Hydrangeas are great shrubs for late summer with a wide range of cultivars to choose from. The problem is that in a frost pocket garden like ours where frost in late May/early June is not unknown, many of the mop headed and lacecap macrophyllas and to a lesser extent the serratas,  get frosted so we have no flowers later in the year. The answer is to grow a good selection of forms  that flower reliably on new wood (arborescens like "Annabelle" but particularly the paniculatas). The size of the flowers and ultimate height of the plant is governed by the pruning regime. They can be hard pruned back to one or two buds when the plant will be shorter but the flowering stems much larger, or gently pruned just below last years flower when the plant will be taller but the flowers smaller. I prefer the latter regime firstly to get more height in the borders where they grow and secondly less floppy flowerheads. The only downside is that the flowers are usually in white or cream shades but most paniculatas turn to various shades of pink or red as they age.

The best ones I have found are "Vanille Fraise" with long pointed panicles of flowers that age to a lovely soft pink, and "Magical Fire" whose late colour show is of a deeper shade of red. A variety called "Phantom" has very large full flowerheads , whereas "Kyushu" has a more lacecap effect. Hardy everywhere and lovely additions to any garden.


"Vanille Fraise"



And the same plant on the middle right of of a mixed border


Wildlife and Countryside

The fields are green again after looking very brown in July and it will soon be "tupping" time of year when the rams return to start the lamb production process once again. How quickly the year goes around! Thoughts too turn to cutting firewood for the winter as the day length shortens and the dew is thick on the ground every morning. With the the approach of autumn comes the annual bounty of funghi particularly edible field mushrooms which hopefully after the heat and rain should be making an appearance soon. In the meantime we have a fantastic show just over the garden gate where 2 giant puffballs appeared in just a few days. Larger than a football they make an impressive sight and although edible in the early stages I am too much of a whimp to try them consoling myself that when they get to this size they are past their best and unpalatable. In a week or so the spores will form and they will deflate as quickly as a punctured football.


Look at the size of them alongside a garden trowel for comparison.


Whilst the warm sunny days remain the vast insect population continues to enjoy them to the full. Honey bees in good numbers at last particularly on the emerging sedum flowers are still outnumbered as they have been all summer, by a wide range of bumble bees. Wasps are troublesome as always at this time of year. We are used to disposing of wasps nests in hot summers like this one, but a couple of weeks ago we became aware of wasps setting up a colony in the eaves of the house. No obvious nest but they came and went without troubling us. Then we started to find huge wasps like  Queens falling from the eaves in a comatose state. I have a gardening friend Julian who is an authority on insect behaviour and as usual he was able to supple the answer. To save time repeating it here please visit his Gallery  dated 16 August on his wonderful website at www.thegardenimpressionists.wordpress.com

 The highlight of all the insect visitors notwithstanding some impressive large dragonflies is the number of butterflies. Not a huge variety and too many Large and Small Cabbage Whites for my liking, but Peacocks are the most numerous closely followed by Tortoishells and Red Admirals. A few Commas and Small Gatekeepers but not enough Painted Ladies,  continental cousins that only come here in a good summer. Favourite plants for all of them are inula hookerii with big open, upright flowers, and agastache rugosa with spikes of blue which is always plastered in the largest number of insects; both plants are an obvious choice for those wishing to attract insects into the garden.

A red dragonfly just emerging from the larval stage



 A Comma butterfly samples the first flower of nova angliae "September Ruby"



Inula hookerii - the butterfly restaurant!



Much of the bird life is seen around the Paddock Pond and river with Grey Wagtails common and the fascinating Dipper regularly seen. The Dipper never strays far from the water often "swimming" briefly under the water in search of insects which are its main prey. It is easily identified by its chubby build, black and white plumage and constant bobbing up and down which gives it the name of Dipper. Kingfishers are much in evidence too as seems to be the case at this time of year and one day I hope to capture a picture to prove it!!


Visits and vistors

Visitors have continued in good numbers throughout August and we  have just reached £2,000 for the charities supported by The National Gardens Scheme. There have been over 350 visitors so far this year including 6 coaches from mainland Holland and Germany and we thank them all for their support. We have one more group booked for mid September plus any late bookings that may come in at short notice. With so much fine weather we have only had 2 visits in the rain. We intend to open again in 2014 on behalf of The National Gardens Scheme for "By Appointment" visits from June to September. Groups up to 50 can be accommodated in the Gardens but we can only provide teas for groups not exceeding 16 people. Teas can however be arranged for larger groups in Myddfai Visitor Centre and Community Hall just 2 miles from the gardens.

In between visits this month we have had several of our own to Shropshire for Wollerton Old Hall and Derwen Garden Centre, the retail outlet of Dingle Nurseries, the largest in Wales with a huge range of stock at very competitive prices. to Stockton Bury Gardens near Leominster one of of our all time favourite gardens and nearer to home Aberglasney, our nearest public garden.

  A quiet corner of Stocton Bury


We hope to squeeze in just a few more garden, nursery and plant fair visits during September. Well you just have to! - we always need inspiration and yet more plants to improve still further the Gardens. Happy gardening.


As a thank you for reading all through this long News item, a little posy of late sweet peas from the garden with our love!! Moira has adored these red shades all summer, which perfectly compelement her colour scheme in the conservatory.