It is the start of spring. An astronomical fact measured in the tilt of planet earth. And all the trees are sighing with abandon and relief. I’ve been convalescing with covid and feeling quite sorry for myself but the big guy’s taken lots of photos of green giants to cheer me up. Life springs forward and can’t be stopped! Whewf!
Enfin! At long last, emerging from the funk of winter. Spring has been with us since January – with the annual appearance of snowdrop. But this year things are a bit screwy, shall we say. We’ve had crocus very early in February, along with daffodil. Wood violet are in flower and have been for at least a few weeks, and lungwort is also in bloom, as are the meadow planted vinca with their pretty open faced blue flowers. The primrose in the half circle bed have come and largely gone – they were flowering since January! Tulips are out by late February/ early March. The climate’s gone a bit bonkers to be fair. London still has frost alerts at night but day temperatures can be balmy in the teens.
Plants and flowers that used to show themselves in steady succession are all out together.
It will be national tree week in the UK from 27 November to 5 December. This is to highlight that the time to plant trees in Britain is from November to March. (To this effect, national tree week in the Republic of Ireland is celebrated in March).
Even though most leaves are starting to fall at this time of the year, the National History Museum produced a Tree identification tree. And leaves aren’t the only way to identify trees anyway. There’s the bark, the formation of branches, and so much more.
There’s no denying that autumn has arrived. There’s a damp chill in the air, even when the sun shines.
It’s been a rather damp end to the summer. Gone are the days when I used to muse that London’s microclimate was one of virtual drought. It was a wet end to the summer, and it’s been a wet start of autumn – even if the temperatures have remained fairly warm and still in the main in double digits.
We have had some wins and some losses with harvests and crops.
In mid-October Malink was devestated by the complete ruination of his beloved popcorn crops. Huge disappointment. All, down to the last ear, destroyed. Beaten to the ground and eaten to a nub. And we’d already researched how to harvest and dry the corn in preparation of the first trial ‘PoP’!
As usual, a planting of three or four runner bean plants provided more than plenty of beans. We were sharing them out with the woodlands volunteers, but eventually we let the beans get too long and tough on the vine – which led to a slowing of the beans. We just pulled the plants out of the ground this week, but in truth we’ve not harvested any beans for at least a month.
I had thought to suggest we harvest them earlier but in truth we weren’t entirely sure they were fully ripened and ready to pick. The fluff wasn’t going brown yet, so we left them. But it’s certain that the animals know when things are good to eat!
We’re not completely certain who the popcorn ravaging culprit might have been. Was it the huge feral wood pigeons? The ones that gorge in summer on ripe figs…
Or was it a squirrel – jumping and pushing the cornstalk over so as to better nibble and devour the sweet tender corn?
Whomever it may have been, they did a thorough job of it – and not a single ear of corn was spared. Not one single ear of corn, after a summer of tender coddling of plants, of attentive watering and words of praise and affection.
Thankfully the tomatoes have done better.
Ok, admittedly we lost over half our tomato plants when blight struck in summer, but the blight resistant plants did well.
(Go figure! I might have been sceptical about the extent to which ‘blight resistant’ would be effective, but it seems well worth the trouble – we will be looking out for blight resistant tomatoes and also courgettes in future.)
So from our blight resistant tomato vines we have had punnet after punnet of gorgeous home grown tomatoes. Yum!
Some plants continue to push forth flowers and fruit. The red rose arbour continues to be in flower – an amazing feat of continuous flower production from spring to late autumn.
And the blackberry bushes – which I have trimmed and pruned dramatically – continue to set new growth, produce lovely white five-petalled flowers. The bees cotinue to buzz around and pollinate. And the pollinated white and pale pink petalled flowers set small nubby pale fruits ready to ripen, swell and sweeten in the low autumn sun.
Roses and blackberries are from the same root stock plant and are equally vigorous, hard working and hardy.
We see the final days of July roll by, marked by booming huge blooms all around. The pink asiatic lily this year has hit new heights – maybe 8 feet tall or more. The scent can be physically felt as one approaches the plant along the path or from across the grass lawn. It’s heady, swoony, powerful stuff, this flower business!
The picture below shows how tall these beauties really are.
The Asiatic lily stand absolutely on their own and need no staking at all (unlike the slightly more feeble gladioli, which do tend to flop over under the weight of their blooms, as do also the hollyhock).
The photo above shows the lily in the railway perennial flower bed. There is an ocean of orange flowering day lily running the middle length of the bed. After they finish flowering I plan to dig some of these day lily out to spread them further along the path towards the corner end – and also to make space for other plants. I may also move a few lilies into the middle meadow area. (I’ve already divided and moved some of the lucious purple bearded iris so that next spring there should be three patches of lovely iris spread along the length of the long perennial bed).
The originally planted multi-coloured gladioli growing to the side of the huge pink lily – which I’ve never dug up or disturbed for over 5 years – are now overcrowded and have divided to create new smaller plants. Which means they’re happy where they are! But they do need digging up, dividing and spreading out.
Some space needs to be created. Moving the day lilies around will help a bit – but yikes! From hard London clay and lots of gaps in the planting and mulching like crazy with straw and hay to keep the weeds down… well now I turn to find that we have almost NO open space in the flower beds. A welcome change but a new kind of challenge nonetheless.
Directly under the pergola are two bush roses – a yellow one and a pale creamy white rose which turns to pink as the bloom fades. These are presently finished flowering, but have been pruned back and may produce late summer blooms.
I may also divide and move closer to the asiatic lily some pink flowering Japanese anemone. I like the way the anemone flower heads dance and bob in the breeze lightly above the mound of foliage on long tall flower stalks and I think these would complement the lily and help fill the space towards the railing with a plant with foliage as a foil to the huge spike of the flowering spears. Hhhmmnn… Or so it seems to me today, as I write. But be warned: such are garden plans. Intentions but not promises. We’ll see if I get around to it – or whether some other planting scheme intervenes in the meantime. That’s gardening my style: part patience, part accident, part whimsy. Whatever goes. And in nature, what goes is usually pretty gorgeous, no matter how the scene conspired to come about.
On the other side of the pergola we have a large artemesia plant (aka wormwood) – silvery grey and a nice light foliage contrast to the other darker greens all around. In the photograph above, in distance along the railway bed you can just about see the pale purple hue of the huge flowering sea holly. Our second type of sea holly has not yet changed to an iridiscent blue – we can’t wait to see how that one comes one! The anemone and sea holly are also shown to advantage in the photograph below, which is taken at the other end of the long perennial flower bed.
The gladioli bloom are particularly fascinating the way they emerge – like a natural version of an exquisite Georgia O’Keeffe painting! The flowers open from the bottom of the flower spear and open in succession all the way up, like steps of a ladder opening up. Magical!
So there you have it – despite the changeable weather and strange torrential rains we’ve had – with plenty of thunder and lightning too – all in all July’s been blooming glorious!