Late in the day: How to make your gardening interesting in August

Already by the end of June, I felt that the best things in the garden had already happened. Now, at the end of July, I know they have. August has always seemed a black hole in our patch. Partly, this may be because in August I've always been somewhere else. All the summers of my childhood were spent in Pembrokeshire. Then for 15 years, we took our own children there too, Augusts of anoraks and Wellington boots, damp bonfires and Atlantic breakers. Now that their memories have dried out a bit, they talk fondly about those holidays. But they take their own children to sunny Portugal. Free of school holidays, I go to Scotland in August and collect waterfalls.

Of course there are plenty of ways to keep a garden singing in August. Dahlias for a start. But we did dahlias a long time ago and now I've turned against their beefy arrogance. There are also plenty of perennials that peak in the second half of the summer (read Marina Christopher's excellent book Late Summer Flowers) but most of the things I'm passionate about – iris, tulips, ferns, euphorbias – have done their thing. Ferns and euphorbias still look handsome, but not as ravishing as they did in May. Of the three kinds of herbaceous plant I reach for more often than any other – euphorbias, thalictrums, and monkshoods – only the monkshoods have yet to peak.

The first thing you are generally told about monkshoods is that they are poisonous. Yes, they are, but who'd ever think of eating them? For a gardener, the most important thing about them is that they have superb, dark, deeply-cut foliage and splendid spikes of hooded flowers, mostly in shades of blue. There's a white kind, 'Ivorine', and a greyish variety, 'Stainless Steel', but neither has the punch of the blue. Monkshoods will easily grow up to 1.5m (5ft) but, unlike delphiniums, don't need staking.

The kind I like are mostly tall and a dark, saturated kind of blue. 'Newry Blue', bred at the Daisy Hill nursery in Northern Ireland, has been around since the Fifties, but is an outstanding monkshood which flowers all the way through from July to September. Aconitum carmichaelii 'Kelmscott' is equally tall (1.5m) and late. 'Arendsii' doesn't even start until September and continues until, in our garden, the leaves on the hazel behind it turn the colour of butter.

When we first came to our new house, I had The Plan, to combat the late-summer doldrums. I would grow lilies and I would make a more serious attempt to grow decent annuals. I've done both, but this season, for different reasons, neither has solved the August gap. Lilies grow beautifully in the light, nutritious, slightly acid soil we've got here, but the more I plant, the more lily beetle we attract. There's a logic in that I suppose, but where are the wretched things coming from? For decades, there was not a single lily on this patch of ground. As soon as I started to plant them, they appeared. This year, perhaps because the lilies came through earlier than usual, they were sitting provocatively on the leaves by mid-April. I've been on the warpath ever since.

And actually, my favourite lilies flower in June and July, not August. By late June, both 'Nicotine' and 'Red Russian' had finished their display. They are types of martagon lily, with smallish reflexed flowers beautifully held on a stem about 45cm (18in) tall. The ordinary martagons (a deep, raspberryish kind of pink) grow well here and I'm hoping the newly introduced hybrids will, too. 'Nicotine' is a burnt marmalade colour. 'Red Russian' is the deepest maroon you can imagine. Both have brilliant orange stamens hanging out like bell clappers from the mouth of the flower. They are wonderful. But finished. As are the Regale lilies and 'Casa Blanca', which in July filled the terrace in front of the house with its astonishing scent.

As for the annuals, The Plan started well. In September last year, I sowed seed of cornflower, ammi and orlaya (think cow parsley, but slightly grander). This is by far the best way to get substantial plants to set out in spring. In early autumn, I pricked out each seedling into its own 7cm (3in) pot and then later in autumn, repotted everything into slightly larger (11cm/4in) pots. They spent the winter in the greenhouse – unheated. By mid-March this year, they were roaring to get out of their pots, so I took a chance and planted them out. As we all now know, we had the warmest spring since records began. The plants grew magnificently. The cornflowers produced masses of flower buds on sturdy fat bushes at least 129cm (4ft) tall. The ammi and orlaya got up to 2m (6ft) with lots of useful side branches.

This spring I sowed a different clutch of annuals: Ammi visnaga, with beautiful pale-green domes of flower, green-flowered tobacco plants, English marigolds, a white-flowered cleome called 'Helen Campbell'. They, too, were individually pricked out and potted on, but by the time I wanted to plant them out, the soil had baked hard enough to bend a trowel and there had been no rain since March. Those annuals had only one desire – to race straight up to seed, without pausing to bush out on the way.

But the September-sown plants looked superb, until on Sunday 12 June, we finally got rain, almost two inches of it, the first proper rain for more than three months. So that was good. Or would have been if it hadn't arrived on the back of a wild gale. Foxgloves, cornflowers, ammi, orlaya all collapsed on top of their shorter neighbours, which snapped under the weight. The orlaya and ammi had bamboo stakes, but evidently the weight of rain on plants that size was too much and the stakes fell over with the plants. I tried to pull them back into shape, but that never works. Before the collapse, the orlaya and ammi had begun to interlace in an enchanting way. But on the ground, that interlacing translates into snapped side branches. Propped up again, the plants look like patients in neck braces. All now rests on the cleome. And a late batch of English marigolds, 'Touch of Red', which I planted out towards the end of June. Never mind. By September, I'll be deep in bulb catalogues again, planning for 2012. Which of course will be disaster-free...

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
tvGame of Thrones season 5 episode 1 review
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
News
i100
News
people
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Sport
Fabian Delph celebrates his goal
footballChristian Benteke and Fabian Delph turn semi-final after Liverpool goal
Life and Style
Model wears: top £29.50, leggings £25, jacket £29.50, bag £25, all marksandspencer.com
fashion
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary
music
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace