“When summer gathers up her robes of glory, and like a dream of beauty glides away.”
Sarah Helen Power Whitman
August rounds the corner into Autumn. Early summer flowers begin to turn to seed, and fruits are set and ripening on the bough. You can feel it in the mornings, the cooler dewy air bringing a sharp autumnal vibrant tone to flowers and plants – greens begin to yellow, and fields of grasses turn golden as the sun lowers itself on the horizon.
Time spent in a chair regarding the garden around you right now is time well spent. It’s called enjoying the fruits of your labours and is really what all the muck and sweat is about. It’s also a time to take stock – should a shrub be moved perhaps? Would a clump of grasses worked better further back? When we buy plants, they are often in flower a little shorter than they will be once in the soil, so a common error is to plant things tall too near the front of a border. All the more reason when planting, to practice mindful planning, and think how the plant will look in 5 years time – and how big it will eventually become.
The time to move shrubs, trees, fruiting plants and woody perennials is later in the season – I do it just as the leaf fall in autumn really takes grip – the plants sugars are decreasing, and it is going dormant for the winter, so it will be under less stress.
In the flower garden, the Dahlias are really getting into their stride now – a favourite of artisan florists everywhere and brought to the worlds attention last year by Floret Flower Farm’s picture of a truck with a boot full of the glorious blooms which went viral during august, I first started growing them in earnest in 2010, while working at Petersham Nurseries. There, we grew the Babylon types in the cutting garden – with flowers larger than dinner plates in all shades of peach to fuchscia and coffee cream to ivory white, they are a flower arrangers dream.
Native to Mexico, they don’t like the wet or cool too much, so if growing them for floristry a tunnel is needed, or a sheltered patch of soil in good sun. As the tubers need lifting over the winter, they can be grown in extra large tubs on a patio.
Otto’s Thrill is a showy pink, I love it for the huge size it reaches – 14” across last year, so let’s see if I can beat that. The real supermodel of the bunch though is the almost nude colour of Café au Lait – it makes an elegant statement bloom in a bouquet or in a vase.
When cutting flowers from your own garden to use in arrangements, always cut first thing in the morning, and stand in deep buckets of cool water for an hour or so, then trim off any leaves on the lower stem that will be below the water line in your vase before arranging them. Keep the water fresh in the vase to prolong flower blooms.
Hydrangeas are also at their peak right now – but if you want to cut them to dry them, wait a while longer, when the petals begin to look like paper towels, then is the right time. If you want to play with the tones of your Hydrangea’s colour, you can buy Hydrangea Colourant in most DIY stores. The more iron in your soil, the bluer your hydrangea will flower. Old habits were to use rusted nails, but the powder is safer!
Last summer, a floral trend visited briefly again was dried flowers – with a touch more authenticity than faux and the right bohemian styling, it’s something of an art and hit or miss results when I began experimenting last year
– Good flowers for cutting and drying;
Delphinium & Larkspur
Keep their intense blue hue, and become brittle like wheat. Perfect for floral confetti, but as petals become damp again, they may stain fabrics or flooring
Fades to a lilac hue, scented
The seedheads are architectural and look great sprayed in metallic hues in Christmas arrangements
Yarrow has huge flat umbel flowers that stay upright once dried.
The secret to drying flowers is to complete the dehydration quickly and smoothly, typically hanging them upside down in a bunch, in a dark warm airy place, or above a radiator perhaps. Kitchens, though warm tend to be too steamy at times!
In the vegetable patch, Harvest time is in the air and shoots are losing favour to roots, as the first crops of potatoes and beets are lifted, and tomatoes start to ripen – it’s now that your watering regime needs to be really strict, especially with soft skinned fruits, the same amount at the same time is what is required now. It’s also time to cut back on feeding, and begin mulching borders and beds, to help keep weeds in check and keep moisture in the soil during the dry autumn spells.
Early flowering climbers, such as Wisteria and the evergreen Clematis armandii can be given a good prune now, tidying up long shoots and taking the plant back to a strong framework. Wait a while before pruning Clematis Montana, it will often give another show of flower in the late summer.
August is also a good time to give your houseplants a little attention – pot them on a size or two, with fresh multi purpose compost, and give them an airing outdoors for a few nights, as you warm the house more over the winter, they will have fresh new earth to grow into over the coming winter season.