Posted on | June 22, 2012 | 3 Comments
The longest day of the year (Summer Solstice) has now passed and summer should be here, but alas, we have had a few warm days this week only to be buffeted again by more low pressure areas from the Atlantic with all the wind and rain that ensue – I’m not a fan of wind! This time last year, our lawns were crispy and brown, whereas this year even the surface of soil in my garden is turning green and of course our lawns are all growing like mad!
The recent spate of strong winds have played havoc with foliage, ripping off branches and generally making a mess, necessitating lots of raking to keep paths clear, though sometimes it’s not worth it as another low pressure follows on pretty rapidly and down come more leaves! I find the worst thing about wind, apart from being rather irritating, is that it desiccates foliage on plants and sucks all the moisture out of the leaves, even more so than hot weather does. My Persicaria virginiana Compton’s form for instance looks decidedly shabby with drooping desiccated and brown edged leaves despite being moist at the roots. Oh the trials and tribulations of gardening! It’s a joy really, so I shouldn’t complain too much – nature is only doing what it does – I just wish it wouldn’t do it all in my garden!
In the third week of May, I always give my Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ a good haircut, also known colloquially as the Chelsea chop! It grows so darn quickly in the spring that by this time of year it can easily be four feet tall, then inevitably flattened to the ground after heavy rain or gusty weather. I cut mine down to around six inches above the ground where they look rather sorry for themselves shorn of all their fabulous foliage, but, in three weeks or so, the clumps reshoots rapidly and by high summer you would never know that they had been cut down!
Thinking of wind and rain, it is very important to have tall floppy plants well staked to ensure they don’t fall over. Brittle stemmed plants like Dahlias for instance are difficult if almost impossible to stand up again once they have collapsed. A few years ago, a rather attractive corner of the garden was devastated by swirling winds smashing down several large clumps of Dahlias leaving a sorry tangled heap on the ground, hence staking is very important indeed. On smaller plants I usually use one central cane (my own of course) pushed into the ground so the top of the cane is just below the eventual flowering height. With the taller ones that get to 3-4ft tall I use three canes so that the canopy of foliage can be kept open rather than all bunched up. This done and regular dead heading of faded flowers through the season carried out, they should look excellent right through summer into autumn when the first frosts blacken their foliage, which is often well into November here.
Although we are rapidly approaching high summer, there is a long way to go yet, especially with exotic plants which power up to a crescendo well after the more traditional style herbaceous plants are long gone. At this time of year and especially if you are a fanatical gardener like me, it is easy to spend most evenings outside leisurely watering all the containerised plants and enjoying the evening scents and light play on the garden as June evenings progresses into twilight. Watering takes about an hour, thus giving me a chance to see all the potted plants in detail and whether any of them need any special attention other than just being admired.
A recent visitor to the garden was surprised to see a very large ‘Money Plant’ – Crassula argentea happily growing in a very large pot. She said ‘I didn’t think you could grow houseplants outside’. Of course, most houseplants love it, getting fresh rain and wind around them producing much sturdier plants in general and not thin and drawn ones as they often look if permanently grown inside where they usually lean in one direction towards a window desperately trying to find light! This particularly handsome and exceedingly large plant was donated to the garden a few years ago by a visitor as it had outgrown their conservatory.
Thinking of garden plant donations – last weekend’s open day saw a visitor to the garden with husband in tow who staggered up the entrance steps to the garden with a five foot tall ‘coffee plant’ Coffea Arabica . This rather large specimen was grown from seed they had brought back from Targu Mures Botanical Gardens, Romania in the year 2000 – not the sort of place I would naturally associate coffee with! It now has pride of place in my new tropical Polly tunnel and with luck will flower and produce fruit.
On a completely different note and while it is in full bloom, I mustn’t forget to mention a rather intriguing Mullein - Verbascum ‘Blue Lagoon’, a new introduction from Thompson and Morgan in 2011. It is now flowering by the entrance steps to the Exotic Garden and is a very dainty form only growing from 2-3ft tall and a very welcome introduction, as Mulleins are typically yellow, such as Verbascum bombyciferum which is just coming into flower here in the Xerophytic garden. Mulleins in general are wonderful plants as they will grow on the poorest of garden soils and can often be seen growing wild on railway embankments here in the UK. My first introduction to Mullein’s growing en masse was in the former garden of the deceased Norfolk Sculptor Edward Barker in the early 1970’s. The terrace and driveway at his cottage at Newton Flotman was a sea of 6-8 ft tall waving Verbascum olympicum with their attractive greyish green woolly leaves and candelabra-like spikes of yellow blooms from early to high summer.
The garden is calling – it is time for me to go and do some watering, or maybe just have a slow walk with my cats in tow around the garden and enjoy a long June summer evening.