August in the Garden 2010

We seem to be having a pretty fair summer this year (sorry if, by the time you read this, rains of biblical proportions have returned!) and the hard winter seems to have promoted really good flowering. Recent prolonged sunny weather, followed by a good dose of wind and rain, may have caused herbaceous plants to flop unless well staked. I didn’t get around to staking everything earlier this year, when it would have been easy to do, so now I am forced to do a bit of emergency intervention. It’s not ideal, and the big old herbaceous lumps do appear ‘trussed up’, but that’s the price to pay for not doing things in a timely fashion.

As ever I am playing ‘catch-up’ when I should be relaxing and enjoying the benefits of my gardening labours. Installing more water collecting apparatus is an aim I never seem to get around to. You can’t have enough water butts and it’s good to have them near to where the water is going to be needed. If you need to attach it to your gutter downpipe, which is often in full view, then it’s worth investing in one of the clever ‘trompe l’oeil’ versions that are available.

With the trend for all things bee related, promoting diverse insect life should be high on any gardener’s agenda, I have recently fallen for a butt cunningly disguised as a romantic version of a bee ‘skep’. What’s more it’s made by ‘Richard Sankey & Sons’, more fondly referred to as ‘Sankeys’, which is great as they have been in existence for over 150 years. If you are an aficionado of antique flowerpots then you will know that, please excuse the pun, Sankeys are the ‘bees knees’ when it comes to old terracotta pots. I have a few ancient pots with the legend ‘R Sankey and Sons, Notts’ impressed into the clay around the rim. A faux ‘antique’ plastic water butt may not be quite as authentic but it brings the story nicely up to date.

Speaking of ‘up to date’; while I was working at the ‘Hampton Court Palace Flower Show’ I filmed a piece on new plant introductions featuring a newly launched Linaria on the ‘Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants’ stand. When first recce’d it was simply named ‘Dwarf’ to reflect that it is a more compact, denser flowering, chance seedling of the taller, more willowy, Linaria purpurea (Toadflax). It’s so new that Rob and Rosy Hardy hadn’t had time to think about a more memorable variety name so the rather dull ‘Dwarf’ was applied instead.

By the time that I returned with Chris Beardshaw to actually film the item, ‘Dwarf’ had morphed into the much more user-friendly ‘Mini-Me’ – so that’s what we called it for the programme. Alas it was not to be; before we had a chance to transmit that item Rob had got back in touch to alert us that ‘Mini-Me’ was already claimed by another firm, for all horticultural use, so ‘Dwarf’ was reinstated. We couldn’t re-record the item, at that late stage, so the whole section was consigned to the cutting room floor. No-one will ever know how close Linaria ‘Dwarf’ came to being the much more exotic ‘Mini-Me’!

When it comes to good plants in August there is a bit of a sea change in the flowering ‘feel’ as the later summer perennials come into their own. Phlox is (are?) the classic choice to plug what can be a slight hiatus in flowering. Recent new introductions have sought to combat their reputation for being a martyr to mildew and eelworm so they really are worth revisiting if you gave up on them many moons ago.

I really like Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ as it has almost blue flowers, for a phlox, which are scented and really come into their own in the evening. They are best grown in a little shade, which helps to reduce the risk of mildew, but not the sort of shade which causes them to be dry at the root. As long as they don’t go short of water then a sunny border situation can suit them but there is a danger that strong sun will fade the flowers very quickly in some varieties.

On the maintenance side of things then the standard ‘keep calm and carry on’ applies to the regular mowing / deadheading / trimming / watering side of things. Feeding can be reduced from now on as promoting too much soft growth at this stage of the growing season is best avoided. Annual and bedding plants are the exception to this rule as they need all the help they can get to keep going as long as possible.

I am pleased to report that my mail-order Penstemons are going from strength to strength. I’m in quandary as to whether to let them flower in this first season or to keep pinching out the buds to promote stronger growth…….decisions, decisions. Either way they are getting big enough to take a few stem cuttings from so I may have even more little plants to overwinter than I started with.

It’s worth noting that you are only allowed to take cuttings from plants with ‘PBR’ (‘Plant Breeders Rights’) status for your own use, not for profit or for selling on. Most new cultivars (man-made varieties) will be protected in this way as otherwise there is little motive for breeders to put money into new, improved, garden plants if they aren’t allowed to profit from them before every Tom, Dick and Harriet has them on their market stall. It also helps to identify ‘newer’ varieties when looking through catalogues or nursery lists.

Before I go; hedges should be trimmed as necessary this month plus it’s time to start gearing up for the annual shearing of yew, in all its garden incarnations. I tend to start this in late August but not actually finish the task until well into September – and that’s another month gone…