Monday, 8 September 2008

Summer End

We have had a rotten summer here in the UK. It must be the wettest on record. We did make the most of the odd week of sunshine and grasped greedily at the occasional sunny day, only too aware that summer can be elusive. And we were right.

With an economic turndown and a growing awareness of carbon footprints – well carbon wings – many families took their annual holiday in dear old Blighty this year. By now they will remember why they usually holiday somewhere the weather is more predictable and reliable.

The only benefit has been that the garden has not needed watering. In fact it is looking very, very green. However, the blowsy and pastel colours have now gone from most of the beds and borders: a few roses throw up a welcome colourful bloom and one or two perennials soldier on but that’s about it.

But thank goodness I’ve got my hot bed which has really come into its own: I developed it about five years ago using shrubs from around the garden, interspersing them with perennials. In a year it looked established, now it looks really mature.

The backbone is a purple hazel (Corylus avellana purpurea) which has grown to quite a tree. The purple leaves are a great foil for the green border that is its backdrop and a marvellous foil for the orange and yellow flowering perennials in front of it. A Golden Elder (Sambucus aurea), and Pheasants Eye (Leycesteria formosa) provide dramatic deciduous colour and an evergreen Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) and Mahonia complete the shrubs.

Tall grasses (Miscanthus sinensis, Stipa gigantea and Calamagrotis) and low bronze mounds of Carex comans add movement and lightness whilst a large claret phormium and smaller rust-red cordyline provide strong vertical elements.

In July, in between yellow and orange daisies of rudbeckias and heleniums, orange day lilies and red hot pokers provided bright splashes of colour. For ground cover there were mounds of flowering geraniums and Lady’s mantle and a very thick layer of wood chippings, weathered to a pleasing dark brown.

But now, when everything else in the garden is looking faded and sad, the dead-headed daisies and geraniums in the hot border are beginning to flower again and the silver feather grass has beautiful silky heads. And suddenly some bright beacons burst into flower too, warm enough to cheer a failing heart: bright flame coloured crocosmia makes a stunning statement, lime green eucomis looks wonderfully exotic and a beautiful late-flowering toffee coloured kniphofia is elegant and unusual.

And these all remind me so much of days out at Kirstenbosch - the South African world famous botanical garden in Cape Town - that I find my spirits lifting despite the wet and grey skies. Summer is ending with a splash - in every way!


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