My garden has come together rather later than usual, but come together it has. Unburdened by not opening for the National Gardens Scheme, I have been able to take my time rather than diving for the line. On the whole I think the garden is better for it, as are my nerves. Nevertheless, I’ll be opening again next year, along with a number of other excellent gardens in the local area.
A cool August has been a mixed blessing, reducing the amount of watering needed and prolonging the flowering period of some plants. At the same time it’s held back others, with my dahlias twiddling their thumbs for much longer than I’d like. The weather most weekends has been mixed, but there’s always been time to potter … when I’ve been well enough. Last weekend, having felt out of sorts for a few days, I managed to fall foul of tonsillitis, laryngitis and an ear infection at the same time. I have been battling all three this week, whilst travelling in the Czech Republic, which has been less than amusing and has left me with a very irritaing cough. Thank goodness I have a Bank Holiday during which to recover.
As always the display in both gardens is being carried by foliage rather than flowers. Flowers are fabulous, but they can’t be relied upon in the way that leaves can. Although it’s frequently encouraged, it’s a mistake to plan any garden based solely on what’s going to be in bloom when. Flowers are fickle things, coming and going as they please, whilst foliage has staying power. Like many gardeners I have learned this the hard way, experiencing times when the garden is an unbroken sea of green. This can be boring when all the greens are the same tone and texture, but with a little thought one can create a multi-coloured tapestry without a single flower in sight.
I have used a lot more plectranthus and persicaria, as well as winter flowering plants such as sarcococca, skimmia and loropetalum, to create foliage interest. This is mainly out of necessity as I have nowhere to hide these shrubs when they are not doing their thing. I am spoiled for a source of plectranthus thanks to the proximity of The Salutation, where Steve Edney has built up a fabulous collection of these aromatic, often felty-leaved plants. I have recently added P. ‘Marbled Ruffles’, P. ‘Silver Shield’ and P. madagascariensis ‘Lothlorien’ to my own garden, the beauty being that they enjoy shade, are tolerant of drought and root from cuttings like a dream.
My cobaea, normally an annual climber, is now in its third year and is a spectacular sight clambering through the boughs of Phillyrea latifolia. I allow the tendrils to climb over the domed canopy and cascade down until they are almost touching my forehead. The whole composition looks like a very flamboyant jellyfish, and each day I find my garden table decorated with the fallen flowers, which are worthy of close inspection. Last year the vine produced copious fruits, which in turn have give rise to countless seedlings, none of which I have encouraged as one plant is quite adequate in a garden my size.
For wont of a better idea I have continued my tradition of growing Begonia ‘Million Kisses Elegance’ in window boxes perched on the outdoor kitchen shelves. There is something effortless about the white flowers, blushing pink more so when they are kept on the dry side. The plants don’t receive any direct sunlight and yet they bloom and bloom and bloom. The fallen flowers are a slight nuisance but they will not stop coming until the first frosts. I have taken cuttings already in the hopes I can dispense with buying new plants next year. Some traditions are worth preserving.
My ‘new’ garden, dubbed the Gin and Tonic Garden because it’s sunny at 5pm, has occupied far more of my time than the other garden ever did. Almost everything is growing in pots, which means extensive watering no less than every other day. It’s a mélange of plants that I had before the extension was built; those I acquired throughout the project when I had umpteen different ideas for what I would do; and those which I have picked up since. As such it is not what one could call ‘considered’, although there is a distinct area of purple, yellow and white flowers and a ‘hot’ zone which is currently no more than luke warm. I am a little embarrassed by the lack of any kind of discernible plan, but the plants and the wildlife seem to love it. There are bees constantly buzzing between Verbena bonariensis and my African blue basil (Ocimum ‘African Blue’) which is so easy to grow compared to the floppy Italian stuff you buy in supermarkets. It’s made an enormous bush and is plastered in purple flowers. A flock of cheerful little sparrows loves the cover I’ve inadvertently created for them.
Not wishing the garden to look too cottagey, I have peppered the planting with several big-leaved plants such as Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’, Canna ‘Musifolia’, Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’, Begonia luxurians, Sparmannia africana ‘Flore Pleno’ and Catalpa x erubescens ‘Purpurea’. The latter, purchased as a small plant in spring, has been marvellous, continuing to produce stormy-purple leaves throughout the season, many of which are the size of a dinner plate. I am so impressed that I have already indulged in the golden version, Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ which I will coppice in the same way to encourage large, lush leaves next year.
The Gin and Tonic Garden was designed to sit in, but of course I have rarely had time to do so. This afternoon I was able to serve my friends a cream tea in the late summer sun (jam before cream, in the Cornish way) and it was wonderful. The garden is overlooked, which the other is not, but if anyone was watching us, I am sure they’d have been wildly envious. As I complete this post I am enjoying wafts of scent from the last few blooms produced by Mirabilis longiflora and the newly opened flowers of Hedychium yunannense. I feel very lucky to have been able to add this 20ft x 20ft square of garden to my house, which now feels like it has a proper front and back.
The Bank Holiday is racing by faster than one can say ‘must I go back to work?’ and soon August will be at an end. I have a suspicion that both gardens have a lot more to give before the year is out, especially the dahlias which seem to be saving themselves for a freak heatwave. Buoyed by the current fine weather my hope is for an Indian summer so that I can wring as much enjoyment from my garden as possible. The nights are drawing in, and next weekend I begin planting my spring bulbs. Tempus fugit. TFG.