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August & September Journal (and a little bit of October...) 2021

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

My notes of the gardens, growing and ideas.

Right now, sitting in the studio, the lights are mirrored back at me on the rain splashed window. It is a dark moody October dawn. It has rained all night and the sky looks so cross that I don't think the clouds have fully let go yet. It's a sharp contrast to the summer holiday images of the previous journal.

I reflected then that I had few images to share and it seems the case again. In reality, it is not my natural bent to record much. I find it very distracting to take images whilst I am working, I have to be reminded. However I have captured others working and simply exceptional moments but usually I record it all in my minds eye. Useful you might be thinking... since I want to share what is growing in the gardens.

It wasn't the best summer for the gardens here. Annuals, like the fantastic new flamed coloured evening primrose, nicotiana, coreopsis, tweedia and phlox flowered spectacularly at first then failed to do much thereafter. And others like the rudbeckia and cosmos are only just bulking up and getting going which is so frustrating when the autumn is bashing them about and I need to remove them to plant the next season.

The long border being reorganised.
The long border being reorganised.

And no one wants to take pictures and remember the flowers that didn't do so well do they? I put it down to very variable weather conditions, that stressed the annuals so they just didn't have the wherewithal to repeat flower as they have other years. Heavy sporadic rains, low light levels in August just made many give up and go to seed in preparation for another year. The tomatoes collapsed under blight which was such a blow. But then the perennials have been fantastic. They are much more established, maturer and can cope with these conditions. We will plant many more this autumn.

Dahlias growing in the walled garden
Dahlias in the walled garden

And of course the dahlias have been great. We have a mixture of saved tubers from previous years, split in the spring and planted out, together with new varieties grown from cuttings bought from Halls of Heddon and some grown from seed. All have been wonderfully healthy this year. We could have done with a few more rows to cope with the orders. We are going to experiment with leaving some in over the winter and lifting others. In the main, I would advocate lifting dahlias on a flower farm as the tubers get very big quickly and the soil hungry as the plants are demanding. Lifting, rotating and augmenting the soil prevents disease and promotes a healthy plant bed. However, it is a very big job and I know plenty of growers that rotate over several years instead and do well. So to increase my learning, I will do the same with two beds this winter, and lift the rest. I will let you know how this goes.

Cut flowers resting
Cutting flowers on a Thursday mornings, being conditioned before arranging.

The long border is now 3 years old and looks like it is beginning to have some maturity. We need to do some maintenance on the flint wall before it frosts so took the opportunity to lift plants, split and divide to create a path to the wall. This iris had to be relocated quickly, which meant another border got cleared and replanted to accommodate that. I liken it to one of those puzzles that in order to get one piece into position, one must move several others first.

Trays of lifted plants and spent crops before clearing.

Because it was either conically dry, dull or wet this summer, the new perennials are still small. Next year I am hoping after a good mulch and rest over the winter, that the maclaya and asters will have established well to enjoy masses of flowers.

In September, we begun our 'Farm Days' here on and it has been an utter joy to have the garden buzzing again. On Mondays, there is laughter again and a lot of ground covered in conversation. An enormous amount gets down and jobs that for one person might overwhelm, gets done in a few minutes together.

Compost heaps
Thrilled with these heaps! Two bays of compost ready to be spread, and another turned.

All the heaps have been turned and compost is ready to be spread (ideal after this heavy rain). The beds are being cleared and the gardens opened up which feels like a deep inhale of fresh air. Disappointment is literally removed into the compost heap, making way for a barrow of mulch and hopeful plans for the next crop. The newly dark beds look smart, rich and well fed. It feels good to draw a line under the growing season and look towards the next. This is why I feel September is the start of the new growing year.

Last year, I mostly gardened on my own, which, even over this tiny flower farm, felt like I was chasing my tail constantly. Coupled with a winter where only the most loud jobs that screamed at me to be completed, got completed. Meaning we started the year on the back foot and not caught up this year. With the brilliant farm day participants, I have so much optimism that we will have every bed, plus a few new ones prepared before the year is out and put us in the best position for the next. And that postivity is infectious.

It bears repeating again and again, if you do one thing this autumn, mulch your beds! Around existing plants, over cardboard, over soil, just spread as much as you can and let the soil community do the rest. Your gardens bioverse (I think I just made that up) and flowers will thank you for it.

So as beds get cleared and mulched, we are lifting and splitting the short lived achillea and my favourite ladies mantle. Trays and trays of ranunuclus and anemones have been soaked and presprouted, and we have begun planting these in the Braybrooke garden. We have shared corms, plants and bulbs with participants so that there will be much more flowers across the county next year!

I have become obsessed with Narcissus and on Monday, hundreds got planted ahead of what I hope will be many months of these to look forward to from February to May as we emerge blinking into 2022.

Happy new gardening year!


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