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GardeningAugust in the Garden 2009

August in the Garden 2009

Oh dear! I really shouldn’t have tempted fate, last month, by suggesting that July might actually be warm and sunny; cue Biblical deluge. It has meant that I’ve saved loads of time in not having to water my remaining containers so often and everything in the ground has romped away.

Firmly believing that ‘every silver lining has a cloud’, the downside of all this rain is that I haven’t been able to keep on top of the mowing. My lovely tractor, 50 years old and usually going strong, has decided to burst some sort of gland and, as a consequence, I’ve had to strim huge areas of grass instead of running the topper over them. Fortunately I only have about 5 square metres of ‘proper’ lawn so mowing in the ‘pleasure ground’ is minimal.

Weeds can also get the upper hand this month as warm temperatures and abundant moisture give them the best conditions to grow rapidly to flowering size and hence spawn another invasive generation. Abundant water slows the actual ‘running to seed’ process, buying you a bit of time, but as soon as there’s a dry spell weeds rapidly flower, get pollinated and set seed before you know it. The trick is to nip in and remove them before they flower. As long as it’s an annual weed, and not bearing seed, it can be added to the compost heap which is at its most active, and therefore hottest, during the summer.

If you have large areas of paving, gravel or other prime weed infestation area, and do not have strong organic principles, then the application of a long-lasting chemical weed control will save you a lot of future weeding time. Since the withdrawal of many of the weed controlling chemicals, I won’t bore you with the political details of these chemical bans, I find that the effect is not as long lasting as it used to be (“in the good old days”!).

Having said that, if you apply on a dry day, at the suggested application rate, a path clearing type weedkiller wipes out whatever weeds are currently growing and prevents any subsequent germination for a few months – thus breaking the cycle of growth, flowering and seed setting. Apply with a watering can equipped with a fine rose, or weedkiller application bar, on a still day. Wind carrying the droplets onto adjoining beds and borders can cause, occasionally baffling, weedkiller induced plant deformities and death.

I don’t use many chemicals in the garden, especially now that all the best ones have been banned (!), but I think it’s important to weigh up exactly how harmful you are being against the general environmental enrichment of a diverse garden. My garden buzzes with insect life on late summer days. The extension of the peak flowering season, by planting vibrant Compositae (helenium, rudbeckia, echinacea, aster, helianthus, inula etc.), more than makes up for the occasional use of chemical control; “you pays your money and you takes your choice”.

This advice is getting a bit repetitive, sorry but that’s the nature of gardening tasks, but you should continue dead-heading, feeding and chopping back this month in order to extract the longest flowering potential from your beds, borders and containers. If vine weevils have proved a problem in the past then a timely application of ‘vine weevil killer’ should break their life cycle – especially if followed by a second application in the autumn. As ever; follow the instructions on the pack.

The major task for me to start this month is the annual trimming of yew hedges. By this point in the year they have made a lot of soft ‘extension’ growth and this has to be removed if the hedge is to remain a nice tight shape and within bounds. Newly planted yew hedges need to be trimmed, to encourage a dense, solid, hedge, but less drastically. Some new growth needs to be left in order that they grow taller / broader until they reach the planned height and width.

Once yew hedges have reached the desired size then they respond really well to being trimmed back to the same height and shape each year. A minimal amount of new growth can be left, literally just a fraction of an inch, but otherwise a single trim at this time of year is all they need. Eventually they will expand to the point where a drastic chop back is necessary but then they really come into their own because, rarely amongst conifers, they retain the ability to sprout afresh from even the oldest, brownest, wood.

I remember, many moons ago, seeing the yew hedges at ‘Sissinghurst’ cut right back to their central trunks, all down one side, reducing their width by many feet. Once this side had reclothed itself, a process which took many years, the other side was given the same treatment. If both sides had been done at once, bearing in mind the hedges were at least fifty years old, the plants could have been severely weakened and would have taken much longer to recover. Feeding and watering during the growing season will speed up the recovery process.

Fresh growth, recovery and recuperation are all things which the garden can do and so can you. Get out there and enjoy it, even if you haven’t don’t know your Compositae from your Fordsonia power-majorus.

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