The garden in August
Kari-Astri Davies is bewitched by butterflies and block planting, and hoping for a rainbow of veg
Agarden awash with butterflies: that is what I am hoping for this summer. Last year, even the cabbage whites seemed in short supply, although it saved the purple sprouting broccoli from too much caterpillar damage. Romping through the borders now are swathes of sacrificial nasturtium, which attract the cabbage whites. Most are self-seeded from previous years, in cream, yellow, dark red and the original vibrant orange.
The daily walk to assess what’s what pulls me first towards the vegetable patch. I anxiously peruse the scrambling squashes. Every day they are putting on great lengths of tendrilled, water-crunchy stem.
Charles dickens, Bleak House
The smaller males start into flower first, then a bit later, the yolk-yellow females join them with a bulbous promise of fruits to come. For me at least, it seems there are a critical couple of weeks in August when the flowers are pollinated and fruit set. I hope for sun, not the generally grey muggy weather we have had for the last couple of years. Indifferent weather often leads to disappointment. Fruits set, then rot off. But, after an anxious start, a couple of ‘Potimarron’ are away. They have escaped up an old ivy-encrusted pear tree rather than sticking to the trellis put there for the purpose. As they swell, the rusted orange globes will gently sink towards the ground, remaining suspended just above head height until cut down to ripen off. In the greenhouse, I am willing tomatoes to start turning colour. This year, they will all be reds: no whites, purples or yellows. On Twitter, gardeners are already sharing pictures of their bountiful harvests of multi-hued and many forms of tomato, much to my chagrin. Onto the main borders, which have a look of rampant abandon. Lolling plants are left largely to their own devices. The wood bed quietly gets on with it too, the awakening of the first Cyclamen hederifolium adding splashes of fresh pink.
Walk in the park
My birthday falls in August, and it is my partner’s job to take me for a day out; first lunch and then a ‘surprise’ garden. This time it is Sussex Prairie Garden, which is more park-like, designed to be at its best from late summer into autumn. The mown grass lanes between the 4 acres of beds invite strolling couples and promenading families. On snaking paths among towering plants and swaying grasses, visitors come upon dogs leading their owners and small children having big adventures. August is a good time to visit, as there is plenty of colour. One cannot help but admire such huge swathes of one plant. Great blocks of black-nosed, gold Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ shout out, especially on a sunny day,
“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free”
clashing happily with sturdy stands of magenta Echinacea. Expanses of shimmering pale purple and silver waves of Molinia caerulea ‘Transparent’ are interspersed with giant humps of fluffy-headed purple Eupatorium maculatum, or Joe Pye weed, a US native. A Persicaria with finely corrugated pink heads stands very upright against the pale green stems of a Miscanthus, which echoes the Persicaria with pink-tinged tassel heads. An altogether grander Persicaria looms at the back of borders in semi-shade; P. polymorpha, with puffy creamy flowerheads. When happy, it reaches more than 6½ft (2m). Apparently, the prairie borders are deeply mulched every year to sustain all this lavish growth. When not particularly happy, such as in my garden, on dry, undernourished soil, this Persicaria tends to be somewhat lower growing. The use of weathered steel and other sculpture also adds interest and grounding to the plantings, from the ‘famous’ line of buffalo to my favourite simple umbellifers. My key takeout from the visit is that, enjoyable and interesting as it was, I do not have the space or inclination for big block planting. I know some of these plants won’t thrive for me. Echinacea tend to be short-lived and I have not had much luck with Miscanthus. I will enjoy my two Molinia as arching specimens, and along our stream banks the native hemp agrimony, Eupatorium cannabinum.
Left to right: Summer-loving nasturtiums; the curling, fibrous petals of a squash flower; Cyclamen hederifolium’s distinctive blushed petals; ripe tomatoes on the vine.
Left to right: The 8 acre Sussex Prairie Garden, planted in a freeflowing, naturalistic style; a Painted Lady butterfly feeding on sunny, daisy-like rudbeckia.