How Does my Garden Grow? August

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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.


Dahlia ‘Labyrinth’ and Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’


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.


Pelargonium ‘Indian Dunes’ (with flowers deliberately removed), Solonostemon ‘Campfire’ and Aeoniums ‘Zwartkop’ and ‘Poldark’


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.


Cobaea scandens – the cup-and-saucer vine



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.


Begonia ‘Million Kisses Elegance’


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.


The Gin and Tonic Garden


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.


The Gin and Tonic garden has a spontaneous feel, probably because its creation has been entirely spontaneous!


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.


Canna ‘America’ with Begonia luxurians


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 perfect spot to enjoy a cup of tea or something stronger at the end of the day


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.







Categories: Climbers, Flowers, Foliage, fragrance, Musings, Our Coastal Garden, Perennials, Photography, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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25 comments On "How Does my Garden Grow? August"

  1. Have been trying to identify a plant seen by a friend who was visiting a garden in Dublin. Was no nearer to doing so and then, suddenly, this morning there it was sitting in your garden!!!! My guardian angel once again came up trumps – she’s always on my shoulder. Begonia Luxurians. Do you bring the plant indoors for the winter? Love the white begonia – I’ve seen it in red. Enjoyed your interesting and colourful blog. Incidentally, my dahlias are sooooooo slow to flower this year.

    1. Glad it’s not just me then! I went to The Salutation on Saturday and the dahlias there are looking great, so, sadly, I think it might be something we are doing wrong. Hey ho. Begonia luxurians is definitely tender, so you would need to to keep it indoors over winter. I cut mine back before stashing it somewhere that does not freeze. I also keep it very dry during winter so that it does not rot.

  2. I, too, thought that I was ill-treating my dahlias, as they aren’t doing anything much, but perhaps not. Some of mine are black-leaved ones from The Salutation, some I bought on line, but none have made many flowers yet. So looking forward to seeing your gardens next year. Am taking my garden group to Steve and Louise’s garden on 8th September, really looking forward to it, especially after you posted such yummy pictures of your visit.

    1. I am guessing it will look even better by then. The kinds of plants they grow tend to get more and more magnificent as October approaches. You will have a great time. The offer is still open to pop round here if you have time. I am not sure whether you saw my last suggestion? If not, this coming Sunday would be fine. Dan

  3. Love everything about your garden, especially the window box in the Gin and Tonic garden, noticed a prostrate rosemary, my favorite, I have to grow it in pots, and so envious when i have seen pics of it growing down walls in England. I think it might of been from one of your posts. Anyway, I so admire your hard work with most everything in pots, mine always look haggard, don’t fertilize enough and forget to water. I guess too busy weeding the clover that seems to of taken over my garden.

    1. That is kind Sarah, thank you. Of course, all I can see is the faults with my garden, and, believe me, there are many.

      Growing in pots is a form of slavery I’m afraid, there is no escaping it. Without meticulous watering and feeding it’s hard to get anything to grow as well as it might in the ground, and even then many plants resent it. However, as a means of bringing an area of paving, or in my case thick concrete, to life, then pots are priceless. It’s very rare to find weeds growing in a healthy pot of plants, so maybe pay the pots more attention and let the clover get on with it. At least it will be enriching the soil as it goes!

  4. It grows ever more beautiful and varied, it’s an inspiration to read about it, thanks. I hadn’t heard of African Blue Basil, I must research it as the Italian variety doesn’t grow well for me in my Suffolk garden, perhaps Ocimum ‘African Blue’ will work here. Do you recall where you bought it, was it seeds or a plant?

    1. I think it would do very well for you in Suffolk as it’s dry and warm, as it is here in Kent. I have grown from plants (Sarah Raven sells plugs) and from seed. It’s nothing like the Italian variety in terms of difficulty and is attractive enough to grow as a bedding plant as well as a herb. The bees adore it too. All round a great value plant.

  5. Hi Dan
    Re Begonia Luxurians that was picked up on by Sally – any tips please? Mine is in its second year (purchased as a cutting) but doesn’t seem to have done anything and despite potting it on it just seems to be sulking. Would be grateful for any ideas as usual. Many thanks and keep up the good work!
    kind regards

    1. Hmmm. I wonder if you might have overpotted it? In my experience Begonia luxurians prefers shade and looks a bit sickly in direct sunlight. It seems to like being squeezed in with other things as well, probably because it’s used to growing in still, humid conditions on the forest floor. If you have it somewhere exposed, too bright or too dry, that could be the issue, but also if it swimming around in a lot of cold, soggy compost it won’t like that either. Might be worth tipping it out and seeing how full of root the pot is and perhaps downsize in the short term?

      Be patient and I am sure it will get going. When I have taken cuttings they have taken a couple of years to start making significant growth. Hope this helps. Dan

  6. Your gardens look amazing. Lucky you for a cool season. In Portland, OR we are experiencing another heat-wave. There is only time to water. Although, I attempt dead-heading along the way.
    I hope you feel better soon. Elizabeth

    1. Thank you Elizabeth. We are having a mini heatwave at the moment, but it’s needed after a cool August. It does seem that the USA has been experiencing a lot of extreme weather events recently. I feel for those poor souls in Houston right now. Dan

  7. I’ve only just found your blog but am enjoying your comments and gorgeous photos immensely. How clever to rely on foliage in pots, flowers are so fleeting and try as I might each year I still succumb to flowers! I am so ill-disciplined with catalogues. If it’s any consolation, my dahlias are really slow too this year. I’ve had terrible trouble with blackfly on them ( never before, and they have not spread to anything else even though there are climbing roses right next to them) I am blaming the blackfly for setting them back. May I ask you a non plant related question? I love your outdoor (moulded plastic?) dining chairs, would you tell me where they cam from?

    1. Funny how blackfly will do that Pippa. For me it’s a Magnolia grandiflora they are all magnetically drawn to, leaving dahlias and roses unblemished.

      The chairs are Magis ‘Air’ chairs. I cannot recommend them highly enough. They are light, stackable and they do not stain or mark even when left outside all year and covered in debris, which mine frequently are. Any stubborn stains come out with a mildly abrasive cleaning paste like astonish. The only thing they are not the best for is standing on as they have a small degree of flex. They were not designed to be stood on, especially by me, so I can overlook that! You’ll find Air chairs all over the Internet so shop around for the best price …. and make sure they are genuine not rip-offs.

  8. As always it looks great. Every garden needs a “gin & tonic” spot. In ours it is a seat next to our large pond which faces south but is in a sheltered area.

  9. Thanks for the advise Dan. I think my Begonia luxurians may have heard my grumblings to you as I’ve gone out to check it tonight and have lots of new leaves coming on! I think it may be next year before it becomes ‘luxuriant’ but at least we are on the way. Oh and I found treasure at the weekend, a Mariane’s Marvel Correa for £5 – what a bargain! Can’t wait for it to flower. Thanks again and hope you are feeling better.

  10. Beautiful! I am sorry your have been sick. Traveling can do that…all those strangers and germs. My garden is soaking from Harvey so I am imagining sitting in your garden sipping a G&T. Cheers!

  11. Your point about foliage over flowers is very apt and you’ve followed this rule to wonderful effect with your many types, textures and colours of leaves. Your gardens are looking fabulous! I’m redesigning my front garden (shady, dry, relentless wind) and will endeavour to bear your wise words in mind when choosing what to buy.

  12. I love the begonia “Million Kisses”. I’ve never seen it before. Your garden is a delight!

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