At last it’s here! August, this is the one month of the year when I advocate sitting back and looking at what you have achieved in your garden. That is easy to say, because as you sit, or wander along and look, you see all the things that need cutting back or the weeds that are still growing strongly. However I do take the view that if you don’t take time to sit and enjoy what you have achieved there is not much point in doing it at all.
But so many of our gardens in Cornwall are spring gardens and if we are not careful there isn’t much left to look at with flowers on in August and so I am devoting this month’s diatribe to some of the unsung August heroes to whom I think we should be giving more space in our gardens.
I have a lavender hedge, late flowering, lavender angustifolia, cultivated variety unfortunately unknown, but with quite a pale blue flower, nowhere near as rich as the Hidcote purple, but a delightful baby blue. The hedge has reached a height of about a metre and easily a metre deep and for the last two years I have been planning to replace it as it is becoming slightly woody. But of course I have never got round to it and every year it still blesses us with very long stemmed blooms, up to 35cm, that are at their height in August. I watch visitors running their hands through it and it fills the garden with scent in this area and is always full of bees. As soon as it has finished flowering we run the hedge trimmers over it and that’s it until next year, no spring pruning, just a huge chop to the top of the new wood in September. It is a real delight in front of the border which has shrubs that have gone over in spring and are putting on new green growth but they too are interspersed with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ with its metre long stems and huge bright red blooms and next to those in huge five year old clumps the agapanthus ‘blue giant’ with heads the size of saucepans and thick strong stems which defy any summer wind. And against them, a couple of clumps of white agapanthus ‘alba’ which zings out in the dim evening light.
Yes you have guessed it; I am not one to build the Jekyll border with shades of white drifting into blue with the hot colours furthest from view. In fact Gertrude Jekyll would have a fit if she could see my riot of disorganised colour, herbaceous with shrubs, the odd rose in pink and an exotic furcrea with its first blowsy white bloom for five years. But this is August at Trewartha and I want to see every colour I can this summer. The winter can be long and dark, give me a riot of unruly hue just for a couple of months. If the fashionista amongst you are trembling at the thought then I haven’t finished yet because along came those old favourites so disliked by so many of the gardening society today, the dahlias! Oh I love them and I refuse to apologise for what a friend of mine calls my lack of taste.
My Dad had a Bishop of Llandaff, bright red with almost black leaves which appeared in some compost in his veg garden, he never moved it and it got bigger and bigger and attracted the insects for pollination and brought some vibrant colour into the cabbage patch. I think that’s where my adoration of dahlias started. I look around the garden and cannot decide which my favourite is. The red bolero looking so neat and trim with its pompom heads or the white dinner plate cacti variety, Fleur, with heads over 12cm wide, or perhaps it’s the cactus variety in a duller red but with such huge blooms she is aptly named called Big Wow.
Now last year, in June and therefore a bit late, I planted a new herbaceous border. Miss Jekyll almost certainly cringed at the thought of my attempts but it was carefullyplanned, an area of lawn removed carefully by him indoors and a border cut out in a fairly regular sort of rectangular shape against the lawn. A blank canvas for strictly herbaceous plants, (you remember those, they are the ones that you plant as roots in winter or as flowers in spring/summer, they come up, do their thing, you cut them down and the whole bed goes to nothing for the winter). When the bed was first cut out a friend of mine said I would regret this decision. Herbaceous borders are hard work, dead heading and cutting down. But I continued and planted with Jekyll type blocks of colour in mind; a blue area with campanula, agapanthus (not strictly herbaceous!), perennial geranium Johnsons Blue, two different types of salvia and perovskia – this to merge into a white area of veronica, lupin, white dahlia ‘fleur’ and achillea ‘snowflake’. And finally a hot area of reds and oranges, the favourite dahlia bolero, gaillardia , dark pink Echinacea ‘The King’, swathes of red and orange escholtzia, my old friend crocosmia Lucifer, the basic and best oriental orange poppy and bordered by red geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’. For its first year I have to say we were all amazed and delighted. A part of our garden was finally been carefully planned and although I used a heck of a lot of plants and however you look at it, this type of planting is not cheap, we were looking forward to this year when it all doubles up and looks more mature. I was deservedly proud – until, that is, him indoors looked out one morning, laughed out loud as the single geum, red Mrs Bradshaw had flowered and was ennobled instantly because here was geum Lady Stratheden, a double bright yellow!
Some of you will have heard this story before but its been worth the re-telling as this border, now in its second year is flourishing. Mrs Bradshaw is in place and fairing wellunder Lady Stratheden’s glare. I lost the gaillardia in the winter and some of the perennial geraniums had to be removed because they had grown far too big but I have packed it out with the ‘spire’ series of verbenas in white pink and purple together with campanulas and I have lost some of the colour coordination, but so what Miss Jekyll, winter is so long and I just marvel at the colours for a few short months.
Can’t win them all, but heaven help the chap who put the labels in the pots….