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A Wander around our Garden in August

Our garden in August is a bright, colourful place full of lush growth, rich scent and so much wildlife to enjoy. Our wild birds are mostly quiet at present as August is the time when they hide away as they go through their annual moult. They have gone to ground and gone silent.

Above our heads however avian activity is busy and exciting. The Swallows and House Martins are feeding up in anticipation of their migration south. The sky is full of them, but the screaching of Swifts is absent as they began their own long journey a few weeks ago. For a few days there is a gap in the sounds – we miss them for their excited calls and aerial displays.

The calls of the young Buzzards can be heard above the Swallows and Martins, as they excitedly search out thermals and discover the joy of riding them. The Peregrines have reappeared now that their breeding season is over so we can watch the adult pairs rising in ever-higher circles until they disappear from view. Our eyes become incapable of seeing them as they become smaller, become dots and are then gone. They have the luxury of far better long distance vision than us – they will see the movement of their prey from hundreds of feet up in the air. A real treat is to spot them as they stoop, travelling down at speeds of over 200 miles per hour with a pigeon in their sights.

Yesterday when deadheading in one of our borders we were surprised by a low-flying, high speed Green Woodpecker who zoomed close to us, just a few feet away. A real treat!

Insect life is flourishing. On any warm bright day a variety of insects can be seen hunting out nectar and pollen. Butterflies, bees and hoverflies are attracted to Buddleias, Alliums, Salvias, Nepetas, Lavenders and Echinops. There are so many Peacock Butterflies around at the moment but you can’t have too many of them. The Holly Blues are much scarcer and flit continuously rarely seeming to settle.

Bees and hoverflies are attracted to our Lavender hedge which borders the lane which passes in front of our garden.

The ponds are full of life with shoals of young fish basking in the shallows, diving Beetles and Boatmen moving up to the surface and back to the bottom regularly. On the surface Pondskaters pace out the length and breadth of the pond surface. Young newts regularly appear at the surface take a gulp of air and drop back down. When Jude the Undergardener nets the duckweed and blanket weed from the pond she catches newts every time. She is delighted with every newt that graces her net. I am convinced that removing the weed is an excuse for her newt catching exploits. In August the majority of newts Jude catches are youngsters.

The front garden is looking good! So much colour! The Hot Border is HOT!

The “Beth Chatto Garden”, our gravel garden, is full of interest with Agapanthus taking centre stage. These Agapanthus were actually bought from the Beth Chattos Gardens nursery.

Early in August the front garden was dominated by yellow – even Jude the Undergardener was wearing yellow – but after a few weeks all the other colours caught up.

In the back garden the growth in our Secret Garden is exuberant to say the least. The foxgloves are going over but the achilleas, lychnis and alliums are still giving us a full performance.

Elsewhere in the borders of the back garden the seedheads of our Snakebark Acer add rich reds, Crocosmias give every shade of yellow, orange and red, Achilleas add subtlety and the spiky Erigeron flowers provide silver.

In the greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and capsicums are adding sweetness and freshness to the cut-and-come-again mixed leaves of ours summer salads.

The world beyond our garden is changing this month as in our borrowed landscape the hay in the paddock has been cut and baled and the wheat fields turn gold and are being harvested one by one. By the time my September garden wander comes around the skys will seem empty as the Swallows and Martins will be on their way to warmer climes, but the garden will be getting busier with mixed feeding flocks of titmice and Goldcrests, and others of mixed finches.

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A Wander around our Garden in July

July in the garden so far has carried on where June left off – rain! The grass paths squelch as you wander, trees drip on you and herbaceous plants soak your legs. The plants have loved it relishing in the warmth and dampness. They grow tall and lush too quickly and do so without gaining strength. As a result they get knocked over in windy spells and any heavy showers.

As rain persists each day from dawn till dusk a moment of light and dry gave me an opportunity to take photos for my July wander. After waiting all day I finally took the following pics just before 9:00 in the evening.

One plant that never fails is this wonderful tall grass with striped leaves. It is a good four foot tall and the long leaves are popular with the “Undergardener” to cut for flower arranging.

Our gravel garden, The Chatto Bed, is now full of colour, gentle yellows, pinks and purples. When the sun does come out for its short sessions the gravel bed is buzzing with bees. They are having a hard time this year with all this rain and wind.

The Huskers Red Pentstemon is now at its best – what a beautiful plant it is – coloured foliage, dark stems and delicate contrasting pale flowers. Having grown this from seed sown a few years ago it feels good to see it looking so good.

The Quaking Grass, Briza maxima is also known as Nodding Grass and Sparrow Grass, presumably because it simply can’t stay still in the slightest breeze.

Jude’s Border is a rich combination of purple-leaved shrubs and contrasting perennials.

Our mini-meadows  sown in terra-cotta pots have been very successful. Different flowers appear each day. The pink poppy glows in the dullest of weather – a “dayglo” poppy.

By our front door the “Freda Border” continues to provide colour in the perennials and gentle variegated foliage in the shrubs.


Let us now wander into the back garden and see what’s going on. Our apples are filling in nicely now and even getting a little rosiness as they start to ripen, while the Blueberries change from green to blue.

The secret garden is probably the most colourful patch at the moment.

The “Chicken Garden” although less colourful at the moment as the alliums are losing their colour, has an impressive show of perennial foxgloves, favourites of the bees.

Grasses are flowering delicately in all the borders and often after a storm hold onto rain drops. The droplets of moisture act as prisms as light finds them.

In the greenhouse tomatoes are forming on their trusses and further flowers open from their buds. Peppers like glossy green boxes promise sweetness to come.

As we approach the middle of July we can but wonder what the rest of the summer can have in store for us. So far we have had the wettest summer months on record – it is hard to imagine that summer will truly arrive. It has been hard to keep up with maintenance in the garden this summer. There is so much growth that herbaceous plants need frequent deadheading and thinning and shrubs pruned to stop them overpowering the plants beneath. Jude, “The Undergardener” is pruning back the lower branches of the variegated dogwood to let light into the smaller plants below.

As the light began to fade I took a few photos to show it glowing through foxgloves.

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Seed Sowing Starts

It felt oh so good today to be sowing the first seeds of the year! And to make things even better it was warm and cosy in the greenhouse. There are so many seeds waiting in my tin all organised in sowing date order.

So today I sowed seeds of tomatoes, peppers (sweet, cayenne and hot), basil, parsley and leeks.

We always sow a variety of tomatoes to ensure lots of different colours, textures and flavours, so for 2012 we have Gardeners Delight, Moneymaker, Red Cherry, Black Cherry, Harbinger and a heritage variety called Potentate. Of course to go with tomatoes we need basil so we have sown Basil Sweet Genovase.

All the seeds sown today need warmth to germinate so we have put them in my home-made propagator which gives bottom heat and maintains an average 20 degrees celsius. Here they are in their special warm environment waiting for the lid to be closed.

And the seed potatoes are “chitting” away in their egg trays. So the allotment year has been launched and it feels good!!

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Bubble Wrap Duvet

Today we woke to the first frost of the year. My phone tells me its minus one. It’s only a thin weak frost but a useful reminder of how lucky we are to have gone this far into the year without one. Last year we had our first in September and that was not unusual. It also made us feel a little smug that we had got round to giving the greenhouse its duvet of bubble wrap at the weekend. It takes 100 metres of the large bubbled wrap to get the inside safely wrapped for winter – it is the only time I regret owning such a big greenhouse!

Bubble wrap is always so hard to fix up and always looks a mess but it does the job. We used a combination of black gaffer tape and the little plastic fiddly fixings specially designed for the job.

We moved under cover the peppers, chillies and sweet, growing in bags to hopefully get a few more fruits from them as well as the potatoes in their bags planned for cropping in December. We then had the time-consuming task of bringing in any half-hardy plants in pots such as aeoniums, begonias, echeverias, Euphorbia mellifera, salvias and summer flowering bulbs.

As a belt and braces procedure we take cuttings of some of the salvias, as well as bringing the parent plants in, as they often fail to survive through the winter even under the protection of the greenhouse.

This Salvia with its stunning red flowers which have an added cerise hue in sunlight only started flowering in late October so we could only appreciate its glorious flowers for a few weeks before bringing it into the greenhouse. If the first frost had come at the more usual time in late September or early October presumably it would have failed to flower this year. fingers crossed now that we can keep it through to warmer times.

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First tomatoes

A few Gardeners Delight ready to pick.

It is a poor year for my tomatoes. The plants look very healthy, deep green leaves free of blemish but few flowers and not all have set fruit. The first to ripen are the Gardeners Delight looking like shining red marbles. Few of the other varieties have any colour on the fruit.

The peppers – sweet, cayenne and chilli – are much better. They have plenty of fruit developing both in the greenhouse and outdoors.
The cucumbers – my usual failures – are also setting fruit better than the tomatoes.
I need to look at my tomato growing technique, as something is letting me down.
The tomatoes, peppers and cucumber are all grown in Vital Earth Organic Peat-free compost and fed with my own comfrey feed with the addition of regular foliar feeds of seaweed liquid.
I underplant them with French Marigold so the plants are free of White Fly.
The cucumber are just setting fruit behind their golden yellow blooms.

So, where are things going wrong. Perhaps the tomato flowers are simply not being pollinated.