August 2019 Column

One of those tipping points of the year, August gives us a moment to pause, the still close days naturally entice one to lull on the grass and simply take it all in. The garden and hedgerow growth hang still, beginning to dry and turning from verdant green to golden yellow. Traditionally with school holidays, there is a suspension of activity. Berries are ripening and foragers start to rub their hands with glee with flowering plants, nuts and seeds abundant. In the flower and vegetable garden, we must pick as often as possible to prolong the fruiting and then spend the rest of the day lazily enjoying your hard work and efforts up until this point in the year.


The first Harvest Festival is Lammas Day on 1st August – a Celt cross quarter day, in between the summer equinox and solstices that used to mark the farming year. This one for the wheat harvest and first of the berries. Lammas Land in the city is a perfect space for a summer picnic, splash in the free swimming and paddling pools or a stroll under the willow trees to Granchester, originally common land that would have had grazing rights after Lammas Day once the first wheat is harvested.


Continue the good work of last month and keep up the essential garden tasks by eating and drinking outside as often as possible. Picking off edible flowers and herbs, adding to salads, drinks and puddings. The air is hot and dusty, if not awash with ozone after a summer shower and I enjoy every minute I can.


Do a little housekeeping before a holiday. Give pots outside a big water and cluster together in the shade both reducing water evaporation and thus water requirements. Indoors, a neat trick is to lay a piece of capillary matting on the draining board with the other half in a sink of water. Move houseplants onto the matt and the pots will wick up moisture as and when they require.


Ensure a neighbour picks any fruit or veg to prevent plants running to seed and prematurely completing their harvest. Tie in climbers and stake tall plants. Heavy August downpours will flatten growth. I love iron stakes and plant rings as they can be sculptural elements in the herbaceous border and at Docwra Manor in Shepreth (open every Wed and Fri), Faith Raven takes inspiration from her daughter Sarah’s Kentish home and uses mini chestnut gates to hold up tall plants. On our plots we use 1x2” stakes along the length of the beds and criss cross between them with twine, upholding the flowers at several points as they rise. We find this gives the best stability whilst allowing access to cut tall flowers, like dahlias, easily.


Finally, before you go away, cut all the flowers about to come out that will be over by the time you return, and make up a beautiful bunch for a friend to enjoy. Not only will they be admired rather than the blooming going unobserved, new stems will replace them to welcome you home.