Your garden in August
"Things need to change and change quickly, I would love to speak to the people in question and help reform the way we approach the commercial horticultural work in our communities."
In the wake of our recent historic, political events, I feel it is my duty as a gardener to stand up and get on my soapbox.
I know this all sounds serious and is essentially just gardening, however, what I am about to say does actually involve every single person that pays their taxes to the community.
Have you noticed over the years that the hanging baskets and the floral displays in our cities, towns and villages are not what they used to be? I am highly critical of the gardens that Me, My Spade & I look after, so I may be overly cynical with my view but it pains me to see that there isn’t a wide-spread love of gardening and pride in public spaces that there once was.
As I walk through the Oxfordshire town of Didcot, where I was born and bred, I see weeds growing rapidly on the kerb side, brambles and stinging nettles growing out of over-grown hedge rows and the grass, oh the grass... It is such a shame that the councils are employing nothing more than labour to look after our parks, green spaces and flower beds.
Some of the grass in our parks is being left to grow for up to six weeks, and when it is cut, the cuttings are simple left on top (a real pet hate of mine). The grass can then send up flower heads, which are the primary cause of hay fever – an allergy which I suffer from in a horrendous manner. (The irony of being a gardener as well as a hay fever sufferer is not lost on me). My memory of Didcot from when I was a child was of ‘Tony the Tractor Man’ and huge hanging baskets from lamp posts, so big that the plants virtually touched the ground from 15 feet up. Tony would drive along the high street with his blue tractor and water tank and water the baskets daily. The lawns would be cut weekly, parks cut fortnightly and the flower beds planted for the winter and then for the summer. Didcot was a pleasant place to be, it was tidy and loved, Didcot to me, does not feel like that now.
I understand that there are budget cuts and that councils are under pressure to spend less, but there is no longer any care taken in horticultural planning. Grass cutting, weeding, cutting back bushes in the summer and digging over beds in the winter are essential for health and safety.
I have seen women and children walking into the road in order to make their way around low branches on trees near the pathways, this simply is dangerous, Things need to change and change quickly, I would love to speak to the people in question and help reform the way we approach the commercial horticultural work in our communities.
Imagine a world where people who enjoy horticulture had the power to look after our cities, towns and villages, delivering some old-fashioned hard work and care to the green areas that give so much to us and ask for so little in return.
Why are we happy to accept these scruffy careless conditions? Personally I don’t think we are. I think we are all unhappy with how the parks look or that the grass is only cut every six weeks and left to rot, which makes these areas far more unhealthy.
Instead of throwing unskilled labour with machinery at the ground, why not allow skilled professionals and dedicated members of the public to work in the areas in question?
I would welcome the powers that be to contact me to see where I could possibly offer assistance in bringing a better working system within the needs of the council budgets with regards to grounds maintenance contracts.
I would also welcome pictures from you in the trouble areas of your towns or villages and together we can right the wrongs and make for a better community.
We look after an incredibly unusual garden in Filkins, near Burford, which is split by a dry stone wall running straight through the middle. When my team first arrived at the property, one of the stipuations from the owner was that no pink plants should be used. The previous designer presumably misheard this instruction as “only pink plants”, as that seemed to be one of the only colours on show. When Me, My Spade & I started maintaining the garden, the owner was open to suggestion and other than the “no pink” brief, we were given free rein to redesign the space as we saw fit.
We started with a very formal small bed near the back door, I filled this area with box balls, white hellebores, white dicentra or bleeding hearts and two amazing Jasmonides ‘Trachelospermum’ climbing the walls. It is a simple but stunning design and the effect looks wonderful in its first full year of growth.
The small bed along the front of the patio that runs parallel to the drive took on a similar theme, surrounded by a box hedge with box balls in the middle; it was softened with Nepeta and lavenders.
The third patio bed is around twice the size of the first two, it also has a box hedge surrounding it with box balls running through to keep the theme. That is where similarities finish and we move in to a new style of bed, more cottage planting with a bed full of Stipa ‘Tenuissima’ with roses, phlox and Lillium ‘Regale’ to add fragrance while Jenny and Nick dine outside in the summer.
The same planting theme runs through the middle lawn beds, very cottage in style with yew trees in the dark corner of the bed to add shape and structure to the bed during the winter months. The big show piece of this bed is where the wall splits the garden, there is an opening to the rear garden and we have planted two big cardoons or you may also know them as artichoke.
In the spring we spent over £12,000 on trees which included eight Betula ‘jacquemontii’ standing six meters tall, with six instant yew columns at three meters tall and measuring 90cm x 90cm. The reason we planted the columns was to bring structure to the garden through the winter months, creating giants that look over the garden and keep up interest in the dark days of winter. They get eclipsed through the summer by sheer colour from the plants surrounding them almost like they can disappear in the busyness of the flower beds below them. I love yew trees and although a major risk, the garden works brilliantly and hits the “Chelsea Flower Show” demands Jenny requested!
In short, we have had so much fun with the planting of the rear garden and I was allowed free reign which is almost never allowed. With some clever planting and creative design, we managed to turn a dull area of the garden which was avoided most of the time into a show piece that Jenny and Nick can now enjoy.
August in the garden
1. Water features
Keep an eye on your ponds and water features. With the heat in August and over the last few months, water features can lose the water that resides in them. Obviously for wild life it is imperative to keep the water topped up but many people forget that pond pumps can run dry which results in a broken pump, keep them topped up whenever you can and, if possible, use rain water.
Give your wisteria its summer prune. Wisterias are brilliant plants and react well to pruning; the purpose of pruning at this time of year is solely to keep them looking neat. If left through the summer, not only do they not look their best but pruning in October will be harder as that is when you prune them by half before a further spring prune.
3. Bearded Irises
I love an iris, not only are they majestic plants but they bring joy to any garden. They are easy to grow and they tend to look after themselves beautifully, however they do like to be split. If they are growing on top of each other you may find that they won’t want to flower. On an overcast day when the sun won’t bake the root system, lift and divide as much as possible and be sure to keep them watered for the next few weeks.
4. Collect seeds
Whether it is from alliums or foxgloves, whatever your choice, collect the seeds from your plants so you can pot-up in the greenhouse and germinate over the winter, this is the time to do so.
By deadheading your plants as much as possible you are ensuring lots of growth and plenty of flowers throughout the year. You often hear me say this and always will, such is the importance of this point for a colourful garden.
6. Cut back faded perennials
Be brave, cut back any faded perennials as they don’t look their best anymore. Sometimes you will get a second flush of flowers and sometimes you will just get new, green growth, either way you will end up with a tidier looking garden.
Me My Spade and I, based in Oxfordshire and provide specialist horticultural garden services throughout the Home Counties and London. From residential houses to commercial sites which includes full garden design, plant selection, landscaping and installation.
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