As the sun sets on August, what will be my abiding memories of summer 2018? It goes without saying that the heat and drought that descended on the South East from early May until early August will not be forgotten. Sustained fine weather, with many consecutive days in the high twenties centigrade, provided exceptional growing conditions for the tender plants I love. Many have grown larger and flowered earlier than ever before. I’ve experimented with plants generally considered too delicate to be grown outdoors and enjoyed surprising success. Bromeliads, tillandsias and anthuriums have flourished in the shelter of my tiny courtyard, not just sitting patiently, but actually growing handsomely.
The downside was the excessive amount of watering required to keep everything alive. Garden writer Jack Wallington kindly praised my ‘good husbandry’ after visiting in early August, the most sincerely appreciated compliment I have been paid as a gardener. But keeping the garden in its prime took its toll. I was frequently to be found in the garden after dark, either with a watering can or a torch, stalking vine weevils and snails. I rarely got enough sleep during the week, but it was enough to know that visitors appreciated my efforts when they flocked to The Watch House on August 4th and 5th, raising £1400 for the National Gardens Scheme in the space of just 8 hours.
It would be a mistake to imagine that we’ll be blessed with similar weather next year, or that 2018’s heatwave will come to be considered ‘normal’. The likelihood is that next year will be cooler, or at least less consistently warm. Like any gardener I will adapt as nature demands and take care not to be lulled into a false sense of security.
Towards the end of July and through August came some unexpectedly vicious storms, bringing with them high winds and heavy rain. These did a lot of damage in my garden, shredding banana leaves, toppling dahlias, pushing over trees and flattening coleus. The worst storm, on Friday 27th July, was especially destructive and unwelcome, coming as it did shortly before my garden opening. We’ve been warned that with warmer summers we should expect more extreme weather events, and it certainly feels like this prophecy came to pass in 2018. It’s a salutary reminder that I must think again about protecting my garden from the wind that comes from the north and the south, and that I really must stake my plants earlier in the year. I know I should, but I hate to see canes poking up everywhere (and hate it even more when I fall into a forest of them, as I did the other day!). However, staking really is a necessity if I wish to continue with the jungly planting style I have developed over the last 5 years.
A cooler end to August has been a blessing, reducing the burden of watering and restoring colour to the foliage of my coleus, especially ‘Henna’ (above) which was starting to become badly bleached by the sun. I shall wait a few weeks longer before offering an assessment of the coleus varieties I have been trialing, although I can already reveal that ‘Pineapplette’ has withered and died despite receiving the same treatment as all the others. You win some, you lose some. At the moment I am particularly taken with the small-leaved varieties such as ‘Lord Falmouth’ and ‘Burgundy Wedding Train’. Since the rain resumed, most plants look fresher and happier, although there are slightly fewer flowers in the garden overall. It’s easy to forget how dusty and dull foliage can get during a dry spell.
As September approaches I feel content with how the garden is looking, although I can think of countless opportunities for improvement. I have missed my agapanthus, still recovering after the beastly spring, and anticipate it may be another two years before they are back on top form. I can already tell that the workshop is going to be an absolute godsend over winter, especially now that it has a supply of electricity. I shall be overwintering all my gingers and bananas in there, but not before I’ve potted up my spring bulbs. These ought to have been ordered by now, but I’ve not had the time, or the funds: another job for the autumn ‘to do’ list. The lilies I purchased at Hampton Court Flower Show are about to start flowering, and soon will come nerines, more gingers and more dahlias. There’s plenty of life in this year yet. TFG.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the summer of 2018. Did you love or loath the hot weather? Were you a slave to the hose or did you resist the urge to irrigate? Do let me know how you and your plants have fared and what you’re looking forward to this autumn.