The August Garden 2023
Well after an unusually wet and cool July following last July’s hot and dry weather I wonder what August has in store for us? In some ways the unpredictability of our wonderful British weather makes gardening even more interesting, some would say challenging, and keeps gardeners on their toes at all times! Whatever August decides to do there is bound to be some heat, some lack of rain, some heavy rain, the task of preparing gardens for our holidays away, the usual dead heading and pruning activities, keeping vegetables and fruits well-watered and, as the topic for this month’s blog and talk suggests, thinking ahead and ‘Preparing for Spring Colour’.
You may already be aware that the Old Railway Line has very recently launched their new website in order to make online shopping as straightforward and pleasurable as possible which is good news for all of us. All the past blogs are still available and they can be found here or you can search for them in the main search bar.
Past August blogs have dealt with a whole range of topics starting in August 2020 on good summer plants from our own garden including ‘bedding plants’, true annuals such as Sweet Peas, Sunflowers and Calendula, herbaceous perennials such as Penstemon, Phlox, Aster, Rudbeckia, Japanese Anemones, Helianthus and Eryngium, shrubs such as Lavatera, Lavender, Buddleja, Hydrangea, Caryopteris, Perovskia, Fuchsia and Phygelius and of course all the wonderful ornamental grasses. In August 2021 the Aberglasney gardens were the subject of the blog in all their summer splendour and in August 2022 my plants of the month were Buddleja, Hydrangea, Echinacea, Erodium and Helenium. All these are still available on the new website as I explained above along with an extra blog on creating a bee friendly garden from August 2022 with the top five plants being Buddleja, Scabious, Echinacea, Veronica and Penstemon.
It has just occurred to me that nowhere in the above have I referred to a plant which for Teresa and I this summer has been a great addition to the garden- the Hosta. They have produced their magnificent leaves as usual but this year in particular the flowers have also been quite spectacular and I include a few photographs taken in the last days of July.
We have also been very pleased with two new additions to the gravel bed:
Verbena officinalis ‘Bampton’
Moving on to this month’s topic- ‘Preparing for Spring Colour’- most people would perhaps think first about the spring flowering bulbs which need to be planted between September and November and I will certainly deal with these but there are also many other great spring-flowering plants to consider for which autumn is the perfect planting time.
As far as spring flowering bulbs are concerned I did cover some aspects of this topic in my September 2022 blog and talk and there is also a separate blog for the same month on ‘How to plant bulbs’. Bulbs are actually just one of the food storage organs that some plants produce in order to survive dormant periods, others being corms, tubers, rhizomes and stolons. These can be grouped together under the title ‘bulbous plants’ which in turn fall into one of two main groups- Early and Late-flowering. The early group includes Dwarf Narcissi, Cyclamen coum, Crocus, Iris reticulata and danfordiae, Snowdrops (Galanthus), Spring Snowflakes (Leucojum vernum), Windflower (Anemone blanda), Winter Aconite (Eranthis), Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) and Scilla (Squill). The late group includes the taller Narcissi, Tulips, Erythronium (Dogs Tooth Violets), Fritillaria, Allium and Camassia.
Most of these are well known to you so I will concentrate here on some of the less widely grown plants which I haven’t highlighted in earlier blogs and talks. In the early group the Spring Snowflake is related and similar to the Snowdrop with white, bell-shaped, nodding flowers but unlike the Snowdrop flowers on the Snowflake have six equal segments rather than the three small, inner and three larger, outer segments (tepals) of the Snowdrop. Most Snowflakes also have several flowers on each stem unlike the single flower of the Snowdrop. Snowflakes can also flower at different times in the year but Leucojum vernum is the early flowerer with dark green leaves up to 10” (25cm) long and stout, leafless stems with one or two bell-shaped, green-tipped, white flowers. L. vernum carpathicum has yellow-tipped flowers and L. vernum var. vagneri always bears two flowers per stem.
Scillas have delightful, small, usually blue, bell-shaped, flat or star-shaped flowers. Scilla bifolia has two semi-erect, broadly linear basal leaves and racemes (flower clusters) of up to 10 star-shaped, blue to purple-blue flowers and is excellent for naturalising. S. siberica, Siberian Squill, has 2-4 linear, basal leaves and loose racemes of 4 or 5 pendant, bright blue flowers. S. siberica ‘Alba’ has white flowers and S. sib. ‘Spring Beauty’ has deep blue flowers. Chionodoxa, Glory of the Snow, is related to Scilla with their star-shaped, blue, pink or white flowers and mid-green, lance-like basal leaves.
From the later flowering group I would like to concentrate on the Camassia. This is a genus of around 6 species of bulbous perennials from damp, meadow land in N. America. The large, spherical bulbs give rise to erect, narrow, bright green, basal leaves and long spikes of large, showy, star or cup-shaped, blue, purple or white flowers, each with 6 tepals borne on leafless stems from late spring to summer. Camassia cusickii ‘Zwanenburg’ has deep blue flowers on 8-16” (20-40cm) long flower spikes and C. leichtlinii has 4-12” (10-30cm) long flower spikes with white flowers but one of its cultivars C. leichtlinii subs. suksdorfii ‘Blue Danube’ has violet-blue flowers.
Camassias in the Lower Walled Garden at Aberglasney
Following on from the spring bulbs we move on to the spring, ground cover flowers most of which we think of as annuals although in reality they are biennials or perennials. These include Forget-me-not (Myosotis), Wallflowers (Cheiranthus), Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), Bellis perennis and Primula (Primroses and Polyanthus). I find it hard to imagine a spring garden without the first of these with their yellow-eyed, blue flowers filling the spaces between the bulbs and the herbaceous plants which will soon take their place.
Myosotis sylvatica and its numerous cultivars is the one found in most gardens. It is grown as a biennial but can be a short-lived perennial. It seeds around freely as its common name suggests and once you have it you will never be without it! The cultivars in the ‘Ball Series’ are compact and perfect for spring bedding schemes coming in blue or white. The ‘Victoria Series’ are also dwarf and compact with white, pink or blue flowers. Myosotis ‘Music’ is more vigorous and erect with large, very bright blue flowers. For plants for spring bedding seeds can be sown in containers or a seed bed in early summer or, of course, they can be purchased as young plants in the early spring.
The same applies to my next plant on the list, Bellis perennis, the Common Daisy, which has also given rise to many cultivars. Bellis is a rosette-forming, carpeting perennial originally from grasslands in Europe and Turkey. The cultivars are normally grown as biennials for spring bedding and fall into one of four series. The ‘Habanera Series’ bear pink, white or red long-petalled flower heads in late spring/early summer. The ‘Pomonette Series’ bear double, pink, white or red flower heads as do the ‘Tasso Series’ and the ‘Roggli Series’ flower early and prolifically with semi-double red, rose-pink, salmon-pink or white flower heads.
Cheiranthus, Wallflower, which is now included in the Erysimum genus is an excellent spring flower which seems, for some reason, to have become less popular in recent times. The spring bedding plant is Erysimum cheiri which is a short-lived perennial which is treated by most gardeners as a biennial. The four-petalled flowers are sweet scented and come in a range of colours from creamy white, yellow, orange and red. Look out especially for the ‘Bedder Series’ of dwarf, compact plants. Like the Forget-me-nots and Bellis these bedding wallflowers can be grown from seed in late spring to early summer in a nursery bed to be planted out into their final positions in the autumn. More likely though they will be purchased in bare root form in autumn and planted straightaway into their flowering positions.
Bedding Forget-me-nots used to great effect in the entrance bed at Aberglasney
My third group of plants for spring colour are the early flowering herbaceous perennials such as Doronicum, Pulmonaria, Dicentra, Euphorbia and Aubrietia.
Doronicum, Leopard’s Bane, is a genus of around 35 species from woodland, meadows and heathland sites in Europe, SW Asia and Siberia and has daisy-like, yellow flower heads from spring through summer. One of the earliest to flower is D. x exelsum ‘Harpur Crewe’ which can certainly bring ‘bright and cheerful’ to any planting scheme.
I have sung the praises of Pulmonaria, Lungwort, many times before with their funnel-shaped flowers in pink, red, violet, purple, blue or white and ovate, hairy, basal leaves which are often attractively spotted white or silver. They are great for attracting early bees to the garden and do particularly well in moist, shady areas and in woodland plantings.
Dicentra, Bleeding Heart, is another genus which prefers moist soils and some shade. The leaves which in some forms are silvery-grey are fern-like and much divided and the attractive flowers are pendant, heart-shaped in red, pink, white, purple or yellow and are borne in arching racemes. D. ‘Bachanal’ has dusky, crimson flowers and D. ‘Boothman’s Variety’ or ‘Stuart Boothman’ has blue-grey leaves and deep pink flowers. Perhaps the best known species is D. spectabalis which has rose-pink outer petals and white inner ones and flowers in the late spring and into the summer.
The Euphorbia, Spurge, genus is a very large one with over 2000 species of annuals, biennials, evergreen or herbaceous perennials and is widely distributed across the world in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical regions. With their long lasting, acid green and yellow flowers and bracts some of the species are a great addition to the spring garden including the evergreen E. characias, E. amygdaloides, E. x martinii, E. palustris and E. polychroma. Aubrietia is still a very useful plant in the spring even if it has become less popular in recent times. It is a genus of around 12 carpet-forming evergreen perennials from rocky areas and screes in Europe and Central Asia which produce cross-shaped, four-petalled, colourful flowers mostly pink-purple in abundance in spring. They are particularly good for growing in and over walls, as ground cover on a sunny bank or in a rock garden.
There is little to beat the acid green-yellow of Euphorbia
There are so many great spring flowering shrubs that it is difficult to know where to start so in no particular order here are a few to whet your appetite- Daphne, Corylus, Forsythia, Corylopsis, Pieris, Cytisus , Ribes, Viburnum, Hamamelis, Berberis, Rhododendron and Azalea. Most of these I have already highlighted in other talks and blogs so for this month I propose to pick out a few that I haven’t featured before.
The Daphne genus, which interestingly is a member of the Thyme family, consists of about 50 species of deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen shrubs form Europe, N. Africa and parts of Asia. They are grown mainly for their 4-lobed, tubular, usually fragrant flowers in colours from red-purple to pink, white, yellow, lavender-pink and lilac. They are usually grown in rock garden, shrub borders or in woodland but be aware that all parts including the seeds and fruits are highly toxic if ingested and contact with the sap may irritate the skin (the latter is also true of Euphorbias). The best known and very striking deciduous species is D. mezereum which has fragrant, pink to purplish-pink flowers in late winter and early spring before the leaves appear followed by fleshy, spherical red fruits. Daphne odora is a widely grown evergreen species which produces a rounded shrub with fragrant, deep purple-pink and white flowers in mid-winter to early spring also followed by spherical, red fruit. D. odora ‘Aureomarginata’ as the name suggests has leaves with narrow, irregular, yellow margins and red-purple flowers, paler and sometimes almost white within. If you prefer a yellow flower look out for D. jezoensis.
The Corylopsis genus, a member of the same family as Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), has around 10 species of deciduous shrubs from the E. Himalayas, China, Taiwan and Japan. They can get quite large but in the right setting such as the edge of a woodland or large shrub border they are striking spring plants with their pendant racemes of 6-20 bell-shaped, fragrant flowers which appear in spring before the leaves.
Cytisus, Broom, is a genus of around 50 species, similar to Genista, of deciduous or evergreen shrubs found in sunny, open sites in Europe, W. Asia and N. Africa. They are grown in gardens for their abundant, pea-like, usually fragrant flowers followed by linear, often hairy or downy seed pods which like the rest of the plant may cause mild stomach upset if ingested. Some of the most widely grown plants include C. x praecox ‘Allgold’ and ‘Warminster’ (creamy yellow). C. battandieri, the Pineapple Broom, is very different to the smaller brooms and is almost tree-like in habit. It is from Morocco and therefore requires a warm, sheltered position such as on a south-facing wall but with its palmate, silvery-grey leaves and 6” (15cm) long, pineapple scented, bright yellow flowers in mid and late summer it is a striking garden plant.
A wonderful Daphne in full flower in the Melon House border at Aberglasney
Climbers can also contribute to spring colour as you would expect and this would include the early flowering Clematis and Honeysuckle (Lonicera) such as L. periclymenum ‘Belgica’ (Early Dutch) and also Chaenomeles (Japanese Quince) which although not strictly a climber can be easily trained onto a wall or fence.
The early flowering Clematis belong to Group 1 which bear flowers on the previous year’s growth in winter and early spring and are pruned after flowering. The plants fall into one of three main types- C. alpina and macropetala, C. montana and the evergreen Clematis such as C. cirrhosa and armandii. The ‘alpines’ and ‘macropetalas’ have bell-shaped flowers in colours ranging from blue and purple to pink and are followed by fluffy seed heads. They are ‘well behaved’ plants requiring little if any pruning.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about C. montana! These are extremely vigorous and require significant pruning following flowering in order to keep in their allotted spaces. However, when they are covered in hundreds of flowers in late spring it is very easy to forgive them.There are lots of excellent cultivars including C. montana ‘Elizabeth’ (scented, pale pink flowers), C. mont. ‘Grandiflora’ (white) and C. mont. ‘Tetrarose’ (purplish-green leaves with toothed margins and pink flowers with yellow anthers).
Of the evergreen Clematis C. cirrhosa flowers first in late winter and early spring with its open, cup-shaped cream flowers sometimes red-flecked followed by attractive seed heads. As the name suggests C. cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ has creamy-pink flowers which are heavily speckled red inside. C. armandii is much more vigorous, has large, glossy leaves and produces saucer-shaped, scented white flowers with cream anthers in early to mid-spring. C. armandii ‘Apple Blossom’ has pink-tinged, white flowers with deeper pink undersides, fading to pinkish-white.
Finally I have to mention some excellent spring trees with their new and often colourful foliage as well as some beautiful flowers. These include many of the ornamental Cherries (Prunus), the Crab Apples (Malus) and of course the wonderful Magnolias of which I have sung the praises many times.
On this occasion I will just highlight one of my other favourite spring-flowering trees- Amelanchier, the Snowy Mespilus (Medlar). The genus has around 25 species mostly from moist woodland and stream banks in Europe, Asia and N. America. They are grown for their racemes of 5-petalled, star-shaped, white or pink-flushed flowers borne from spring to early summer and for their fine autumn colour and small fruits. The young leaves are also bronze and open alongside the flowers. A. lamarckii is the most commonly grown species in this country but is often confused with or sold as A. canadensis. A. ‘Ballerina’ is an excellent cultivar, free-flowering with glossy leaves which are bronze when young becoming mid-green in the summer and red-purple in the autumn. The white flowers are followed by juicy, sweet fruits which are red at first, ripening to purplish-black.
As usual I will end with the RHS recommendations for ‘Bee Friendly’ plants for August. The top choice is the Field Scabious, Knautia arvensis, which is a clump-forming, herbaceous perennial visited by a range of bees. Gently swaying lilac flower heads provide forage for both the small and large scabious mining bee from summer into the autumn. The Red-tailed bumblebee is also a frequent visitor along with honey bees. Other plants on the August list are Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa) which around here at the moment is covered in both bees and butterflies, Globe Thistle (Echinops), Catmint (Nepeta), Fuchsia and the wild carrot (Daucus carota).
This month’s free and open to all talk at the Old Railway Line is on Saturday August 5th at 9-30am in the Tearoom when apart from thinking about the spring to come I will show off some lovely August plants. I shall be back in September for the monthly blog and another talk on Saturday the 2nd at the usual time and place on the topic of ‘Plants for Autumn and Winter Interest’ plus a look at some good September and ‘Bee friendly’ plants.
Until then keep well and enjoy your gardening through the rest of the summer.