The weather year is shadowing the last 3 or 4. Glorious dry and sunny springs, followed by cloudy, wet and cool summers (85mm of rain in the last week, 35 mm in the last 24 hours). But really one can’t complain, with so many parts of the UK and indeed world suffering water shortages, it’s nice not to have to worry about plant irrigation.
However the last week’s persistent and regular rain does play havoc with some flowers, roses in particular, so I thought I’d have a look at some of the successful flowers here at this time of the year, and in spite of these soggy summer conditions.
The first group is the summer or late summer flowering Clematis. We really started growing more of these about 3 years ago as a means of introducing late summer colour into areas which were primarily spring impact, and looking a little drab by now. In particular planting them to scramble fairly naturally up through other significantly sized shrubs. This meant that the Clematis roots could be shaded from direct sun, but getting them established over the first 3 years seems to require a bit more thought.
Since most are planted into very poor soil, the first issue is digging out a decent sized planting hole, and filling this with a soil/homemade compost mix. Then planting as recommended to counter Clematis wilt, with the stem base a couple of inches below final soil level. Also planting after giving the roots a good soaking, and ensuring that in dry periods, at least for the first few months, the plants get an occasional good soak. But as mentioned above this is rarely an issue for us at this time of the year. The biggest issue with getting our plants established has been plant nibbling, either from slugs, snails or rodents or rabbits.
We’ve now developed a routine of protecting the plant stems with a plastic mesh tree guard, but also slipping an empty plastic bottle with the 2 ends cut off down over the young shoots just into the soil at ground level.
These 2 enable focused slug bait to be used, as well as keeping rodents away from tender young shoots. Once the plant is 18 months to 2 years post planting, these protections become a bit less important – most of these summer flowering Clematis are hard pruned back to about 18 inches in February, and once over this juvenile stage, romp away in the spring. Using these methods also highlights just where you’ve planted them, so that you are prompted to check them regularly for signs of damage in their first couple of years. We know to our cost just how quickly a plant can be taken to ground level by any of the above shoot chompers, and whilst you get a second chance, repeated shoot damage will easily see a plant off in its first year.
Just now the plants that have reached their third year are looking stunning, and even those in their second show great promise. I’ll show a couple more below. The other point we’ve become a bit picky about is to choose varieties with the AGM award for garden worthiness. They do seem to be a more reliable bet, and there are so many cultivars that have won this award, that one has a huge range of colours and flower shapes and sizes to choose from.
Hydrangeas are another plant which we increasingly value for giving the garden a boost from now, right into the autumn. Many have flowered even earlier this year, and although the colour does start to change or fade a bit after 5 or 6 weeks, the form persists for months into the autumn. Quite a lot also have stunning leaf colour with hints of bronze and purple, well before other shrubs are showing their autumnal finery.
Sadly we don’t have names for some of our earlier acquisitions, although most of these fall into the Hydrangea serrata or macrophylla groups. Like most shrubs there are no issues with seeding, or nuisance suckering; they can be underplanted with early spring bulbs like Crocus and Snowdrops; and even better if you’re keen to add more into the garden most of them are fairly easy to propagate from hardwood cuttings taken in late autumn or early winter.
The only slight chore is pruning and deadheading, which we try to do in very late winter early spring, before too many underplants start to emerge. We remove all dead flower heads back to a pair of fat, lower buds about 4 inches down the stem, but also try to take out about a third of the older woody stems back to ground level. Done repeatedly this helps to keep a more open plant, and new shoots regularly fill the gaps. If all this seems too much like hard work, then the Hydrangea panniculata cultivars are even simpler to grow.
Like autumn fruiting raspberries, they can be cut back to about 6 inches above ground level each spring, and will reliably send out new flowering shoots in time for late summer/autumn flowering. You don’t get the range of colour variations in the serrata and macrophylla groups; they’re all variations on white, but many change colour as they age to pinks, reds, greens, and again will give months of interest into late autumn. A few have reddish, or pink stems and many have fresh green leaves, and so they associate very well with other groups of evergreen glossy foliage shrubs like Skimmias and Rhododendrons, in a woodland setting. We’ve learned that some varieties of H. macrophllya just don’t flower reliably after a hard winter (e.g.’Emilie Moliere’). The flower buds are killed off by the frost, and really there’s no point growing a Hydrangea which doesn’t reliably flower. However we haven’t yet been let down by any of the H. panniculata forms.
A final plus point in all Hydrangea’s favour is that of all the varieties which we grow, rabbits don’t seem to touch them, and nor do slugs generally, although H. “Annabelle” and a couple of more recent addition macrophyllas fall down on this point as young plants, but once established, this is rarely a big issue.
The rain has of course done wonders for most of the fruit and vegetables, though yet again Squash are struggling. Lettuce, Sugar Peas (now finished), Broad Beans mainly cropped now, have all been pretty good, and after the rainy weather from mid June onwards, there have to date been no issues with Small and Large White butterflies on the Brassicas planted out so far.
A first for me this week was doing my usual pre-lunch walk round the fruit and vegetable garden pulling off some mixed lettuce leaves, and herbs for a salad into a colander, then walking inside.
The leaves were plunged as usual into a bowl of water, and torn up into smaller pieces. Then a water change and the leaf washing was repeated. Into the salad spinner and after whirring for a while out onto the plate with a bit of Feta and homemade bread. A light vinaigrette onto the leaves, and I started to tuck in. Fortunately, no one was around to see me leap into the air as midway through the pile of salad I lowered my fork into the mound of lettuce only to nearly skewer an emerging large face which struggled out and flew towards the open door! Following, I spotted a large Dark Arches moth. How it had escaped the pre meal salad preparation I don’t know, but I guess that hiding up underneath the lettuce leaves was a good way of keeping out of the recent deluges.
As a follow-up to moths, I learned this week from posting the image of a moth feeding on grass stems onto iSpot, the Open University’s natural history identification site, that the consensus view was that the moth shown in last week’s blog was probably not a White-Point, but the more common Clay. Although as with many of these issues, the angle of the photo meant that this diagnosis could not be made with 100% accuracy by !
Finally some other photos of strange rainbows and evening light which we’ve enjoyed amongst all the gloom of the last week.