Late in the day: How to make your gardening interesting in August - Gardening - Property - The Independent

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
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
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

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week