When the summer wind and rain arrived I feared for the agapanthus in full bloom but they are sturdy monsters. My varieties are particularly tall but have beautifully thick stems and survived everything the north westerlies could throw at them. Equally the hydrangeas picked up, some had been looking far too hot and a bit limp but the welcome rains sorted them out too. So perhaps not as perfect for the holiday makers but better for an English garden.
There is something about rain that is so much better than any other water one can apply to a garden. The smell after a shower is fresh and the runner beans and all the vegetables seem to have loved it. This is the best crop of runner beans I have ever had and we have spent many an afternoon picking and peeling great big bins full of them. I do freeze them but don’t blanche them as that seems to make them limp and tasteless. It just means we have to eat them more quickly so its beans with every meal for some time to come!
I have attended many of the Cornish village shows this year and I always marvel at the number of entries and the standard. Veryan Open Show is this month!! Village show committees are not too concerned about the standard, the importance is that you enter anything that you have available and fill those show benches. I judged a flower show earlier this year and frankly some of the entries were not too good and that was remarked upon by one of the marshals.
He said ‘fancy entering that, there are only two entries here worth judging’ he was correct if one is a purist, but, if only two entered it would not have been much of a section to judge or for the throngs to look at. So don’t be embarrassed if your onions don’t match or your beetroot are like footballs. Don’t hold back, enter and then see what you can learn from the others and give the judge something worth travelling for, some of them come a fair distance.
I say it every year and indeed have made several faux pas myself. But check the judging criteria. How many stems of parsley? How many beetroot or onions and should they be with roots or tops or not? Check and double check because a disqualification is disappointing. A vase of garden flowers is just that. As many stems of garden flowers in a vase that you can muster as long as they are in the best condition you can find.
And of course an attractive vase but not so ornate that it takes the judge’s eye from the contents. Cucumbers, tomatoes and cabbages should have their natural ’bloom’ often seen as a dullness of leaf or skin. Root veg can be carefully sponged to remove the soil and clean the roots but onions are another issue. They must not be skinned so far that they appear white and shiny.
It used to be that we took off the dry outer skins though many judges now prefer them in as natural state as possible and not shone up with olive oil as in the old days! If one of your runner beans is not as straight as the others roll it in a damp cloth and put it in the fridge overnight before exhibiting, most will straighten out. I don’t know why I tell you tips like that.
You probably guessed that I do get very excited by the Veryan Show and am always interested to see what any summer season may bring to the show benches. But equally I am looking back over the season and planning for autumn with a vengeance. I have stuck labels next to the roots of plants that I want to split or move and also labelled those that are in the wrong place because of colour. It is often more difficult to remember what was what, once the flowers and leaves have died. I have a magnificent display of phlox but some of them just do not fit happily together and will be moved appropriately.
One of the best jobs in late summer and early autumn is to collect seed. A plant may not always come true from seed but many will. A friend had the most fabulous display of orange Californian poppies and I have collected the seed in brown paper bags or envelopes (it must be paper so that they don’t sweat and go mouldy). Store in a dry shed or spare room, don’t forget to label them and they will be ready for sowing early next year. Last year I collected seed from Big Blue agapanthus and now have 150 plus little plants. They will take a couple of years before they flower but the satisfaction is immense.
- Take cuttings from roses from now until Christmas. A 9” stem cut from this year’s growth and jammed 6” into the ground will almost certainly take and that’s a few bob saved.
- Start to divide perennials that are dying down.
- Plant spring bulbs now – this is the time to plant daffodils, alliums, crocus anemone, anything that you like to see in spring. But wait until November to plant tulips.
- Buy hyacinths for forcing inside for Christmas. (That’s twice I have mentioned Christmas, sorry!)
- Dig out deep rooted perennial weeds from the lawn and a light scarification with a rake or machine will remove all the loose and dead grass that got left during the summer mowing and save the lawn being clogged up all winter.
Finally a tale worthy of Beatrix Potter, called Mrs Tiggywinkle. Not surprisingly she is our hedgehog who, despite us putting her back in the field three times, each time at a further distance, kept appearing in the conservatory to find the bowl of cat food, which she loves. So, we shut the conservatory door a little earlier in the evenings and she still appeared – entering through the cat flap. What an ingenious little creature who eats my slugs and snails (but seems to prefer Whiskas biscuits) and tells me the land is therefore badger free?