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Garden Newsletter: September

Hedging, cutting down, clearing & weeding time! I always start a newsletter with some reference to the time of year, and as autumn (sadly?) approaches I thought I’d have a quick look at garden calendars. We are often asked ‘what shall I do when?’ and so when I looked at September in Mawe & Abercrombie, 1794, the first item in the kitchen garden reads

  This is now the season to begin to prepare the dung for making mushroom beds.

Gilbert White grew mushrooms, probably according to instructions in Philip Miller’s Gardeners Dictionary.  We shall, I think try some. But there is much else to do- in the eighteenth century or in the twenty-first, the work is much the same- cutting down perennials now over, weeding, dead heading etc. and finishing trimming hedges. A general tidy up seems to be the over-riding theme, whatever age ‘Garden Calendar’ you look at.

Many thanks to those of you who helped out last month, there was a good showing of volunteers despite it being the holiday season. Approximately 180 hours of volunteer time recorded through the month (probably a great deal more as it was easy to forget to sign the book!) and this seems a pretty good average for the growing season months of the year.  About 270 hours of paid time was used in the garden for the month, so the volunteers total is a very significant input!

Volunteer sessions this month are Friday 5th September, Sunday 7th (9.30-1.00), Monday 8th, Friday 12th, Monday 15th, Friday 19th, Monday 22nd, Friday 26th: The October Sunday Session is moved 1 week earlier to 28th September, and Monday 29th. I look forward to seeing you all during the coming month.

We often forget the front garden next to the street in our efforts to sort out vegetation in the back. But first impressions are important, and volunteer David has done an impressive job weeding and sweeping in this area. Gilbert White’s ‘New garden next the street’ was also known as the Best Garden in which he showed off his most attractive plants. Perhaps we should try to follow that, although the present site is very limited.

The Dining Shrubbery is in need of renovation-there is very little colour in it this autumn other than a few spires of purple toadflax, one or two late white sweet rocket, the odd white willow herb and the autumn crocus down by the kitchen window. Pinks have grown well here at the front and it may be the place to grow some of our new collection which hopefully we will get next year. We can also replant the viburnums, as there is no part of the life cycle that includes the soil.

The Bed of sunflowers and marigolds has performed well, despite a difficult start in hot, dry conditions. The sunflowers, carefully staked stayed up in the windy conditions, and the annual chrysanths, African marigolds and tall scotch prize marigolds grew well- one slight problem is that these three all were about the same height, so not such a good tiered effect was obtained. The dwarf sunflowers (one called ‘Pacino’) performed well though, and the ring of alternating dwarf French marigolds (two different varieties) and the creeping zinnias also behaved more predictably!

Susan has done a tremendous amount of work in both the herb garden and around the plant stands near the shop doors, so it now looks very neat and tidy. More than that, she has helped us purchase some old display stands from Springfield nursery, which will be adapted and eventually replace the present metal stands which are not altogether satisfactory. You may have heard that Springfield has now closed down; Barry Plummer the proprietor is retiring but staying on site. After 35 years it’s sad news for all of us.

A variety of annuals grow in the pots by the shop doors. Gilbert White’s Venetian Mallow (Hibiscus trionum, pale yellow flowers with a dark blotch at the base), now known as the Bladder Ketmia, has now formed the bladders which contain the seeds and give this attractive annual its name. Another pot nearby contains Hibiscus cannabinus, which has similar, but much larger flowers all down the stem. Quite spectacular!! It was introduced around 1759 and known, understandably as the hemp leaved Hibiscus. In warmer climates, where it is known as Kenaf, the plant can grow up to11½ft tall and is a source of fibre from which rope, twine, cloth and good quality paper can be made. Apparently they are even making car bodies from it to reduce the dependency on oil based resin. In another pot there are some mignonette plants, Reseda odorata. For many years I have not had a sense of smell, and then more recently it has returned for short periods. Currently I can smell things extremely well, so I was very excited the other day to smell mignonette for the first time- after a shower of rain. It’s an extremely sweet perfume, reminiscent of say bath foam or sweetly scented soap, only stronger.

Over in the annual garden the display of pink spider flowers and pastel coloured larkspur works well, although the pink cornflowers behind are now going over. The larger bed behind has marvel of Peru in pink, red, yellow and white which has covered the ground very nicely: the gourds behind on the back wall have not done so well, there are flowers but not much in the way of fruits. Over the pergola the deep blue and purple morning glory makes a fine show, and the gourds here are doing rather better than on the back wall: there are some snake gourds already visible. The large bed on the left has a good show of sweet scabious, tobacco plants and purple leaved amaranths.

In the herb garden the clary sage has made a good display but is now fading: lavender & cotton lavender need dead heading carefully to stop them getting too leggy. The wall germander continues in flower and is a valuable bee plant on the rock wall. Some of the espalier pears have fruit, notably the Swans egg and the Cadillac- small and large fruits respectively. Of the Swans egg, Hogg (1860) in his fruit manual says ‘a fine old variety: ripe in October’. We shall wait & watch these fruits.

In the pond garden the laburnums are all growing well, and will need to be trained to shape soon. The kaleidoscope of colour in the wild flower meadow has now largely gone over, although there is still some colour, especially from the cornflowers. The piece of meadow between the new planting and the pond has been very colourful with Meadow Cranesbill, Geranium pratense, but now has much hogweed which needs careful removal by a patient person with secateurs! Perhaps later we will dig out the roots where possible. Nearby, a large section of juniper was broken off and leaves only a small shoot on a large stump: no great problem, as I plan to remove both of the overgrown and unshapely plants here. We have clipped the upper yew hedge, as well as what I call the ‘horizon’ hedge in the six quarters, and clippings have been sent off to make the cancer drug Tamoxifen. We still have several yew hedges to finish. The Dane’s elder is rampant in the lower part of this garden, even coming up through the hedge. It has even dained (sorry, bad pun) to come through by the stone seat in the area we had cleared for ferns. Control is needed!

In the vegetable garden looks a good deal better with volunteer Keith focusing on it each week. Potatoes have been dug, old crops cleared away, and some radishes and cabbages sown. The mature cabbages look good and large, and careful removal of some of the caterpillars has reduced the amount of damage caused by these pests. There are a few fine globe artichokes in flower- this means we have missed the boat on harvesting them, but there may be a few left that we can pick before they become unpalatable. The raspberry quincunx has been interesting: one advantage will be that all the old canes can be cut out easily because they are in plaited bundles. Plaiting of the new shoots will soon be needed.  We have some striped squashes on the lower plot, the more recently planted pumpkins look unlikely to produce fruit.

Len has been working hard in the Basons, and has kept and consistently high standard of maintenance here. The Hardy hibiscus is in flower in one of the lower beds. We need to plan for more annuals to give late colour next year.

Susan has harvested the melons, before the voles and mice ate them! The badger had been kept away by careful netting of the frame. This Friday (5th Sept) we shall have a mini-melon feast! The new double frame has tiny fruit being eaten by voles- one had the audacity to appear whilst I was making notes for this newsletter, and the whole hot bed is riddled with their holes and runs!

The cutting beds are in much better order now, thanks to Amanda & Peter’s hard work here: we still have some clary, calendulas, cornflowers and painted lady sweet peas, and the best orange safflowers (Carthamus tinctorius) we’ve ever grown. This plant, also known as the saffron thistle, has a relative with yellow flowers, C. lanatus, which is grows in Mediterranean regions but has become a pernicious weed of crops elsewhere- in Australia for example. No chance of that with this species in our cutting beds- it’s quite tricky to grow well, but rewarding when we succeed!

There is a good crop of  medlars on the tree, and quite a few other apples in the lower and upper orchards- particularly French crabs and golden pippins. Harvesting next month. But this month, as you can see, there’s a great deal to do, so I very much look forward to seeing you all soon

Best wishes & Good Gardening

David Standing

Just a selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden in…

  • Cutting bed clearing continued!!
  • Grass edging continued
  • Six Quarters weeding and cutting down continued!
  • Cut back Laurel  & Rose growing through Fire Escape steps
  • Continue to Collect  seeds
  • Strim weed under all hedges, in pond garden under mulberry, and by kissing gate mulberry
  • Cut down hogweed near pond
  • Remove ivy from wall on corner by house/six quarters
  • Continue Hoeing & Weeding veg garden
  • Cut back herb garden vine
  • 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
  • Continue  work clipping all hedges
  • Continue to sort out plants in cold frames/poly tunnel- discard or pot on as needed.
  • Check, de-slug & water plant stands regularly
  • Prune pears as needed
  • Herb garden lavender and cotton lavender pruning
  • Herb garden mullein removal plus weeds
  • Train new laburnums as they grow…

And much, much more!