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Garden Diary August 2009

Echinops ritro - blue globe thistle in AugustAugust 1st: A Prickly Problem

We don't really like spraying our garden plants. Not just for wildlife protection but also for reasons of cost (have you ever worked out how much a single spray of insecticide costs?), and effectiveness. For example green fly can be rubbed off of plants more effectively and easily than spraying. However I do spray my Echinops in May. The tightly furled leaves nearly always get infested with rose aphid and these distort the stems and damage the flower buds. I draw the line at rubbing the pests off of the prickly leaves and the ladybirds seem to share my aversion to the irritant leaves.

However in August I do feel justified as the electric blue globe thistles open to welcome hoards of bees and butterflies.

Lobelia tupa is known as "Devil's Tobaco"August 7th: Devilish Beauty

Lobelia tupa is one of our star plants with its 8ft stems clothed in bright red flowers from July to November. It comes from Peru where it grows on sandy coastlines. It is hardy with us in a sheltered spot. 

Like all Lobelia it is quite toxic if eaten and in its native land it is called "Devil's Tobacco" because the leaves are dried and smoked to induce toxin-induced nightmare hallucinations - it is really quite nastily toxin, so don't try it!

Poisonous plants aren't something to shun provided you treat them with care. Many popular garden plants are quite toxic, e.g. Daffodils and Aquilegia (Granny's Bonnet). I always wash my hands well after handling plants and cover cuts and scratches before gardening. 

 

Phlox Maude Stella DagleyAugust 8th: Pretty as a Picture

Our garden isn't all "Hot! Hot! Hot!", we do love to use soft and delicate colours as well. Today there is none more beautiful than Phlox Maude Stella Dagley. Healthy and very fragrant Maud is beautiful addition to the August border. 

We get a lot of questions about splitting (dividing) phlox. The best times to divide are early spring or in the autumn (less successful but still possible). For very large clumps you can cut sections from the edges using a spade or bread knife. For smaller plants take more care and expose new shoots carefully and detach from the parent plant before potting up. Plant out once established. Phlox can be grown from cuttings taken in late spring but they need to be grown on to produce a good rootstock to go through the winter in pots.

Root cuttings are preferred to get lots of plants. Best done in winter when the roots are most likely to make new shoot buds; although Carol Klein told us on Gardener's World to do them in mid summer. Is this new research or just another example of TV-induced impatience? 

If moving a phlox make a note of where it came from as plants will regrow from any roots left behind.

Maude Stella Dagley will be available by mail order for spring 2010.

helenium FlammenradAugust 14th: Wheels on Fire

Moving a plant can often breathe new life into it. Helenium Flammenrad (Fiery Wheel)  is a point in case. In previous years its been stuck in a too dry corner with little sun. This year I moved it to a sunny spot and added lots and lots of garden compost. The result is spectacular - flowers nearly twice as big and numerous and bright, sparkling colours.

If a plant isn't performing its always a good idea to consider moving it to a new spot - more sun or shade, more moisture or drier conditions can have a dramatic effect. If moving plants now make sure you cut them back and really drench them once replanted - and keep on repeating this drenching regularly.

Heleniums respond well to being cut back almost to the ground. They sprout new shoots from the root ball and these new shoots send out new root. Cutting off the flowers only will only make them produce more flower.

August 16th: Wildlife Notes:

Amazed today to watch a Hobby swooping to try and catch House Martins on the wing above the garden. These small birds of prey look like overlarge Swifts in silhouette but a closer view reveals beautifully marked plumage. The House Martins first scatter then rally to mob their attacker: often the first hint that a Hobby is present is the sudden screaming calls of the House Martins. Other birds of prey present in the skies and trees around us at the moment include Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrow Hawk, Tawny Owl and the occasional Little Owl.

We have a good number of butterflies at the moment, probably in part due to the stinging nettles growing around some of our boundaries. Currently we are enjoying Peacock, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small and Large White, Small Copper and Small Tortoiseshell. Most poplar butterfly feeding plants are Rudbeckia, Helenium, Echinacea, Verbena bonariensis and Liatris (Gay Feather), 

Aster Monch and Succisella inflexa make perfect late August partners.August 24th: Perfect Partners

Sometimes you plant two plants together in winter or spring with an idea in your mind's eye that they will look good together, having never seen them together before. 

Its always a bit of gamble but I find it is possible to visualise plants together. Aster x.frikartii Mönch and Succisella inflexa "felt" right together when I was planting last winter - large daisy flowers slightly above dainty balls both in pale lavender. Thankfully the combination works on a visual level. It also works on a practical level - both like sun and grow fairly well in a dryish, not too rich soil. Both also flower from late July.

We don't always get it right, but unlike other art forms with gardens you always get another chance to get it right next year.

Centaurea scabiosa is a native meadow plant that does well in the gardenAugust 27th: Meadow plants

I've never attempted planting a wildflower meadow as we've never had sufficient room to do it justice. However it is always worth looking out for meadow plants to use in the garden. Whilst some require very specialist conditions (e.g. hardy orchids) others like the Knapweeds (Centaurea) are easy to please and put up with dry, fairly poor soils and strong completion from other plants making them ideal for the garden. They have the added benefit of attracting butterflies and bees. Centaurea scabiosa (right) is one of my favourites.

Helenium Meranti with Painted Lady ButterflyAugust 27th: Butterflies

At our garden open many visitors are surprised and thrilled to see so many butterflies. Our late flowering borders seem like the ideal haven for butterflies, bees and hoverflies. Painted Lady Butterflies (pictured here on Helenium Meranti) are a fairly recent addition to our garden: just a few years ago they were a rare visitor in the very warmest summer, now they are present from late May onwards. There's a lot of advice about growing only native plants to attract wildlife. Whilst butterfly and moth caterpillars are often specialised in their food plants, the adults feed just as happily on plants from across the world. If you watch bees visiting flowers with long narrow tubes, perhaps pollinated by hummingbirds they will ignore the entrance and make a hole in the back of the flowers to extract nectar. 

August 31st: New Plants to Find Homes For.

Just back from the Plant Hunters' Fair at The Dorothy Clive Garden (which we organise for the garden). It was great to meet with and talk plants to so many enthusiastic gardeners. We also bagged some new additions to our garden. Miscanthus nepalensis with very silky tassels looks stunning but is a touch tender so I'll probably keep it in our cold greenhouse this winter and plant out in May. Rudbeckia paniculata looks stunning (must think of another descriptive word, I can see my old English teacher getting his red pen out!) with green-conned lemon flowers a bit smaller than "Herbstsonne" and very rough pale green leaves. Persicaria Compton's Form has a bold Corporals Stripe on the leaves and Persicaria neofiliformis has bold maroon blotches and red stems. The great thing about a real specialist plant fair is you can not only find unusual plants (as well as old favourites) but the growers actually know a lot about them and are happy to give advice. This is the main reason we set up Plant Hunters Fairs with a couple of nursery friends. We really hated being at events listening to so-called nurseries telling fibs to make a sale or seeing row upon row of factory produced plants that had never seen the light of day or stood up to the keen bite of the wind. We also realised we were going to plant fairs and coming away without having bought anything ourselves and we felt that other plant lovers must feel the same. So we organise events that we would want to go to ourselves - no market traders, no knick-knacks, no hog roasts; but a select number of nurseries each with their own specialist lines so there is something different to see on each stall, some big, some (like us) small but each with something unique to offer and each sharing our passion for plants and gardens.

Anyway we have some new additions to find homes for in our already packed garden. Most hardy plants can be safely planted now (in our garden anyway) but I must be more disciplined and water them every day or so even if it rains. I do advise not planting plants that are on the margins of hardiness until May - keep them in a cold greenhouse (once the cold weather arrives), perhaps pot on and don't forget to water them!

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