August - in the garden
Proper rain falling on warm soil creates excellent growing conditions, and plants are growing at an astonishing rate. Growth normally seen in May and June finally arrived in July. Unfortunately the weeds are growing just as fast and plants which were not adequately staked earlier are flopping. Climbing through the flower beds propping up plants provides an opportunity to assess which need to be split or moved at the end of the season. It’s easier to assess how much room a plant needs while it is in full growth, rather than when it’s cut back to a crown in the autumn.
Hardy annuals for next year can be sown later this month. This coincides with collecting seeds from the earliest flowering annuals like ammi and orlaya. Fresh seeds germinate well but must be completely dry before storing. Annuals sown in late summer and autumn may look pretty scrawny and unpromising over the winter, but they will be developing good root systems and will be much bigger, stronger and earlier than the same variety sown in spring. Self-sown seedlings often appear in dense clumps near their parent plant now, but with damp weather forecast for the first half of this month they can be carefully moved to appropriate places.
Above the glasshouse the moon garden has made great strides in this first season and is beginning to fill out. With a limited colour palette the different shapes and textures of plants become more evident, and more interesting. The following plants all have completely different forms. Stipa tenuissima is a clump forming grass looking like fine hair. Stachys lanata, lamb’s ears, has soft silver felty leaves. Lysimachia clethroides has strange bent flower spikes which give it its common name of gooseneck loosestrife. Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’ provides a vertical accent, and is a good plant to follow foxgloves earlier in the season. Vita Sackville-West called such plants minarets.
The lavender in the bumblebee garden is blooming spectacularly now and is attracting huge numbers of bumblebees. Though this garden was designed specifically for bumbles, it attracts many other pollinating insects too, including honeybees. The willow tunnel and igloo in the children’s play area are also attracting insects, but different ones. At this time of year the willow is colonised by aphids which like to feast on sugary sap in the willow bark. They don’t have a very efficient digestive system, and a lot of the sugar they consume is excreted as honeydew, leaving a sticky residue behind on the leaves and stems. This does not harm the willow’s health or vigour (though sooty mould can develop on the sticky leaves) but it can attract other insects. Aphids are traditionally unpopular with gardeners, but large numbers on willows will support a healthy population of aphid predators like ladybirds, ground beetles and hoverflies which will help control pests elsewhere in the garden. Aphids are an important food source for birds too, usually plucked off a plant stem though swallows will catch flying aphids. It’s all a matter of balance.