Summer review

Gaura and verbena bonariensis

Now that our Indian summer has most definitely come to an end, I thought I’d look back at the first growing season in my garden. The highs, the lows, the courgettes…


My new borders
I dug two new borders out of existing lawn earlier in the year. (Actually, I didn’t do it, I paid a strong young man.) The turf was turned over and left in situ, then topped with loads of well-rotted manure and topsoil. I then left them alone. I was a bit worried about how they would turn out, but I planted the borders up last weekend, and the soil seemed good – easy to work and not too sticky or heavy (the soil around here is heavy clay).

My Eindhell push mower
My dad gave me an old Flymo hover mower when I moved house, and despite its cute retro appearance, I loathed the thing. It was heavy and unwieldy, especially on slopes, and it didn’t so much cut the grass as flatten it. I couldn’t face yet another piece of kit that needed a power lead or battery charger, and didn’t fancy going down the petrol route, so I went for a push mower. I did some research online, and found that everyone loved the convenience of their push mower and wished they’d got one sooner. However they all thought the grass collection boxes were rubbish. There didn’t seem to be much difference between the expensive models and the cheaper ones, so I bought a cheap one. It’s great – I can cut what’s left of the lawn in about ten minutes. But the grass collection bag is rubbish.

Wind-tolerant plants
My garden is pretty windy. It’s on top of a hill, and is very narrow, surrounded on both sides by high fences (I didn’t put them in, and there isn’t enough room to replace them with hedges). But Gaura lindheimerei (above), despite looking so dainty, has withstood it all. Plus, it’s been in flower since June. So much so that I’ve planted a second one. Verbena bonariensis has also put on an amazing show. A friend gave me 10 baby plants this spring, and they’ve flowered their socks off. They gave the illusion that my virtually empty borders were full.

My temporary veg patch
I cleared a raised bed that was full of junk at the back of the garden in spring, and turned it into a temporary veg patch. As I dug out the bicycle chains, bricks, paving slabs, child’s hair grips, rusty nails and endless bindweed shoots, I could tell that the soil was actually quite good. I enriched it with some manure and got planting. My first courgette plants got eaten by slugs, so I rashly planted four more that were given to me by a friend. They all bloody grew. I now have some patty pans that are the size of spaceships lined up over every available surface. I also rashly planted two wigwams worth of runner beans, going against the very advice that I’m forever dolling out in articles. As a result I’ve eaten runner beans every day for about three months.

Sweet peas
Sweet peas are my favourite flower, and it’s a sad day when I pick the last one of the year. That day hasn’t come yet, as some ‘Spencer Tall Mixed’, from a free packet that I sowed late, left to languish in loo rolls and eventually bunged into an unpromising part of the veg patch, have come into their own. They’ve got frilly flowers that look like cancan dancers’ knickers. ‘Spencer Tall Mixed’ aside, I planted a mix of autumn-sown plants, spring-sown plants and young plants, and picked them in succession from May onwards. I put them in a very sunny spot, and their stems got short very quickly in the hot weather. The sweet pea expert, Roger Parsons, suggests growing them somewhere that is shaded during the hottest part of the day, so I’m going to try that next year.

Mara des Bois strawberries
I’d been itching to grow these perpetual strawberries that taste of alpines, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m still picking the odd one now.

In the absence of a greenhouse, I grew tomatoes in my conservatory. It was fine until they reached triffid-like proportions, at which point I moved them outside. I grew the much talked-about ‘Indigo Rose’, a black variety, and ‘Rosella’, a new cherry type. The fruits on ‘Rosella’ were ridiculously sweet, almost like a fruit. I managed to ripen some ‘Indigo Rose’ eventually (they take a very long time, especially outdoors) and enjoyed growing them – they look very striking when they’re at the black stage (they’re ripe when half the fruit has gone the colour of tomato soup), and I loved the little red star shape that develops around the stems. My only criticism is that they took so long to ripen that many of the stragglers got eaten by slugs.


My back
I buggered it early in the year, doing too much heavy stuff. Hence why I had to pay a strong young man to dig my borders.

The lack of progress.
I shan’t be inviting Gardens Illustrated round anytime soon. Sometimes I’ve spent an entire day in the garden, with nothing to really show for it (except a bad back). I didn’t get half of what I was hoping to do done this year. Gardening is a bit like decorating – there’s a hell of a lot of necessary but unglamorous preparation.

Ladybird poppies
I sowed some seeds in the spring. Not one came up. Not one. Nada. Zilch.

Red spider mite
I didn’t notice the signs of this critter in the conservatory until it was way too late, and lost my little lemon tree to it. I’m wise to it now, though, and have got myself a magnifying glass so I can see them under the leaves before they’ve done too much damage.


Everything takes a long time.

There’s always something to do.

There’s no time to sit in a deckchair.

Even if there was time to sit in a deckchair, I’d just sit there thinking about all the things there are to do.

Patience is a virtue.


Lavender and verbena

Lavender and verbena

I spotted this planting scheme at Stourhead the other day. Lavender is interplanted with Verbena bonariensis and alliums, extending the season of interest. I might well nick this idea for my front garden, which looks lovely when the lavender is in flower, but a bit boring the rest of the time.

The last hurrah

Regents Park

Yesterday evening I walked through Regents Park. It was busier than I’ve seen it all year, full of people enjoying the summer we never had. They were quaffing wine, having picnics, playing football and eating ice cream, seemingly oblivious to the fact that in less than an hour it would be completely dark.

I find this time of year a bit difficult. I love summer, and wouldn’t mind autumn either were it not for the fact that it’s followed by winter. We often get some late lovely weather, as we are this year, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the show’s almost over. And yet lots of plants, like the people in the park, seem oblivious to the fact that soon they’ll be nipped by a nasty frost or plunged into darkness, and are still innocently flowering their socks off.

But enough of this doom and gloom. This weekend, I’m going to ignore the fact that it’s October. Apparently there are ripe raspberries and strawberries at my allotment and the forecast is 28 degrees. So I’m going to don my sunnies and flip flops, pretend it’s July and forget all about the predictions of snow at the end of the month.

Casing the joint

St Albans

Today I decided to combine New Year Resolution No.1 (see previous post) with New Year Resolution No. 2 – to get fit (yawn!). So I donned my trainers and went for a run, camera in hand. It was practically dusk, but I told myself that it’s the thought that counts.

Anyway, I saw plenty of abandoned Xmas trees and slushy cyclamen and things weren’t looking good at all, but just as the light began to fade I came across this classy front garden. With plenty of structure (box balls), evergreens (Nandina domestica), grasses and seedheads (Verbena bonariensis), it was the ultimate low-maintenance garden that looks as good in January as it will all year.

Lights were on in the front room and very cosy and inviting it looked too, with a Siamese cat snoozing on the sofa. I was a bit worried that someone would walk into the room at any second and see a woman in jogging gear pointing a camera at their house. So I quickly took a couple of shots and ran off.

Five minutes later I was back. I’d got lost and had been forced to jog (okay, walk) back the way I’d come. As I passed the house, the young couple who lived there were walking down the garden path. I’d like to have asked them if they designed the garden themselves, or whether someone did it for them. But I thought being accosted by a camera-wielding jogger in the dark might freak them out a bit, so I limped on home.