Not a lot going on at the moment – variable weather and a weary feeling of indolence combine to give slow, frustrating times for the gardeners. Still, the garden continues to provide, almost in spite of us. It’s not the biggest harvest nor is it a particularly good one, but here are beetroot, apples, raspberries and green beans freshly picked. Dinner was almost entirely home grown, containing squash, onion, beetroot, garlic, herbs and leafy greens all from the garden (just mushrooms and goat’s cheese added from the shops). I’ve saved the smaller leaves from the beets, too, as these can either be eaten raw in a salad or gently wilted and tossed in oil as a side dish.
The apples are a little scabby and, being Golden Delicious, are not great in taste (the tree was here when we moved in: if it wasn’t such a mature specimen, so loved by wildlife and giving such pleasing dappled shade, I’d replace it with a better variety). Still, they are fine when peeled and taste good enough when baked into puddings. The addition of some locally foraged blackberries perks them up nicely. The blackbirds, wasps and mice (and, let’s be realistic, rats, too). are grateful for the windfalls and I do not begrudge them these.
Today I have that malaise that only a gardener who has been prevented from gardening can know. Everything is utterly sodden and if I had put a spade in the ground today I would have ruined the soil structure. I consoled myself by skulking in the shed, potting up garlic and sowing sweet peas to overwinter. Then I spent a little time winnowing seed saved this summer, to store for use next year. I know this weather is entirely normal for the time of year but every year its arrival takes me by surprise and makes me sulk for a bit until I accept its inevitability.
The best parts of a truly lacklustre squash harvest this year. The weather has been against us and my poor choice of neighbours for them (calabrese that got much higher than I expected) didn’t help. Next year I’ll start the plants off earlier and I’m considering buying some heat lamps to really bring the more tender crops on earlier indoors, so they are bigger and stronger when I come to plant them out.
Penstemon are also very obliging for late-season interest: on the left above, a hot pink one picks up the pink tones in the leaves of the stachyaurus praecox; on the right, you can just see the bells of a red penstemon clashing with the purple verbena bonariensis (with the seedheads and stems of dead corncockle behind. I like their ghostly appearance once dead – I’ll cut the stems down in the Spring to encourage new growth then).
This blue corydalis has flowered its heart out all summer and keeps going. I love it with the orange seedheads of the crocosmia. The glaucous blue-green leaves of the thalictrum and the Zepherine Drouhin rose behind it enhance the blue. This bed was newly created this year with the removal of a Wendy house, and although it’s not finished yet I love it already.
After yesterday’s autumnal damp and chill, a bright crisp day, though more rain to come and keep me out of the garden this weekend. A full moon tonight, so I hope it stays clear enough for a good view later.
The brugmansia seems to have enjoyed the soaking and the top-up of compost I gave it and has opened its trumpets this morning to give one last fanfare before winter. I wish I could share the smell, which is sweet, rich, lush and tropical.
It’s been a day of hard work in the garden today, with an early start and blessed with beautiful sunshine, but one of those days when there is very little to show for my efforts – what my gardener friend Tom would describe as ‘tittivating’ rather than proper gardening – which sadly will make for a rather dull set of photos. Still, here we go, so at least I can recall what I did and when.
Chief Engineer extended the herb bed for me (probably about the fourth extension it has had, apparently it’s impossible to grow some herbs in sufficient quantity…) so I cut down spent woody stems, moved lots of things about and spread others out, so that everything was better spaced, floppy things should (I hope) stop flopping onto other things that don’t like that, and things that don’t like being overshadowed can go on an outer edge where they get maximum light. So the unruly tarragons are now in the centre of the bed and the sulky thymes are on the edges, whilst all the different chives and perennial onions are grouped together in the middle (this last is probably a mistake, the alliums will probably cross-breed into nasty-tasting mutants or something). Summer savoury now looks forlorn on the corner and chamomile threatens to engulf everything from all angles. I’ve started growing some herbs in the other borders, especially medicinal herbs, and I suspect this will continue, with more and more herbs getting tucked in throughout the garden. Here are some truly dreadful photos. I refuse to buy a new phone until this one gives up completely, unfortunately this means really bad photos until it does!
These sedum are invaluable for late season interest and the bees love them for late pollen. The dead seedheads look lovely left to stand through winter, too. On the left, they look great with a starry-leaved euphorbia I forget the name of but wish I’d never planted because it spreads like the clap; on the right, contrasting nicely with blue salvia ‘Amistad’, which is hands down one of my favourite plants and is much tougher than everyone will tell you. Though I always lift a clump to store in the greenhouse as an insurance against hard frost, I leave several outside to fend for themselves and they bounce back quite happily. Below, the sedums glow in the border.
I hate cutting back the lavender. It feels like admitting Summer is over. Every year I leave it later than I should, partly because I hate doing it and partly because I don’t like to deprive the bees. Lavender really does need to be shown who’s boss though. Timidity on the part of the gardener results in indolence in the plant, and you end up with a leggy, sprawling, floppy thing in a season or two. It needs chopping back and a judicious going over with the shears, as close as you dare go without cutting into the old wood.
Every flower head I’ve hacked off will be saved and dried and used somehow: to make household cleaners or toiletries, lavender bags to deter moths, adding to my lavender sleep pillow, making teas or baking, or just hanging up around the house. Although having cut a similar amount last year, I haven’t quite used up all of last year’s harvest yet…
Humour me with these next pics. I spent ages chasing a hummingbird hawk moth around the garden, trying to get a photo. The clue as to the speed and flight pattern of this insect is really in its name… needless to say, my photos are terrible, but here they are anyway. If you’d like to see a photo of one of these where you can actually work out what it looks like, I suggest trying Google.
This tibuchina opened today, brightening a gloomy overcast day. I’m thrilled about this – just look at that colour! My mum called it “emperor’s purple” and said Julius Caesar would be proud. This is a subtropical plant that I’ve had for four and a half years – it was a moving in gift from my mum, bought in Lidl (last of the big spenders, my mother). Anyway it’s a much treasured gift and had grown really big, much too big to overwinter in either greenhouse, so last year I decided to take a chance and plant it out in the most sheltered border. Well, that was stupid. I nearly lost it, despite heaps of protection. I lifted it in the nick of time, prunes it to a stump and have been nursing it all year. Finally it’s starting to look like it’s forgiven me. It turns out tibuchina can be pruned very hard, so in future I’ll prune it until it fits into the greenhouse rather than taking a chance with it outside through the coldest months. I have successfully struck a cutting from it once and once only (and now my mum has one thriving in a pot in her garden too, the gift that keeps on giving). I’ll try striking more cuttings as it really is a fabulous, exotic looking specimen. In Madeira it grows wild, getting huge and scrambling down stony banks. It’s very hard to replicate the Madeira climate in soggy South Wales!
It’s a grey wet day in Wales but we are not disheartened, for we have preserved Summer or, rather, a taste of it. I went a bit overboard growing basil this year. Loads of it has gone into salads and tomato sauces for the freezer (yes, all those green tomatoes ripened!) but I still had huge amounts needing to be used up before the plants run to seed… I stopped weighing this lot when it passed 150g and there was still loads left… so I made the largest amount of pesto you can imagine and froze it in meal-sized portions. Now we’ll have the taste of Summer through the winter months (it’s delicious stirred into home-made minestrone, which is another great way of using up excess produce!)