Appreciating late summer

By Tamsin Westhorpe

When garden visiting in August and September, I have often heard visitors say, ‘well the garden is all over now’.

If I wasn’t so well behaved, I would be leaping in front of them with a long list of reasons why their statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

At the end of August, the garden is at its most productive. Vegetable patches are fit to burst, onions are being dried, apple and damson trees are wonderfully weighed down with their crops, seed pods are drying and packed with the seed that will create the next generation and the plants that flower in late August and September are often outrageously flamboyant. ‘Over now’ – I don’t think so!

It’s time to collect ripe seed.

Before sitting down to write this blog I took a walk around the garden to take note of the adventures that were going on within it. Much to my excitement I spotted the white tips of the colchicums pushing their way out of the soil, the marrows in the kitchen garden were wonderfully enormous, dahlias and gladiolus greeted me with a riot of colour and the eucomis flowers were sheer perfection. I mustn’t forget the kiwi fruits ripening against the wall, the last of the agapanthus and the blood-red rose hips forming on the shrub roses. I could go on but I’m hoping by now that you will consider August and early September as times to celebrate our gardens.

Agapanthus are exceptional in August and love life in a container.

There is one negative to these months, however. Regret! Every August I wish I had given this month more thought and attention earlier in the year. So many of us get swept up with planting for early summer as August and September seem so far away. I’m hoping to entice you to take action this autumn and plan for a late summer in 2021 that will surpass all previous expectations.

We are fast approaching planting time so I’m recommending that you visit a few open gardens and pop your head over garden walls in the next week to see which plants should be on your planting list. As the leaves on the trees start to fall I’ll be planting some more eryngiums in the sunny borders along with some Nerine bowdenii bulbs, a flock of asters to keep me in flowers until the frosts and a eupatorium to add height and attract butterflies to the back of the border next year.

The kitchen garden is at its most productive and the sun will be required to dry the onions.

You would also be wise to put a few reminders in your notebook for spring. Sow the annual cleome in April for amazing deep-pink flowers in late summer and sow a few packets of sunflowers as there is nothing like a display of these cheery blooms to brighten the day. This year I sowed the seed of black eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) and it has only been flowering for about two weeks but I’m loving watching it climb up my hazel support and offering me fresh flowers so late in the summer. I’ve learnt that it is rather fun to sow a few packets of seeds slightly later than expected as it spreads out the excitement.

The first of the apples offer the taste of August.

Spring is also the time to order your dahlias. My favourite dahlias include the reliable and ravishingly orange ‘David Howard’, the purple and yellow, single flowering ‘Bright Eyes’ and the large, deep maroon ‘Karma Choc’. Dahlias make the perfect container plants and yes it can be a job to lift and store then but quite honestly, I can’t think a more worthwhile task – the colour they offer is exceptional.

Late summer is a time to enjoy our outdoor spaces, play garden games with the kids before they head back school and a time to celebrate all that the garden has given us and continues to give us before the frosts arrive.

Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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