Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10.30AM to 5PM & Bank Holidays

Garden Newsletter: August

Don’t panic! No it’s not the end of July yet, this newsletter is early because I am on holiday next week but back for the normal first Sunday of the month, so, in keeping with tradition I’m getting this newsletter out before that Sunday meeting!

This hot weather has been uncomfortable to work in, and the same must have been the case over 250 years ago: On the 11th July, 1783, Gilbert White recorded 80ºF (26.7ºC) . He added an exclamation mark, unusual for Gilbert, to show how hot he thought that was! For some reason these temperatures were always recorded inside the house, which with its thick stone walls must have been considerably less than the outside temperature. Chris Currie, expert historical weather man, estimates that the outside temperature must have been at least 10ºF hotter than that, making the outside air temperature 90ºF or 32.2ºC. the result was ‘the heat overcomes the grass mowers, & makes them sick’. Sounds like sunstroke! We should do some experiments comparing the temperatures inside and outside the house. For comparison, since scientific records began in 1875, the highest recorded temperature was recorded last year (2013) on Monday August 11th at Gravesend: 38.1ºC or 100.6ºF !

We’ve been having thundery weather too, similar to that recorded by Gilbert White: On Thursday 10th July 1783 he writes:

about 8 o’clock in the evening on the 10th a great tempest arose in the SW which steered off to the NW: an other great storm went to the NE with continued thunder, & lightening. About 10an other still heavier tempest arose to the SE & divided, some part going for Bramshot & Headley, & Farnham; & the rest for Alresford, Basingstoke, & c. The lightening towards Farnham was prodigious. It sunk all away before midnight. Vast showers around us, but none here.

To return to the garden, the Dining Room Shrubbery has rather less colour than last month- and remember is in need of renovation this autumn/winter- with seed heads forming on the rose-bay willow herb, both the pink and the white. Interestingly, the seed pods are coloured according the the flower colour, the white being greenish yellow and the pink being a shade of pale pink. Miller in his dictionary says that this flower is ‘very proper to cut for basons to adorn chiminies in the summer season’ There’s something we haven’t tried, flower arrangers! However, Miller also says,

if the season is not very hot, they will continue near a month in beauty

so perhaps we’ve missed the boat on that one. The white variety, nearer the house, (and mentioned by Miller) doesn’t seem quite so prolific, but is still very invasive. The rose ‘Unique Blanche’ is peeping through the pink willowherb at the top end of the shrubbery. Apparently this rose, also known as ‘White Provence’, was discovered in Needham in Suffolk in 1775. So although it was discovered in Gilbert’s lifetime, he couldn’t have used it when he was planting the shrubbery in 1759. Nevertheless, it’s a very attractive rose, flowering rather later than others, and is ‘of the sort’ that Gilbert would have known in 1759!

By the house the magnolia is full of very large white flowers, although the display is not as spectacular as the common M. soulangeana which flowers before the leaves open. Hollyhocks are looking magnificent, in pinks, reds & yellows. Most of them have been carefully staked- although sadly we haven’t got to all of the ones in the six quarters, and some are now flat on the ground. The marigold and sunflower bed is starting to be colourful, with the sunflowers 7 or more feet tall., chrysanths 3ft tall, African marigolds 2½ft tall, striped tall scotch prize French marigold at about 18”, the dwarf sunflower ‘Pacino’ which is about a foot tall, and then finally French marigolds alternating with the striped variety Mr Majestic, both about 6” tall. The corners are finished with sanvitalia, or the creeping zinnia, which has miniature sunflower-like blooms. This is ‘theatrical’ planting as described by Mark Laird in his book ‘The Flowering of the Landscape Garden’ and something like the Hartwell House beds style. These beds have plants of descending height from a central point. The Hartwell beds are much more complex, and considering Gilbert White’s fairly conservative palette of flowers, I think perhaps our design more fitting. We have no proof that Gilbert ever designed any beds in this fashion, but as he had reasonably modern ideas of landscape gardening, perhaps this isn’t far from the mark. Anyhow, it makes a fairly spectacular display right by the shop doors, the first ‘point of impact’ as it were. David (not me!) has made a fine job of repairing the wooden edge board in the front.

On the brick path we have filled many pots with annuals of the period, but more about these next month when they should be at their best. I will mention Job’s tears, an annual with grass like leaves and edible large white shiny seeds, called Coix lacryma-jobi. A most handsome and unusual plant. Miller says ‘is frequently cultivated in Spain & Portugal, where the poor inhabitants grind the grain to flour in a scarcity of corn and make a coarse sort of bread with it.’ He goes on to say ‘those who desire to grow the plant in England must obtain the seeds from Portugal…’ I wonder how easy that was 250 years ago??!! I’ve never grown it, but there are some plants of the sales stand should you wish to try it (and you won’t have to order seeds from Portugal….) Another fine plant growing in a pot is the Superb Pink on the pedestal at the end of the fire escape…a fine deep red and covered in blooms.

The archway through to the pond garden now has two viticella clematis trained up it, this clematis (and our cultivars are the nearest to the original species we can get) was first introduced in the late 16th century. One is purplish (Mary Rose) and the other bluish (Blue Haze). We plan to put roses and honeysuckle over the arch too. By the cleaver urn opposite the arch is a fine show of annuals, purple corn cockle ,corn poppies, cornflowers and corn camomile and others, and this display is extended into a wider vista in the ex topiary site around the corner. There’s also evening primrose, scotch thistle, broad leaved spurge, verbascum, motherwort and vervain. Lots to come and see. The fruit wall border has been planted up, and Amanda has constructed a beautiful hand-made net to train the gourds up. Rose has espalier trained the greengage tree in a splendid fashion.

In the HaHa ditch there’s a splendid clump of purple loosestrife, and in the orchard walk there are still some flowers on the quatre saison roses (living up to their name?) The quincunx trees are growing well, and checking our measurements on the central tree we find it has grown 5cms overall height, but all of this from the top shoot. Gilbert White’s cobbler neighbour over the road reported that the tree (A Spruce Fir) had grown from lower down- he seems to have been talking cobblers (sorry bad joke!) or perhaps the tree only does that when it’s bigger (let out clause!). Freda has cleared the orchard walk path pits most beautifully!

Keith has being doing marvellous work in the kitchen garden and all now looks much better. Mandy has very kindly been looking after melons, the new ones have been growing well, but have a long way to go before fruiting. The old ones keep rotting off! Amanda & Joe have made a start on the hedges, it’s going to be a long job but if we start early we should get it done by the end of the year! Arnold is also working on them.

The cutting beds have been transformed by Amanda (and several others) gradually clearing the wilder areas of the plot. We have touch of red Calendulas (English Marigolds), Red, pink, blue and white cornflowers, painted lady sweet peas, and clary in flower. The safflower (Carthamus tinctoria) is about to flower, and looks like the best set of specimens we have grown in a long time. The thistle like flowers will be orangey red and useful for flower arranging. We’ve also sown wallflowers and sweet Williams, although the hot dry weather has made their cultivation difficult. We how have a pulsating sprinkler to help direct water efficiently onto the bed, and this is controlled by a timer.

There’s far more to see and enjoy, so why not come and help us this month! We really do need you, with so many going on holiday!

Best wishes & Good Gardening
David Standing
Just a selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden in August

  • Cutting bed clearing continued!!
  • Grass edging throughout!
  • Six Quarters weeding continued!
  • Cut back Laure & Rose growing through Fire Escape steps
  • Train gourds on pergola up a net
  • Collect Angelica seed & others
  • Strim weed under all hedges, in pond garden under mulberry, and by kissing gate mulberry
  • Remove ivy from wall on corner by house/six quarters
  • Continue Hoeing & Weeding veg garden
  • Couch grass & Bindweed patrol throughout esp South Rose Quarter
  • Continue to Train and tie in herb garden vine
  • Remove brambles under yew tree
  • Continue to re-organise Compost heaps
  • Continue to make illustrated labels for plant stand
  • Purchase new gate to replace broken one of six field gates
  • Continue planting/design work in pond garden: add water tub and bee skeps
  • Water hot bed, as needed
  • Plant new herb garden arch
  • Start work clipping hedges
  • Sort out plants in cold frames/poly tunnel- discard or pot on as needed.
  • Check, de-slug & water plant stands regularly
  • Train new laburnums as they grow…

And much, much more!