The gar­den in Au­gust

Kari-Astri Davies is be­witched by but­ter­flies and block plant­ing, and hop­ing for a rain­bow of veg

Landscape (UK) - - Contents -

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.

Har­vest hopes

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.

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