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My Garden Journal in August

My August entries in my Garden Journal 2016 see me beginning Volume Two. On the first page I look back to my original garden journal’s August entries.

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“I made my first ever entries for our new garden in August 2003. We moved to “Avocet” our Plealey home on 8th August. I wrote, “The garden needs our love and attention after 6 years of neglect. It is a garden of straight lines and loneliness, lacking in wildlife and its inherent vitality. It lacks colour.” Things are very different now 13 years later. The garden is now full of wildlife, full of calming atmosphere and peace. It is a garden that attracts many visitors each year and people enjoy hearing our talks about it.”

Over the page I considered the way light in August changes the look of the garden.

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“On bright days in August the garden looks very different depending on the time of day. When the sun is at its highest point in the sky the hot colours really burn and shadows deepen to jet black.

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I then looked at Salvias and share photographs of some of those we are growing in our patch.

“Every few years I like to set myself a challenge in our Plealey garden. For the last few years I have been trying to master growing and keeping Aeoniums. This is coming along well now so for this summer my new challenge is to discover lots of beautiful varieties of Salvias and learn how to grow them well. We already have a large collection so the next part of this challenge will be over-wintering them. These three (in the photos below) show the vast range of colours available from the deepest blue, the brightest pink to the gentlest of yellows.”

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On the opposite page I featured a selection of eight of the Salvias in flower in our patch in August. I have included a couple more here too for you to enjoy and to help us appreciate the variety we have.

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I move on in my journal then to look at very special and very unusual perennial plant, a Diascia. On the page opposite I share a few of our new sculptural pieces in the garden.

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One plant that always attracts admiring glances is this pink gentle giant, an evergreen Diascia, which is called D. personata “Hopleys”. It is an exceptionally good garden performer, growing to a tall six feet and flowering from May to December in a good year.”

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“We love sculpture in the garden and in our patch”Avocet” in Plealey we mostly choose metal or stoneware pieces as these enhance the planting rather that dominate. Recently we have added four new new iron work pieces, two based on seed heads – Clematis and Allium – plus a new bird bath.” 

Here are three of them, the fourth appears later.

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I then move on to one of the brightest of garden perennials to grace borders in the UK, the Crocosmias.

“Various Crocosmias feature throughout the patch and in August many come into their own, showing off their yellows, oranges and reds. We have dozens of different varieties. Here are a few ……….. “

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Firstly the yellows ………….

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…………………….. and then the oranges and reds.

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Returning to the sculptural pieces we have recently added to our garden collection, I introduced another 5 pieces.

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“Two new bird sculptures joined us too, one metal, a Wren, and one ceramic, a Blue Tit. The Blue Tit piece doubles up as a planter for some of our many Sempervivum, as does our chestnut shell sculpture.”

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“A Begonia Rex adds colour, shape and texture to our stoneware Green Man planter, one of a pair.”

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“The moon-gazing Hare.”

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“We grow many different Echeveria in terra-cotta pots and pans in the Rill Garden and on our drive edge. These mostly have glaucous leaves and produce flowers of subtle blends of pink, salmon and orange. Recently we acquired a new variety with almost black succulent foliage, Echeveria “Black Prince”. Imagine our delight when it gave us these beautiful red flowers.”

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“For this month I have decided to paint two delicately coloured flowers, a yellow Linaria dalmatica and the china blue climber and scrambler Clematis jouianiana.

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On the opposite page I finish off my entries for August by looking at some of our newly acquired plants.

“We are always adding new plants to the garden at Avocet and indeed a few found their way in during August. Here is a selection ………. “

“New Honeysuckles to clamber up our new willow hurdles.”

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“A white Physostegia to accompany our pink one.”

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“Crocosmia “Okavango” and “Salvia leucantha “Eder”.

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And there ends my journal entries for the month of August. Our next visit to look at it will be in September a month that the meteorological office places in autumn but us gardeners tag it onto summer – a much better and more accurate idea. We move into a much quieter period now as we have completed our NGS open days for this year and have received the last of our visiting groups.

 

 

 

 

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My Garden Journal in May

Just as I completed my journal for June I realised that I had not yet posted “My Garden Journal for May”, so here it is now for you to enjoy! The June journal report won’t be far behind!

Summer creeping in can only mean that our May garden is changing by the day. Exuberance in every border with things growing before your eyes. A month of excitement! I began my May entry in my garden journal by writing,

“May means exuberance! It is the month when our garden shows us the ability it has to surprise. It shows off its strength and its artistic talents. Growth is so rapid and colour so exciting, that we are aware of what our garden means to us and also aware of its power that Mother Nature possesses and uses with pride and to excess!”

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I then turn to looking back at my original garden journey recording the first few years that we have lived and gardened at Avocet.

“Looking back in my garden journal that recorded the early years at Avocet, I read a paragraph that shows just how similar May is now. 

“The garden is bursting with life – butterflies including Holly Blues, bees and so many birds. Suddenly the garden is alive with birds giving extra colour, sound and movement. There seems to be so many finches – Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Greenfinches. Swifts, Swallows and House Martins swoop overhead especially in the evening.”

Sadly though there are far fewer Swifts, Swallows and House Martins overhead. So many have not survived their long migrations. What does the future hold for these beautiful acrobats?”

Turning over the page of my journal and we see the next two pages feature Acers and Roses.

“Acers are one of the many stars of the May garden, a month when their foliage and stems are delicate and colourful.”

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“May means Roses and by the middle of the month we have many buds and pioneer blooms. Reds and pinks dominate at the moment. Yellows and oranges are still to come.”

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I moved on to look at one of the climbers we enjoy in our garden and at the grasses that have now started to grow rapidly.

“Think of climbers early in the summer garden and Clematis is the first plant to spring to mind.”

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“Grasses are growing quickly now and the myriad shades of green move skyward in our borders.”

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Turning over again and succulents are discussed. These are a recent interest and I have only been growing them and propagating them for a few years.

Succulent plants are an interest that has grown over the last few years. Beginning with Aeoniums and Echeverias I soon branched out.”

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“Troughs of succulents grace the Rill Garden in May and on into October when the risk of frost mean that they retreat to the warmth of our greenhouse.”

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When we turn over next we see that I talk of Hostas and in particular those growing in our Bog Garden. The bog garden is so full of life at the moment with plants growing appreciably by the day.

“Hostas are one of the more subtle of our garden favourites both their foliage and later in the year their flowers. The Bog Garden next to our Wildlife Pond and snuggled up to it is a place of rapid growth in May.”

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White is not a colour I particularly appreciate in the garden and as a result I do not use it much.

“White is not my favourite colour in the garden. I particularly do not like white painted garden furniture or white painted fences, trellises or walls. We tend to paint our seats in ivory or cream which are much softer colours particularly on bright sunny days. Our fences we paint in browns and trellis work in gentle shades of green which acts as a great foil for our plants. I think this dislike of white is to do with our weather as it can work so well in other countries. Where flowers are concerned I appreciate them most in May when white can look good with the brightness of fresh foliage. Below are photos of a few particularly good white flowers, Viburnums, Cornus, white Bluebells, Iberis and Camassias. Some of these are the purest of white where others have gentle hints of colour. The Camassia has a green tint to it and the Iberis the gentlest hint of pink.”

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As we leave May behind we can look forward to the longest day, the time when day and night share equal number of hours.

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My Garden Journal – September

The September pages of my garden journal sees the first signs of autumn creeping in, colours changing, light creeping in at a lower level and our summer migrant birdlife disappearing. The skies are empty and quiet now that the Swallows and Martins have left us for warmer climes. We are missing the sight and sounds of Warblers flitting among the trees and shrubs but hopefully some Garden Warblers and Chiffchaffs will decide to stay with us. Climate change seems to be encouraging more migrants to remain in the UK all year through.

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Being a British gardener I start by talking about the weather! “The “Met Office” weathermen tell us that September is the first month of Autumn, but we hope it will be the continuation of Summer. This year September is unlike Summer, and is not even an Indian Summer. It is a dismal month of heavy skies and rain. Every flower that fights its way through the gloom is a ray of sunshine.”

Next comes my usual piece of writing from Jenny Joseph’s little book, “Lead by the Nose”.

For September, it is harvesting and clearing what is there on the one hand, with a great deal of sharp acrid savoury smells from dead-heading, disentangling, weeding, cutting down leaf and stalk, digging up roots.”

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I move on to consider a special group of plants which Jude and I love in our garden, the airy, whispy plants that can’t help but move in the gentlest of breezes, the “Windcatchers”.

“September has been a windy month, which has accentuated the part played by the “Windcatchers”, those special plants which display the ability to catch the slightest breeze and dance in it. These are the tall grasses, Stipa gigantea, Miscanthus sinensis and the Molinias and Calamagrostis, the airy flowering perennials especially Verbena bonariensis and Gaura lindheimeri. Gauras have variety names that suggest their windcatching skills, “Whirling Butterflies” and “Summer Breeze”. 

The photos below show what a beautiful plant Verbena bonariensis is with its bright purple flower heads nodding in the breeze atop its stiff thin stems. It is a true wildlife magnet too attracting Butterflies and Moths, Bees and Hoverflies and many other flying insects. As the light fades in the evening the flowers glow and their scent intensifies to attract night flying insects and a miriad of Moths.

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The movement of grasses and their big cousins the Bamboos also adds sounds to our garden, rustling, tinkling and sounds like those of the seashore, shifting sands, rolling pebbles and retreating waves.”

Grasses are such an important element in our garden and help create an all year round garden. From their fresh green leaves emerging in the spring right through to their flowers and on to their seedheads which stand right through the winter.

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Surprises are the subject of my next page.

Surprises are always fun in the garden, those little things not planned for or expected. Here are two surprises for September in our garden.

We were pleasantly surprised at the rich autumnal colours of our Euphorbia griffithii “Dixter” which grows in our Beth Chatto garden, and how this damaged Verbascum repaired itself.”

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My watercolour paintings of Acer rufinerve and Phlomis russeliana feature on the next page titled “Seedpods for September”. These seeds are capsules of promise, time capsules. The wing-like Acer seeds are shaped and moulded to allow a gentle descent in the wind, each maple key parachuting down to find a place to germinate. The pompom seedheads of the Phlomis are tightly packed balls of rough textured seeds designed to stick to any passing creature who will wander off and drop it away from the parent plant where it can find space to become a herbaceous plant with hairy heart shaped leaves and yellow-orange balls of flowers. 

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We now move on to the end of the month when the weather surprised us as it changed for the better, change to good gardening weather and good weather for appreciating gardens.

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“As the month came to its end we were suddenly treated to an “Indian Summer”. The skies were clearest blue, the sun shone and temperatures went back up. The garden loved it as much as the gardeners! Our two varieties of Schizostylus, “The Major” and “Alba”are flowering better than ever before.”

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“Two real stars of the autumn garden are our two Salvias that are too tender for us to leave out over our winters, so we grow them in pots and bring them indoors as soon as the cold nights appear. They are Salvia “Amistad” with its bright purple and black flowers and Salvia confertiflora with its long spikes of red and salmon flowers.”

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So that is my journal all about our garden in September. I am already writing and painting my entry for October so that will be the next episode of “My Garden Journal”.

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Up on the Downs – a wander on chalk uplands.

We have wanted to take a walk on the “Downs” for a while now and we have it written in our “to do” book. However whilst visiting my brother, Graham and his wife Vicky in Farnham  we took the opportunity to make a half hour drive  which led us to the car park at the start of a gentle walk along Old Winchester Hill. The panoramic views gave an added incentive to get going despite a cold, biting wind.

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Although it is still relatively early in the year we had expectations of seeing site specific plants and birds. We were not to be disappointed.

Lady’s Bedstraw, White Deadnettle and Cowslip were probably the most frequently occurring flowering plants.

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It was good to see one of our native Euphorbias growing along the woodland margins. This Wood Spurge looked so similar to some we grow in our Plealey garden.

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As we reached the end of the ridge the path changed direction and we walked along a track between woodland and open fields. The woodland birdlife was in full song with summer migrant Warblers joining the resident Robins and Dunnocks. Above our heads Swallows called constantly. Over the farmland the song of Skylarks and the calls of Lapwing, two of our ground nesting birds, was carried on the wind for us to enjoy. We were really surprised to see large areas of very mature yew trees growing within areas of the usual deciduous trees, as we do not see them growing like this at home in Shropshire. They formed dark patches on the hillsides. We ventured underneath them and all of us found them decidedly spooky as they cut out all sound and much of the light leaving us in gloom. Beneath them nothing ventured to grow, apart from one lone, brave Elder seedling.It is no wonder that they feature strongly in ancient myths and folklore.

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When we stopped for our coffee break on the only bench on the walk we were soon joined by a small flock of very inquisitive rare breed Herdwick Sheep, the sort I think that Beatrix Potter helped to save from extinction up on her Lake District farm.

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Beyond the sheep the views were stunning and far-reaching.

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After our coffee break, with a slice of cake as well of course for added energy, we walked through the ancient hill fort with its Bronze Age burial mounds. It is amazing how interesting mounds of earth can be!

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I shall finish off with one last view of this unique downland landscape and one of the wildflowers growing right alongside the track. We have waited a long time for our first walk on the Downs. It was worth the wait.

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Mad Autumn Moments with Martins

Six weeks or so ago our flocks of martins suddenly departed southward and the swallows gathered on the telephone wires above the road passing the front of our house. They chattered and fidgeted, stretched their wings and tails and preened busily ensuring that they were in the best of trim for their long migratory adventure.

Then one day the skies were silent and the wires empty.

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But a week later as we were working away in the garden borders we heard excited calls overhead and dozens of swallows were swirling around just above shrub height. They were so close to us as they enjoyed a feeding frenzy. They must have been en route south from further up North, Scotland or the Lake District perhaps, when the big old oak tree in the paddock behind us and the gardens of our little group of houses called them down. This place meant insects to gorge on to refill and prepare themselves by stocking up for the next leg of their long migration. As we watched stunned by their excitement, their noise and flying acrobatics, they were joined by an equal number of house martins.

They periodically stopped in mixed groups on our roof ridge to chatter and catch up on the latest migration news. For us of course there was the added bonus of all those garden pests being hoovered up by gaped beaks. Great pest control!

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Now in early October they have definitely all gone. We miss their constant chattering in the sky above the garden and await their return in the Spring.