And when was summer? (End of the month view, August 2012)


There’s no doubt about it, autumn has snuck up on this garden. Well, not so much ‘snuck up’ as arrived with a vengeance. The rowan has already lost a lot of its leaves,

and the paths are slippery with berries, but it’s still a little bit patchy. Some parts of the garden think it’s summer – the beans which are normally over by the end of June (Cobra) are in full production – and others are convinced its spring: the Echinops ritro has another burst of flower spikes coming, for example. There are even magnolias in flower in the next village, though mine at least seems to know what time of year it is. Very confusing.

The major change over the last month has been the loss of the big cedar, and I am just about getting used to walking round the corner of the house and seeing the view.

That’s once I’ve finished skidding on rowan berries, of course.

It has changed the middle garden profoundly. I anticipated that, but I hadn’t anticipated quite how it would change it. The bed in the middle, which I’d expanded in size and which worked well when the tree was there, now looks ridiculous: ‘a tom tit on a round of beef’ I think is the expression. It’s nowhere near big enough.

This garden is the ‘practical’ garden. It’s the flattest of the three levels; it’s where the big picnic bench is, where the washing line is strung from the house to the old ty bach, where barbecues happen and snowdrops cover the grass in February (OK, that’s not practical, but it is a factor). The tree provided a counter-balance to the ash and gave a sense of enclosure which the garden no longer has. I don’t miss it, exactly – I like my neighbours, and I’ve been waving to them – but it’s not as comfortable as it was. I need to address this somehow and get back that sense of balance, and I’m not sure how. I was going to plant something like a tamarix where the huge hebe/tree combo stood, and then I wasn’t: I liked the openness. But I’m returning to the idea, I think, as much for that elusive balance as anything else. A feathery tamarix would cope with the weather, not interfere with the view or communication with the neighbours, but provide a stop, a definite something, a boundary, albeit a permeable one… Still thinking this through.

And then this needs expanding:

It needs weeding as well, but don’t look (silly workload at the moment). In here are – apart from the brown lily, see what the last week’s weather has done to my beauties, grr – a whole load of tulips, gathered from all sorts of pots and places where they no longer fit. I’m hoping for an insane riot of colour come the spring, but I’ll probably just get a load of old leaves. So it’s going to increase (carefully) in size, allowing for the huge clumps of double snowdrops that appear on its seaward side, and then I’ll do something interesting with it. I’ve started thinking herbs, but we shall see.

There should be sunflowers here, too. I thought not, and then I noticed this…

which suddenly turned into this:

Not quite what I anticipated, and it doesn’t really go with the marigolds which are planted around it, but attractive nonetheless. I’ve had quite a few similar surprises this year. This month.

One of which has been the meadow. Flat by early August. The weather has just smashed it down, repeatedly, and there’s a limit to the number of times it can take that vigorous a level of assault and bounce back. It needs cutting, but I’m reluctant to do it too soon: I got it right last year, and there has been a huge increase in the number of daisies, umbellifers, vetches and orange hawkweed as a result. So I really do want them to set seed – I’m monitoring the hogweed particularly – and then I’ll strim it and let it lie before we go over it with P’s big industrial lawnmower. But in the meanwhile I’m living with this:

(photo taken very early, before work and before the sun was really high enough), which is irritating the socks off me every time I look out of the window.

And talking of irritation, since when were Japanese anemones a meadow flower?

Huh? I think NOT. It’s cute, but it’s coming out. Before it attracts too many of its friends (a couple have already moved in, and I’m coming over all NIMBY and Daily Mail about it – unedifying, but there you go).

This is also the month when my freezers normally start filling up. That’s a bit different this year, too. There are no spuds drying off and my onions rotted in the ground, but I am finally getting a bean crop though the runners haven’t started properly yet, and the beetroot are looking good. The apples are a joke – no glut for me this year – and though the raspberries look as though they’ll be impressive, I suspect I’ll have to race the mould. But the Japanese wineberries are scrummy:

and I manage to beat the birds to those, at least. And at last the tomatoes are ripening. My largest so far has been a Black Russian at 300g – and it was delicious, though nowhere near my half-kilo-for-a-single-tom record. I don’t normally go for the big veg thing, but the Black Russians do it anyway, so I just let them get on with it. I’ve also got some green peppers but I don’t think I’ll go with them again; they take up a lot of space and I’m blaming them for my whitefly outbreak.

At last I’m getting bees – everywhere. They’ve been enjoying the triffid (aka Angelica gigas), which is on its last legs and has proved to be a slug magnet as well as being phenomenally attractive to bees:

And they really love the monarda, now nearly over,

and so much so that I can sneak up on them with my camera and they flatly refuse to budge. But the lavender path / hedge / wilderness is the main focus. It is – sorry – a hive of activity, though individual flowers evidently need much less concentrated attention than the monarda does – the difference between settling down for a  Sunday lunch and grabbing a quick bar snack, perhaps. Hive of activity indeed – now there’s a thought: I know a local beekeeper; I wonder if he’s looking for somewhere to plonk a hive?

You can hear the mass buzzing from quite a distance. Please, please, please let the temperatures stay warm enough for them to forage for a little while longer (and me too)…


30 Comments Add yours

  1. easygardener says:

    This summer has been a disaster for some plants so I really appreciate the ones that are thriving. I like the colour of your sunflower, lovely shade of pale yellow. I think the Japanese Anemone is trying to disguise itself as a dainty meadow flower 🙂

    1. kate says:

      Hah! I’m now looking at the Japanese anemone in a different light, but it’s no good, it’s not a master of disguise, it’s a ****** Japanese anemone and it’s ***** coming OUT. Except it really is too cute just now. I’ll wait a bit…

      The sunflower is a complete surprise – a friend gave me a couple of seedlings, didn’t mention colour or anything, just said ‘they’re sunflowers, not the tall ones’. I’m wondering if it will come true from seed, that’s if it sets seed at all, because I love it too.

  2. I think the warmer weather arrived just in time for the bees , butterflies and us gardeners. Plants have grown so much in all the rain, at least now, in between the showers, we can get out and start cutting back the jungle! You certainly have lots of plans for your garden, I think this is the best part, surrounded by books, making plans, choosing which plants to have in your garden, will look forward to seeing the result.

    1. Dobby says:

      The poor meadow. It does look a bit sad. I hope we get some sun for the seeds heads to develop and dry off properly. I have been waiting for my foxgloves to set seed so that I can cut them back, but every time they look just about ready, it rains again. I sure they are going to go mouldy first!
      See you tomorrow.

      1. kate says:

        Oh, it’s tragic. The only things standing up are the St John’s Wort and the occasional bracken frond that I’ve missed. And it will be a mat beneath all that flatness, too – need some really dry weather. Not today or tomorrow, alas. But the forecast for the week sounds better…

    2. kate says:

      I’m very good at the plans, I just get bogged down when it comes to carrying them out. There’s always something else that distracts me, and at the moment it’s the weeds. Boy, oh boy, this warmer weather has certainly been good for them. Phew!

  3. Cathy says:

    What a lovely honest account of where you and your garden are in each other’s lives at the moment – it is a pleasure to have shared it. Thank you.

    1. kate says:

      Thank you – I think it really helps to get your thoughts down – nearly said ‘on paper’, dur, but you know what I mean. Doesn’t mean they won’t change, though…

  4. Christina says:

    I so enjoyed reading your analysis of your garden. Your thought processes are very logical. I felt really part of the discussion. Thank you. Christina

    1. kate says:

      Thanks, Christina. I find blogging really useful – well, for many reasons, of course , but it makes me try and think clearly about what I want to achieve. Otherwise I have a terrible tendency to shove plants in without really considering the implications. I go for colour and whether they will live, and forget about whether they’ll actually work and do what I want!

      I suppose major changes always throw up major adaptations. Never predicted these!

  5. hillwards says:

    You really have had a bad time of it up there. Makes me really appreciate our weird local weather system, which does mean that we’ve been enjoying (and freezing) runner beans for months, and the onions don’t *look* like they’ve rotted, though perhaps when we come to lift them it will be a different story.
    The pale sunflower is lovely, almost green. Nice to have the excuse to extend another border too, funny how one tree can make such a difference.

    1. kate says:

      I’m not speaking to you any more, Runner Bean Queen. Sniffle. Oh, all right, I will, because it looks as though we could be in for a nice week, and if we can just have a hint of summer it will bring mine on. I hope – because the three plants the slugs have left me with are covered in flowers and beans about – oh – 2cm long.

      I wish I’d known about that off sunflower colour a bit earlier, because I put it with calendulas. It’s a bit ouch…. but I do love it, so fingers crossed for viable seed and a better pairing next year.

  6. interesting how you are reviewing your thoughts on the middle garden minus tree, the round bed with sundial would make a traditional looking herb bed, you have quite a lot of blooms despite your weather, isn’t it lovely to hear the garden buzzing I love it, Frances

    1. kate says:

      You’re so right about the herbs. I’m ever so tempted, because I’ve always fancied a really traditional herb garden. Even before I had a garden at all, when I was living on a houseboat having just gone down to London (we’re talking early 80s here), I bought a book on herb gardens and used to pore over it…. wonder where it is?

      Should be a good week for the bees – fingers crossed!

  7. wellywoman says:

    It certainly has been a strange year. A disappointing one produce wise. We’ve had 3 days in a row with no rain which has been great and a chance to see bees and butterflies all over the garden. I could get used to this not having to cover myself from head to foot in waterproofs. Probably wise not to though 😉

    1. kate says:

      A weird one indeed, and pants on the produce front here too. A winter of bought spuds. Grr.

      It’s the sandals I’m looking forward to – I think my toes have seen the light of day about twice this summer. Walking boots, wellies, garden clogs with thick socks, yes; elegant footwear and painted toenails – no. Hang on, I was paddling around in espadrilles in March.. That was it. Summer.

  8. Crystal says:

    I was thinking of growing Angelica gigas, saw it on TV the other day, but having second thoughts if it’s a slug magnet. Is it worth growing, if only for the bees ?

    1. kate says:

      Mmm – I’m not sure. Of course it’s monocarpic, so there’s no second year once it has set seeds – downside number one. It’s certainly spectacular, though I found it more intriguing as it burst than I did when it was in full flower (huge upside). I could keep the slugs off it by putting a ring of pellets around the base – when there’s no alternative I use the organic ones – but if I forgot or if the protective circle got disturbed they’d be slithering their vile way up there again. Many mornings I’ve gone out to find the flower head covered in slug drool, and the bastards ate into one of the buds. That counts as a downside and an upside, I suppose – if I’d kept on top of it it wouldn’t have been so bad, and it is even more amazing to look at when it’s unadorned by slime. I’m glad I’ve grown it, but I’m not sure if I’ll bother again.

      Mind you, it is an exceptionally bad slug year…

  9. Lyn says:

    Your new view is really lovely, isn’t it? Something to savour when the weather has let you down so badly.

    1. kate says:

      It is good – another compensation. And it does mean I’m even more likely to spot the storms coming about 10 minutes before they actually hit!

  10. We did have summer … I think it was a long weekend in April, we certainly had meals outside and I remember saying then “make the most of it this is the only summer we are getting”!

    It will be such an exciting winter for you and the garden, so many possibilities. I have grown a.gigas and not had slugs on it, it might be worth giving it another go at some point in the future (possible when a hot dry summer is forecast! Hah!)

    1. kate says:

      I remember being in Llandudno when I had my hand op on March 24 and seeing everyone in shorts and flip-flops – white legs like potato shoots everywhere (the trauma, the trauma).

      P and I were just discussing the amount of work to be done – I think he’s planning emigrating. Small hedge under rowan came out today…

      1. Now that is exciting … must pop up and see, when I am recovered …. 😉
        (And when you are recovered from the marathon that you put in at my open garden yesterday – for which huge amount of thanks are due)

        1. kate says:

          Any time. Feet back to normal size, have had pinny surgically removed. (For anyone mystified, I was helping with tea and cakes at Karen’s NGS day, it’s not some sort of weird fetish. Honest.)

  11. A tamarisk sound lovely, but then I would say that as I am toying with the idea of planting one myself! The sense of balance is important, I think, and the other kind of balance, between enjoying the view and openness (and liking one’s neighbours) and being able to hang out the washing in peace without having to converse. Enlarging that central bed might make a bigger difference than you think, but I suspect it will take some time to get a sense for what you really want to do there, the feeling must have changed really dramatically.

    1. kate says:


      I’m still having tamarix doubts, though, because I don’t really want pink. I do want feathery and light, I do want wind-resistant, I do want something with a good flowering season (preferably nowish too), and I do want something compatible with the semi-naturalness of the middle garden. Karen suggested a big Stipa, which sounds lovely but I’m not sure whether it would work there (though I’m determined to fit one into the bottom garden). I keep returning to that local favourite, the fuchsia, but heavily pruned to control excess enthusiasm. I think you’re right – I’ll expand the middle bed first and we’ll see how that looks.

      I thought the window cleaner was going to have a heart attack today – I forgot to warn him about the disappearing tree and he walked round the corner all unsuspecting… Keeps getting me, too.

      1. The baby pink scared me too, but then I saw one in flower and I think I can work with it – the plan is to plant a sambucus nigra next to it as a foil for the foliage and to tone down the flowers, and major on blues and whites underneath. That’s today, anyway… Your poor window cleaner! bet he liked the view though.

        1. kate says:

          Now that sounds like a delicious combination – I’ve got a S. niger and though it’s only a baby, it is going to be wonderful (plus you can make lovely elderflower cordial from the flowers – and it’s PINK…
          However, Mr Tree Surgeon Man has just been round and taken the back off my throne – strangely I now feel much less conspicuous sitting on it, so I want to ensure access to the stump. Maybe tamarix is out, and I’m not so bothered by the lack of balance now anyway. Back to small changes making a huge difference. And back to the flipping drawing board!

  12. Cathy says:

    Finally managed to pay you a proper visit today – I was losing track of which end-of-months I had dipped into, but have now caught up on your garden and its cedar history. I really enjoy your style of writing, Kate, so look forward to reading more.

    1. kate says:

      Hello – it can get very muddling sometimes, can’t it, and I find I get bogged down in work too (would rather be reading blogs than exciting editing projects), which stops me catching up, but The EOMVs are a great way of doing it. Look forward to ‘seeing’ more of you!

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