Predictably September conjures up the back to school analogy. And with gardening, it certainly is a good comparison. I may have said once or twice that I believe the gardening year starts again proper in September. But as a child, I was not quite as excited about going back to school as I am about another opportunity to plan my gardening for the next year!
It’s a good month to consider what changes or improvements I want to make, a vision for the 2022 garden whilst considering the ‘lessons learnt’ from this year. I picked up an exercise in review from a friend, that when I was early in my gardening career, was a global strategist for a very impressive company, and he walked around with a notebook in his back pocket and whipped it out regularly to make notes, visions and ‘lessons learnt’. I’ll give you some of the highlights of this year’s entry…
Firstly, a little trite but worth repeating; the old virtue of patience. Sitting in the studio as I write, I look down the long border and can see the bed finally taking shape in the way I had anticipated as we began to garden it in 2018, three years later. Nothing happens overnight.
The soil was awfully neglected over many decades so I planted that which I knew could cope in hot, dry, free draining sandy soil. Whenever I have the compost, I spread it around the plants, but this can only be in the winter as the bed really is quite inaccessible right now with large swathes of salvias, macalya, echinops, guara, asters and persicaria. It is rarely watered and this year, after a good mulch of compost, the perennials are growing really well and I know that next seasons display will be even better.
A review of previous ‘lessons learnt’ tells me that of my perennials have cycles. Short lived ones, like achilliea, sown from seed in their first year, flower well, but the second they are fantastic. Thereafter they lose oomph and seem to regress. Best to lift these in the autumn, split and replant elsewhere. Or even compost, as you have sown new ones for seed.
Others like the persicaria, ladies mantle, asters are much longer lived but they again seem to bloom best the year after lifting and splitting. I don’t worry about moving these plants, just reduce them a bit, put back into their position and give some plants away.
Another observation is that you just can never predict which of your ‘reliable’ self seeders are actually going to reliably self seed one year to the next. In 2019, we had so much Nicandra – a very unusual tall green plant with tiny pretty black freckles on the leaves. An innocuous lilac flower gives way to green then blackened lanterns. We strip the leaves off the stems to highlight the dangling puffs and these look fantastic with late flowering dahlias and grasses and a ‘reliable’ talking point. This year I only had a few seedlings, and these popped up in a bed of annual chrysanthemum which I was so excited about but I have had to sacrifice the care of these for the ‘shoo fly plant’ as it is called in America. The self sown antriplex is magnificent and there is a lot of panicum ‘frosted explosion’, a great grass that looks like a fibre optic and works well between late summer flowers, either in the border or the vase.
I think you know when your garden is maturing well, when plants are flowering and mingling together like a tapestry, and there are happy self seeders that you can move around to fill gaps and create interesting combinations.
From my notes and photos, it is clear, these gardens are different landscapes one year to the next, I have loved this year’s one and I am already ordering seeds to add to the next one. September is a lovely place to be, basking in the warm glow of the summer, surrounded by the tall growth and sowing the beginnings of next year’s garden too.
Originally published in Cambridge Edition Magazine September 2021