You know, I’ve not written one of my infamous gardening guides for ages now, so I thought I’d get back into the swing. After all, as lovely as photos are, there has to be something else, other than pretty flowery photos, right? Okey-dokey, lets get going!
August, if the weather is good, can be a lovely month but usually not that conducive to heavy gardening, and although this year, it probably won’t be the baking heat keeping you indoors, it’s still not really a month that you can get much done. Summer in the garden, is typically a restful sit-back and relax time, the frenetic activity takes place in the Spring and Autumn, but there is still much to be done!
Lets start with the flower beds…
- Thin those annuals! If you, like me, grow masses of wonderful annuals, now is a great time to thin them out. You should, in theory, have been doing this every few weeks, but the weather hasn’t made this easy. As we’ve had quite a few nice days, intermingled with some wet ones, annuals like cornflowers, godetia and snapdragons have shot up to record sizes, meaning they swamp everything else, including your prized perennials! This has to stop, so select any that are looking past their best and thin them out, or trim them down. Make sure that your perennials have plenty of light and air around them, otherwise you’ll start to have problems with downy mildew and aphids.
- Weed the beds! The weeds this year have been prodigious, especially dandelions, milkweed and sow-thistles. And as yet I’ve not really been able to do very much about it. But now is an excellent time to start. A cool evening is the perfect time to explore all of those nooks and crannies, and to attack those weeds with a hoe. I prefer a pair of stout rubber gloves for gardening, and though it may look a bit domestic-goddessy in the garden, they are marvellous at avoiding the stings of nettles, the prick of bramble thorns and the rough and tumble of the garden.
- Excavate the compost heap! We decided to do this the other weekend and we finally got to come face-to-face with my little garden-friend, our compost mouse. We apologised for the intrusion, and hope she’s forgiven us for taking apart her little home, with 4 nests and lots of little tunnels criss-crossing the heap, but it really needed a good empty in there, and what better an opportunity than a lovely warm day? We used our compost to fertilise the beds we had cleared and to…
- Mulch the beds! When it’s dry vegetables need a little helping hand, and homemade compost acts as a brilliant mulch on just about everything. Banana skins work wonders placed at the base of roses, and homemade compost has tons of great stuff in it. It saves lots of fruit and vegetable waste from going into landfill, thus saving the planet!
- Dead-head your flowers! There is nothing sadder than the sight of a rose with lots of dead flowerheads on it. Not only does it hold back repeat-flowering, it causes the roses to put all their energy into making fruit, rather than luscious posies of the prettiest colours and scents. Some roses don’t repeat, but help those that do by dead-heading! You can also give roses a tidy by giving them a quick ‘summer prune’. David Austen recommends that:
“After each flush of flowers has finished, cut back the flowering stems to two or three sets of leaves. You may also notice that the occasional new long, strong stem will appear from the base of the shrub, or sometimes grows higher up from older branches. These can grow quickly above the frame of the plant and look a little out of place at first. These stems are in fact very beneficial, forming strong, healthy new stems which will flower next season. We recommend that you trim these new stems back slightly when carrying out summer pruning, just enough to maintain the nicely rounded shape of the shrub.“
- Don’t forget the wildlife! Red squirrels find their food sources are greatly diminished in Summer and often stuggle to find food, so putting out a good source of protein and nuts is fantastic. Peanuts are relatively mineral and vitamin-deficient, and other sources such as walnuts and hazel nuts are much better, and are guaranteed to be loved by your little fluffy-red thing. If you have grey squirrels, why don’t you consider getting a nice air rifle and having some dinner? Grey squirrels are bad (for our cute little native red squirrel), but at this time of year are nice and plump, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Giles Coren have both enjoyed a meal from them, apparently tasting a bit chickeny and a bit porky! You shouldn’t forget birds too, who may not be suffering a lack of food (if the thrush I saw demolishing my reserve of the plumpest blackberries is anything to go by…) but in hot weather they do struggle to get a drink. Putting water bowls and bird-baths out is fundamental for the little feathered folk who inhabit the garden!
- Don’t cut the lawn too short! This is a serious point. Our lawn, after weeks of not being cut from the horrid rain we’d had, loved it when we gave it a harsh cut, but now that it’s dried out, treat it delicately and put it on a high (long) setting. This will help your lawn stay green and not die off in the heat.
- Crop your vegetables! Onions, runner beans, the last peas and potatoes are all at their best this month. Lay the onions, freshly picked, onto the hot Summer soil and they should dry out, leaving you able to plait them and store for the long months ahead. I’ve just plucked some real beauties, which shows how much difference the rain has made from the tiny shallot-types we had last year! If you’ve got any peas that have “gone over”, they make a wonderful soup along with any lettuce that has bolted – H F-W has the recipe, Pea, Lettuce and Lovage soup. Just as well we have a towering lovage plant!
- Feed those tomatoes! Feed your tomatoes with a good-quality, organic food every week for the rest of their lives. This will keep them happy, and water often (twice a day!) to avoid blossom-end rot, which although unsightly doesn’t change the tomato too much, as long as you cut the rotten bit off – it just looks horrid. And speaking of feeding vegetables squashes and pumpkins need to be given a jolly good feed. They are hungry, piggy things and need as much food as you can throw at them!
So that’s my month in the garden. Next month we start the mammoth job of clearing beds and starting to plan for next year’s crop. And we’ll hopefully have some tomatoes to make passata with. But until then, enjoy!