August

Assuming you are at home and not entertaining hoards of relatives for this wonderful month of August then as I have said before now is the time to look around the garden and see what has worked, what has not and to look for gaps. Those gaps so often found now when the best spring show has disappeared, the early summer stuff going brown and if you are not careful your garden is looking autumnal way before its time.

Tedious I know, but one of the best remedies for tired plants, be they annual or perennial, is dead heading. I have had two good showings of lupin flowers this year because I took off the heads just before they ran to seed and perennial geraniums and oriental poppies will easily flower twice if all the first flowers are trimmed off. The second flush on perennials may be smaller flowers but well worth it. Many of the roses particularly the hybrid teas will continue to flower if dead headed regularly.

Last year I covered an ugly little fence with a few small hydrangeas. They have rewarded me thoroughly this year with a brilliant purple and pink show and, although I have a few friends who consider them as weeds, I just think they are the best flower for August. They are available in so many colours, resistant to disease and stood up to the unseasonal wind and rain in mid July. I planted some oak leaf varieties in a customer’s garden in June and they have put on so much growth and flower in a month, they are a complete delight. I would swap them for every other weed in the garden!

If the weather is conducive, find time to just sit and admire your handy work, I am going to suggest this month that there are loads of jobs to do, but I do maintain that if you don’t stop then sometimes you never really appreciate what you have achieved. However if you do stop, like I did the other Friday, glass of cold white in hand at the end of a long day, you look down the herbaceous border, proud as punch and then you see it: the tallest clump of willow herb waving in the breeze. So glass down, you get closer to pull it out and then see the rest of the weeds that the tallest plants were hiding. An hour later there is a pile of weeds on the lawn and the wine has gone warm, but that’s just the way it is!

And I mention the herbaceous border because you may recall it was dug out and planted two years ago. I am a little surprised that all the gallardia, of which there was too much, did not survive the winter, but other than that everything seems to be bigger and more handsome than ever and I have far fewer slugs and snails. On the whole I think the cold winter made everything stronger and more floriferous generally and we had few major losses. I am very reluctant to pick out any plants in the garden to rave about because I love them all, but the burnt orange day lilies next to the pale terracotta phygelius do really make a splash and both have been flowering profusely now for over a month. If you don’t know about phygelius then look them up, evergreen, tidy flower spikes to over 30cm that last for weeks and the snails do not like them. Some sort of butterfly or moth did like them earlier in the season but I picked off the caterpillars and they haven’t returned: a robust, value for money plant. It creeps along a bit to spread itself out but just hack it back and it’s not too much trouble. As for the agapanthus – no, we really must get on with some work….

Many of the shrubs that are more difficult to take cuttings from in spring on the soft new growth work better if taken now. Hebe, box, santolina etc seems to root much better at this time of year. You are looking for what we call semi ripe material. Look for cuttings that are about 8cm long and just going woody at the base. Don’t put them in a hot greenhouse or propagator they are better outdoors in the shade but keep them moist. A cold frame or a raised bed is perfect. I am going to take garrya elliptica cuttings this year, you remember, the one with the winter catkins as big as my hand. There is still time to sow a few late lettuces. Or plant corn salad that will go through the winter. Radishes will still grow and the hardier spring onions. And if you want strawberries next year now is the time to buy them either as bare root or more expensively potted ones or take the runner cuttings from this year’s plants.

August is also the time for summer pruning, (heck, we left the deckchair empty a while back didn’t we?) Trained forms, cordons, espalier and fans should be pruned now. When your leader shoot is as long as you want it cut off the tip and turn it into the spur that will fruit next year. Prune back the new growth of all side shoots to about 8cm cutting just above a bud to form a spur. The wisteria can be tidied now too.

I often choose August to reflect on my nominee for ‘Plant of the Year’ in my garden. This year without a doubt it is the eucomis, commonly known as the pineapple lily. Exotic, snail free, come through the winter unscathed flowering profusely in the garden and in pots. It will be awarded the prize.

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