Garden a shambles in August? I don't think so!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

There is, or at least there has been until faily recently, a conception that gardens in August are rather dull and subdued, as if taking a rest before the pyrotechnics of autumn. The initial summer flush of flowers has faded, in a dry summer the drought will have taken its toll on the vigour of plants and many gardeners take a break in August  (the landed gentry take flight for their country estates  - I do hope some of them are regular visitors to our website!) All this can leave the garden looking shabby and uncared for. However if as in this year, there is plenty of rain, the weeding and dead heading are regularly attended to and the right choice of plants is made, the August garden, can rival any in the year.


The walk to the nursery featuring on the left impatiens tinctoria at 8 feet, and on the right perennial rudbeckia lacinata at only 7 feet with in the foreground rudbeckia "Goldsturm" the best late flowering plant in the garden: beautiful and  bombproof




The Paddock Garden borders still looking good in late August



Plant selection is so important in ensuring a continuity of colour from May to September and possibly beyond depending on when the first frost comes along. Modern planting styles such as prairie planting. the use of grasses, and the resurgence of plants like dahlias has revolutionised how we now view August in the garden. The use of tender plants bedded out for the summer and improved strains of longer lived annuals has all added to the gardeners ability to make August a special month, as unique in its own way as the first full flush of June. In addition the vegetable garden is at its most productive with the widest choice of vegetables for the table. More on all of this later.




Dull, cool and wet sums up the month. It wasn't wet all the time but just enough to persuade some stalwarts like phlox to give up rather sooner than normal, but the weather was very welcome for all the vegetables save the more tender forms like courgettes, tomatoes and peppers. Some nights were very cold with as low as 4C recorded on 2 nights and many others in single figures. The maximum temperature recorded was just 21C. At least the lawns look wonderfully green and a second cut of silage is a welcome bonus to many of our farmer neighbours.



Garden update

The border makeovers we did in the spring have paid dividends. Some of this was forced on us by the losses of last winter and some by a critical appraisal of the impact and balance of some of the more established borders. We have also this year continued to refresh borders with plants from the nursery (or the rather too regular plant buying trips) right through the summer months so that there will still be plenty for our late summer visitors to enjoy. The rains and regular feeding with Vitax Q4 or fish.blood and bone fertilsers have made a tremendous contribution to plant vigour, especially roses and later flowering clematis. Regular deadheading makes a significant contribution too and although this is a daily, time consumimg task (thank goodness for retirement!!) it does pay dividends with many plants repeat flowering which also greatly extends the season.

The vegetable harvest has been incredible with most doing exceptionally well and promising crops of runner beans, sweetcorn, courgettes and brassicas beginning to overwhelm us. We succession plant all of these to ensure a long cropping season and to avoid gluts. Runner beans in particular are cropped from 3 sowings; one under heat in early April, one under heat in early May and one direct sown in the ground in early June. This usually ensures a long harvest period of top quality beans from mid July until the frosts with not a stringy bean in sight.

We harvested an amazing crop of potatoes - a quarter of a ton!! from under 100 square metres. As always Desiree was the best cropper but we have had some large bakers from Picasso and Maris Piper. How on earth we are going to eat them all I don't know but our neighbours and friends will probably come to the rescue. Without doubt the best vegetable year since 2005. Currently we can harvest from fresh 20 varieties of vegetables, sublime Autumn Bliss raspberries and the first of the Bramley apples. 5 a day? - easy!!


A river of potatoes - some of the Desiree crop drying in the sunshine (I chose the right day to dig them!)




What's looking good?

Most of the borders still have a dramatic colourful impact and it is quite difficult to single out particular stars. This time last year it was the crocosmias that caused me to wax lyrical and they look equally marvellous this year too but to ring the changes here are some that may not be used to the limelight. What a great lead in that is and not planned. The paniculata hydrangeas sailed through the winter and because they flower on new wood they are immune to severe winters. For this reason, and as we are in such a frost pocket, we grow plenty and there is a wide selection to choose from. Currently in bloom  we have paniculata "Unique", "Phantom", Early Sensation", "Brussels Lace", Vanille Fraise", "Grandiflora", "Kyishu", and this is where we came in, "Limelight". Lime green in its early stages, turning to creamy white, I have brilliantly  (modest as always!!) teamed this with persicaria "Red Dragon" which is weaving its way through the hydrangea in the most sinuous - OK SEXY - way! I love it and so did one of our visitors yesterday which is why I don't feel I have to hold back on the praise for such incredibly gifted planting!! (I am going to keep you waiting for a pic of this sublime combination and hope my camera is up to it)



  Hydrangea paniculata "Unique" the first of this group I ever purchased and still one of the best. Like many in this group the flower colour changes from white to pink as it ages



The later flowering clematis are having a tremendous year with well over 30 forms currently in flower all over the Gardens. Many are climbers growing in a natural way through shrubs or small trees but a few are herbaceous forms now forming impressive clumps from a shrubby framework. Apart from thousands of cultivated hybrids there are about 300 wild species forms to be found throught the world. They are classified by botanists into Sections and a particular favourite of mine is the Viorna Section found in the USA. This Section can be partularly challenging to grow in a garden setting but one form , the texensis from the southern states including Texas, has been regularly hybridised over the last hundred years. Commonly called the tulip flowered clematis it is the only red flowered clematis to be found in the wild and has given its colouring to all the red clematis currently in cultivation. The flowers of some of these closely resemble the wild form in that they are tulip shaped but larger than the species form which is tiny. Currently we have named forms of "Duchess of Albany", "Gravetye Beauty", "Princess Diana" and just coming into flower "Ladybird Johnston". They are given a dedicated area in the shrub rose border where their pruning regime coincides with the roses and size (6 - 8 feet maximum) makes for comfortable bedfellows for the larger shrub roses. Like many clematis they take a while to get established, but when they do are striking, unusual and beautiful.


"Duchess of Albany"




"Gravetye Beauty"




Other later flowering clems.

Heraclifolia a semi-shrubby herbaceous clem. with scented flowers. This is the species form but there are some choice named cultivars one of the best being "Wyevale"




A superb late large flowered which is sometimes attributed to the viticella section, "John Huxtable" is a really good white with large flowers for a late flowering form




Here is a true viticella: "Kermesina" a good, reliable vigorous reddish purple. Like all viticellas cut back to 2 buds in early spring it will make good growth to 8 feet and flower by July and it is mildew and wilt free! What more could you ask?




The longest flowering section from May to October is the tanguticas, the so called orange peel clematis. This one is "Lambton Park" and like all tanguticas it has wonderful seed heads and flowers at the same time. And it is easy from seed and it sometimes flowers in its first year from seed! A real hero especially as some clems can take up to 5 years from seed to flower.



And finally one of the oldest in cultivation from 16th Century, clematis viticella Flora Plena Elegans or commonly ladies bower, a first rate double form of viticella with long lasting flowers.



Hardy annuals tend to be largely underrated and although we offer plenty for sale they are not our best sellers. If I hear "but it's only an annual" again I will go nuts!! Poppies,cornflowers, nicotianas in a wide variety, sunflowers, nigellas, molleculla ("Bells of Ireland"), iberis, amaranthus, eschsholzias, convolvulus, cosmos, rudbeckias, cleomes are staples of our borders and we would not want to be without them. Some poppies are short lived admittedly but are still worth their place. The Ladybird poppy is the only annual that consistently sells out. But if you want annuals that look like perennials, grow tall and flower from midsummer until the frosts and sometimes into a second year look no further than rudbeckias and cosmos. They both come in a good range of colours and give structure and loads of colour until late autumn frost permitting. They are classified as half hardy annuals so need to be started off in protected conditions, don't need a lot of heat to germinate, and can be sown quite late in the case of cosmos but rudbeckias need to be started earlier in order to flower in August. They are however reputed to be capable of overwintering and flowering again a second year; cheaper too for a packet of seed than a tray of bedding plants.


Rudbeckia "Marmalade" in the orange and blue border. If you had told me a few years ago I would have had an orange border I would never have believed you!




And the first ever red rudbeckia "Cherry Brandy" a stalwart of the Red Border taking over when the "Ladybird" poppies finish.




 Wildlife and countryside

A quiet month with no major news stories. It is however sad to note how few dragonflies there are this year. Whether this is reflection on last winter or a comment upon the dull summer I don't know. What is clear however from clearing out the Paddock Pond is an absence of dragonfly larvae, a worry for the future too as some can take a couple of years to become dragonflies.

It's a similar story with butterflies - even cabbage whites are scarce this year which as a vegetable grower is good news. I have seen just a few red admirals and tortoiseshells but no commas or painted ladies which are usually both common at this time of year.

Kingfishers are often heard but rarely seen usually along the river bank at the bottom of the garden. Occasionally they stray from the river over the adjacent fields and garden and it is strange to see them in what is an alien setting. 

The trees are already turning colour and for the first time the horse chestnuts have been affected by the horse chestnut leaf miner which burrows into leaves causing them to go brown and fall long before the autumn comes. It has been a growing problem in England for some years and now appears to have arrived in our part of Wales. It doesn't kill the tree but weakens them and usually means few if any conkers - a big part of autumn in my country childhood. 

The rams are back in the adjacent fields doing what comes naturally. 4 Texel rams to about 200 ewes - no wonder they look tired but happy. Texels are real characters, short and squat with thick necks and a swagger. A bit like the best Welsh front row forwards!





Only one group visit this month from Bronwydd Garden Club on one of the few good days of the month. We also had several individual visitors from as far apart as Devon and Essex.

Our main visitor event occurred last Saturday when a local couple Matthew and Nia Page had their wedding photographs taken in the garden - a first for us and a very enjoyable experience. Their generous donation to the NGS is very much appreciated They and their close family and friends were here for 2 hours but were well fortified with champagne. Everyone was well pleased with the venue and the the many photo opportunities it presented. The photographer made very good use of the Paddock Pond to take reflected images and the bridegroom was lucky at one stage not to be thrown in by his best man and ushers! At this point the best man split the trousers of his morning suit which presented another photographic opportunity, one it may be difficult to explain when the photos are published! As we always try to do everything we can for our vistors. Moira stitched up the trousers and no he wasn't still wearing them at the time.


Pics of Matthew and Nia's wedding







Back to more mundane matters, we have 3 more pre booked group visits next week by the end of which we will have had in excess of 1,000 visitors and hope to have grossed nearly £5,000 for the NGS. We are over the moon with this which is by far our best ever year.

The following week the  Autumn and Winter series of garden talks begins with 12 already booked. If you are looking for a speaker for your club or event, see our current list of talks elsewhere on our website and please get in touch to discuss your requirements.