The sublime summer continues

Friday, August 1, 2014

July is in many respects the defining month of our gardening year.. All our borders are heavily dependent upon herbaceous perennials for their impact and July is the time when the greatest number are in flower giving a real "wow factor" and delighting our many visitors. Because of the exceptional growth since early May, everything is at least 2 weeks earlier than normal, with dieramas coming into flower in the first week of the month, the best show of flowers ever on the acanthus, and daylilies at last getting over the worst effects of the hemericallis gall midge which devastated the flowers on the earlier flowering forms. There are so many other examples of exceptional growth and earliness too numerous to list but these pictures will give you some idea of the overall effect.


The Paddock Garden borders in early July



The Lodge and Picket Fence Cottage Garden border



The view northwards from the Picket Fence border and and the blue skies which were a feature of the month


The fine weather and absence of any significant rain has required continuous daily watering, in the borders, the tunnels, greenhouses and in the Nursery. Thanks to our friend Robert, the "lawns guru" who kindly volunteered for watering duties, we were able for the first time in many years to have 2 short breaks in July to recharge the batteries, and do some garden visiting including one very special pilgrimage which, to keep you in suspense, I will tell you about later.



In common with rest of the UK, it was a really warm, sunny July with just enough rain at the right time (although we would have liked more - typical gardeners - never satisfied!).  Whilst copious watering can compensate to some extent for lack of rain, you cannot replicate  warmth day and night which summer flowering plants respond to more than anything else and we certainly had this throughout the month. There were only 3 days with heavy rain, and  26 days with temperatures abov 21c, warmest day on 26th with 27.2C but very humid. Only one night with a minima below 10c on 9th. Light winds were another welcome feature of the month.


Garden update

I have already sung the praises of some of the herbaceous stars,some  others are monardas, thalictrums, lilies, phlox (showing some signs of mildew because of insufficient water at the roots), and superb hydrangeas in a wide range of macrophylla, serratas, paniculatas and asperas, all much earlier than usual.


An explosion of colour in the Red Border with from top to bottom phlox "Star Fire". monarda "Garden View Scarlet", hemerocallis "Scarlet Oak" and helenium "Sahins Early Flowerer" and more "Garden View Scarlet" in the foreground



A superb tree lily "Hollywood" rivalling cardiocrinum giganteum in size, floriferousness and scent. From humble beginnings in four years it has reached 7 feet tall. It is set off nicely with 2 fine phlox in the foreground



And talking of phlox what about this beauty, "Blue Paradise" My favourite phlox is long flowering with a stunning scent and a blue colour which is more intense at twilight. This pic. has not been digitally enhanced.



Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana makes an impressive statement in the Paddock Shade Border, 7 feet wide and tall. It is difficult to grow well so I am really pleased by its showing this year


I am particularly pleased with the vegetables after a slow start and constant visitations of rabbits. I have accounted for 17 in the Gardens and lately there seems to be far less damage (hope that isn't being too premature!). All of a sudden there is a good choice coming to harvest including runner beans, French beans, huge cabbages, fly free carrots, plenty of different salad leaves, superb outdoor cucumbers as large as indoor varieties from a form called Burpees. Some large bulbs of garlic were harvested yesterday and the onions are filling out nicely. Potatoes  planted out late have nevertheless made a good size, especially Charlotte which although classifed as a salad variety 2nd early, makes absolutely fabulous French Fries. More on the best of the veggies under the next heading.


The roots section of the vegetable garden filling out nicely. Note the fleece to keep rabbits and carrot fly at bay.


I am often seduced into thinking that July is one of the easiest times of the year but am quickly dragged back to reality when I reflect upon all the dead heading there is to do - with roses and daylilies especially it is an every day time consumung task. Weeding, lawn mowing and edging are always a priority. In  our 7 metre wide borders with tightly packed planting it can be very difficult to reach plants needing dead-heading or cutting back, and weeding is exceptionally challenging - and by the way don't be fooled into thinking that the closer you plant things, the less weeds you will have although I do acknowledge it does help; however they still have a way of establishing themseilves in the tightest planting scheme. From whence they can soon break out to achieve total garden domination!

Imagine getting into the middle of this section of the Red Border to do some essential  maintenance  without treading on any of the plants!


Another important July task in the borders is to refresh the plantings to keep the colour show going towards autumn,  particularly where early flowering perennials have finished. This is when late flowering annuals like cosmos and rudbeckias, and half hardy perennials especially salvias come into their own. The possibilities are endless if you use imagination and get your timings right  Grown on in decent sized pots (up to 2 litres) during the late spring and early summer they can reach a good size for planting out now so that they make an immediate impact lasting until the frosts return. We were disappointed recently to find that a few of the gardens we visited this month had not done this, for whatever reason.

There are several  other ways of adding colour including the use  of the framework of large plants like delphiniums which have gone over, is to grow late flowering clematis or perennial sweet pea over them. Some violas and geraniums like Ann Folkard can scramble their way through spent perennials to fill unsightly gaps. When all else fails, very large pots of anything you fancy (but especially lilies) can be plunged temporarily into the borders to raise their profile. Hard work yes and the pots will require regular watering, but well worth the effort and if it was good enough for Gertrude, quite good enough for the likes of you and me!

However hard we try however there will nevertheless still be some failures or disappointments. The cabbage white butterflies are back with a vegance now and even though I keep my brassicas under horticultural fleece as long as possible they still manage to find a way in to lay their eggs. The potato blight has hit us in the last couple of weeks, some varieties being more susceptible than others and this year,"Blue Belle" a main crop variety which is new to me, is completely free of blight as is the established favourite "Cara". The haulm on all the others hase been cut off to prevent the blight moving down the stems and infecting the tubers which will otherwise rot in store.


Potato beds 



Sweet peas have been a disappointment, not helped by the fact that most of them were pot bound  before I was able to plant them out due to the very wet ground in spring. Many of them have stopped flowering and turned yellow. Visitors have also had similar experiences this year which always make you feel a little better.




What's looking good?

Just about everything! All the various borders are shouting "Look at Me" and individually there are some stunning plants at the peak of perfection. To list them all would take until the August News Item so I am doing my best to limit myself.


This section of the Paddock Shade Border is getting into it's stride with hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle" phlox "Franz Schubert" lilies, crocosmias and achillea "Cloth of Gold"harmonising well.



Blue is the dominant colour of this section of the of the Picket Fence botrder with a great stand of blue hostas in full flower in the bottom right hand side of the picture



Top performers have to be the dieramas which having matured over the last 10 years or so, have made large plants with multi stemmed wands of great beauty in pink, purple, white;/pink and red. Some are self sown seedlings others named clones like "Blackbird" and "Merlin". They are easy from seed and usually flower in their fourth year. In pots they just sit and sulk. They like very good drainage in the winter but moisture in the summer - a difficult horticultural balancing act which we seem to have managed very successfully over a good number of years. They are the most perfect tall "see through" plant making a fabulous statement at the front of of a border. I once saw a huge stand of them at a National Trust garden, Coleton Fishacre near Kingsweir in Devon, where they were planted on the top of a 5 foot drystone wall alongside a path, so that you walked under the arching wands of flowers. Brilliant, inspirational planting.


Dieramas in all their glory.





I have admired in many gardens over the years, various forms of acanthus, an old and much celebrated plant in ancient times commonly represented in architecture of the period (particularly classical Greece and Italy), but they have never successfully flowered it here. They are invasive plants over time and can quickly fill a border if you don't vigourously thin them out - even then they don't always flower well; but this year they have gone absolutely nuts!! Why this should be I don't know. Was it perhaps the very wet winter, the hot summer or a combination of the two. Frankly my dears, I don't give a damn! They look great with multiple flowerheads on the three plants we have in the north facing border of the Paddock Garden. The form we grow is acanthus spinosus; as the name suggests it has finely divided leaves with spiky but not sharp tips. They are stately and elegant, even classical you might say. I have also acquired two variegated forms this year,  a "Tasmanian Tiger" and a."Whitewater" which may not be to everyones taste but make a real statement with their multi hued green and white irregular variegation. They also have pink and white flowers which are sensational when in bloom. The problem is where to place them as they resent full sun, the white scorching badly.


Regular readers will know that I like daylilies (hemerocallis) and have about 50 varieties in the Gardens, to which I keep adding new ones, mostly now from plants of seed of crosses made by generous members of the American Hemerocallis Society. They germinate readily and can make good sized flowering plants within two years. Mostly they are interesting, occasionally spectacular and a few are absolute nightmares! It is all part of the fun of growing anything from seed. Fortunately the dreaded gall midge doesn't seem to affect young plants so they all have pristine flowers. The later flowering more mature hems. seem unaffected by the midge so that there is at last a good show of flowers throughout the Gardens. Here are a few of the better ones; not perfect but entirely garden worthy.











This is the one named form called, "Vespers" which I have enjoyed for many years. Very natural looking with a strong perfume coming most likely from one of its species parents hemerocallis lilioasphodelus. Most yellow forms have scent  probably from the same source.



With the football World Cup in South America there were many TV programmes and newspaper articles about life and culture in Brazil but no-one seemed to have thought about a programme on the rare and fabulous flora to be found there or indeed throughout the sub continent. So here are just a couple which blow your socks off. one from Brazil, the other from Chile.


For the second July in a row, erythtrina crista- galli, a member of the pea family, has flowered brilliantly in the warm sunshine. If it can do this in a polytunnel in the middle of Wales what can it do in the steamy heat of Brazil?



And from seacliffs in Chile comes a long established clump of the perennial lobelia tupa, revelling in the bone dry soil at the edge of the Red Border, conditions created by the large yew tree 



Finally in order to keep this item short (You what?!!) a gentle plea for a couple of veggies. First peas, an easy crop if the mice and rabbits leave them alone but an absolute disaster if they don't. I have had one good row from five so far!


A sight I thought I would never see this year a superb crop of pea "Hurst Green Shaft"


Celery is considered by many to be the hardest of all vegetables to grow well and this year I think I may have cracked it. So what's the secret? I am no expert but there are a variety of factors: choice of variety, good strong plants from an early February sowing under heat, protection when first planting out in late May (I use horti fleece),  copious amounts of water and some occasional additions of balanced fertilizer like chicken pelleted manure. Result - tender full flavoured stems with the minimum of strings full of flavour and better than anything harvested in Spain and sold many days later in supermarkets.


Wildlife and countryside

Fortunately not so much to report under this heading. Plenty of insects about especially legions of blood thirsty horse flies which give you a painful nip, particularly troublesome when  mowing the lawns. Dragon and damselflies are active aroud the Paddock Pond but not in great quantaties yet nor many large ones either. Some butterflies on the wing, the first this year were commas, quickly followed by tortoiseshells, peacocks and latterly red admirals and a few meadow browns, but so far nothing rare or unusual which is a disappontment in such a consisitently hot summer

Also in the Paddock Pond all the tadpoles have left for pastures new and there have been 2 separate spawnings of the rudd which is very good news, adding to the fish stocks at no extra expense. The waterlilies to have revelled in the hot temperatures, their huge areas of leaf covereage substantially reducing the incidence of blanketweed 



Most birds are enjoying the post fledglings period, eating all the soft fruit in the cage (blueberries a particular favourite). It is very pleasing to report good sightings of large numbers of buzzards often in groups of four or more, a rare sight since the red kites became more dominant. Even simple every day birds like sparrows on close inspection can be interesting in their behaviour and markings when seen close up.

 A male house sparrow - sorry girls in the bird world the men have all the best oufits (except for me)!!


Local farmers have welcomed the fine weather to bring in the grass harvest and some are taking a second cut, but the fields are looking rather parched as the the topsoil is thin with underlying rock. It is quite a contrast to Sussex and the north Cotswolds which we recently visited where it is largely arable farming with huge fields of ripening barley and wheat dominating the pastoral scene and completely surrounding towns and villages of golden limestone.


Visits and visitors

There were five group visits from a wide range of gardening clubs and other societies, all in fine weather, and numerous visits in smaller numbers including one visit from someone who has been following the Gardens via our website, a first we think so many thanks to Kelvin and it was good to meet you. To date this summer we have raised just over £1,000 for The National Gardens Scheme

We promised ourselves a few short breaks during the month as we are rarely ever able to get away in high summer because of the number of visitors we receive. We went to Surrey, Sussex and the North Cotswolds from Gloucestershire to Northamptonshire, all with garden visits in mind, some very much better than others. The pics below give you a flavour of some of those we visited - two were so poor I didn't take any pictures!!  Having opened our Gardens to the public for the last 15 years we know how important it is to make our visitors feel welcome and go the extra mile to give them some special memories. A visit to Cilgwyn Lodge, a one acre garden, with teas and our nursery,  can often last 2 hours and it is now the criteria by which we judge all the gardens we visit.

At last we get to Gertrude , and about time too!. You may know who she is. If not I will explain. She is probably one of the best garden designers who ever lived and was at her peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She lived at Munstead Wood near Godalming in Surrey for almost 40 years, in a house built for her in the west Surrey vernacular style by Edwin Lutyens, his first commission as an architect in his early 20's. He went on the forge a formidable parnership with Gertrude ( surname Jekyll to rhyme with treacle!) and they designed homes and gardens for wealthy clients. Some are well known, from Hestercombe and Barrington Court in Somerset to the far outpost of Holy Island off the Northumbrian coast. All had wonderful structure and form using largely local materials, and gardens based on Gertrude's trademark style of waves of carefully co -ordinated colour schemes using mostly perennial plants, where flow and harmony are the key words. Her seminal work is a book called "Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden" and after nearly a hundred years it is still in print, and was the source of my inspiration for the borders at Cilgwyn Lodge. Of course there have been many other influences too and we also have many more plants to play with than in Gertrude's day. However some people in horticulture wish she had never been born because of the influence she still has on garden design, but her style and beliefs have stood the test of time and are still greatly loved and admired. Read her books and those written since about her, and you will appreciate her vast plant knowledge and just how ahead of her time she was.

By great good fortune the current owners of Munstead Wood,  in 1987 purchased the nearest house to us as a holiday home. Sir Robert and Lady Clark became friends and we have had the privilege of walking in Gertrude's footsteps at Munstead on several occasions. The most recent was earlier this month when we went to celebrate Lady Clark's 90th birhday.  Even though the garden does not have the number of gardeners  it did in Gertrude's time it is still an iconic place to visit and images from her books can be found everywhere.

The main view of the house which sits so comfortably in its setting





One of the most celebrated pictures of Gertrude was taken at this entrance to the Spring Garden. The yucca on the right (is it still the same one?) was in flower dwarfing the stooping old lady.  It is the most iconic picture of her I have ever seen. The whole garden has images of her and her writing. 



The main herbaceous borders with the benefit of a stone wall for protection and climbers.



Our visits to other gardens included Sissinghurst Castle, packed as always with tourists from all parts of the world



The view of the famous white garden from the top of the tower, sadly past its peak and disappointingly with no later plantings to fill the gaps.



The best features in the gardens can all be found on the many old brick walls. none better that this magnificent show of clematis "Perle d'Azur"



Another National Trust garden is Nymans in West Sussex, a first visit for us and a lovely garden supremely well tended. An island bed full of South African plants against the backdrop of the ruins of the old house most of which was burned down in 1947 



There is a small part of the bulding that still remains with this wonderfully simple courtyard garden. Lavender on the right and a brilliantly effective planting of deep magenta cosmos and the umbellifer ammi visnaga, new to me but mighty impressive at 4-5 feet tall and still going strong in mid July



In the same garden a yew hedge cut in the shape of Toblerone chocolate



And a classic border in Gertrude's style but comprising mostly annual plants, quite a tour de force of planting out and maintenance



Another essential visit for a hosta nut like me with 250 cultivars, was to The Hanging Hosta Garden in Hampshire with over 1,500 hostas on display; most in pots large ones on the ground and the smaller ones up the walls of the house and specially built staging, all in the most superb condition. They were so tightly packed that it was difficult to get round the garden but what a tour de force







Our last garden visit in late July was to Waterperry Gardens near Thame in Oxfordshire, a garden made famous 80 years ago by Beatrice Havergill who ran a gardening school for ladies, quite something in those days. When the gardens were sold the current owners contiinued the tradition of horticultural excellence and it has become one of our favourite gardens especially as there is so much emphasis on perennial plants. In this pic is part of the classic long herbaceous border in the Gertrude style with magnificient contributions fron the silver eryngium "Miss Wilmotts Ghost"



A significant part of the outer garden is given over to nursery beds for herbaceous perennials, partly as trial beds, partly to supply the main gardens with plants and partly for the excellent plant sales nursery. It is not something you see very often these days but for the plantsman instructive and interesting



And then in the midst of all the large borders and expanses of the wider garden, you come across this gentle, secretive and contemplative enclosed space with, as its centrepiece, a tasteful statue of a girl holding the luminous lamp of wisdom to destroy the darkness of ignorance. Moving and inspirational and the fitting end to the tour of Waterperry and to conclude this News Item. Happy gardening.