On Tuesday I saw that the weather forecasters were telling us to expect the arrival of autumn proper. This was code for prepare for a noticeable drop in temperatures accompanied by wind and rain.
Just as the light was fading, I grabbed my secateurs and nipped out into the backyard to cut any blooms that still looked half decent.
I cut dahlias, cosmos and sunflowers. It was more in error than by design I had planted three sunflower seedlings six weeks later than the main sowing and they only started blooming last week.
And, the dark pink cosmos has been very late this year getting into its stride. With the bright yellow sunflowers and the deep fuchsia pink of the cosmos I didn’t think I’d be able to make a tolerable arrangement, but it turned out that the dark red dahlias saved the day.
What a difference a backdrop makes? I prefer the black to the more contemporary choice for floral images which, I have recently noticed, is grey.
It might be August, just, but it looks as if the weather has decided that that’s it for this summer. I suppose we can still hope for a few bright and balmy days in early autumn.
As a child when we used to come to Suffolk for our family holidays the neighbouring back garden was full of one type of flower – hollyhocks. The entirety of their little plot was hollyhocks. I suspect now that they were mostly self-seeded as it was an open area of free-draining soil and hollyhocks seem to do well in our part of the country. Ever since then hollyhocks have been in my top ten of favourite flowers. Wherever I have been gardening I have tried to squeeze in a few of these essential, cottage garden beauties.
This year I have had pink, white and a very dark, dark red and they have all managed to flower. It is just as well that I took a moment to get some photos of these naturally tall plants before Storm Francis blew in.
Hollyhocks aren’t the only tall flowering plants I’ve grown in my backyard this year. As usual I have grown some cosmos from seed. The packet for this pink variety definitely said ‘dwarf’, but they have grown to over five feet tall, searching for the light. I do think they would have started blooming much earlier and remained dwarf if they had full sunlight all day. As you can see from the almost ‘ethereal’ photo above, the plants only get full sunlight in intermittent bursts. Obviously, this has not been enough and the plants have become etiolated.
At least most of the pink cosmos eventually flowered, but then Storm Francis decided to take down a few plants pulling over the pots at the same time. Luckily, and surprisingly no pots were broken and who doesn’t appreciate having plenty of cut flowers to bring indoors.
Last month we had strange weather. February had days feeling like spring and I saw people walking around in T-shirts! In climate terms a week of warm weather in February is disturbing.
However, March, so far, is turning out to be more like a usual March. It has been very, very windy, but that hasn’t affected these British grown tulips. They come from some of the extensive glass houses in Lincolnshire. Growing under glass has enabled British tulip growers to compete with imports from overseas and there are no air or sea miles. Growing under the protection of glass also lengthens the season for growing all kinds of cut flowers. Have you noticed how stocks (Matthiola incana) have joined the buckets of roses and lilies commonly available? However, for us domestic gardeners in East Anglia it will be another month before even the tulips are blooming in full force.
This year I resisted the temptation to plant seeds in February. I am holding my nerve even with the indoor sowings. I am trying to avoid weak, leggy seedlings as I don’t have a greenhouse to provide consistent good daylight.
It is early days in the ‘new’ old backyard and too dreary to photograph with piles of rubble left behind by previous owners. Although it is a small space, it’s going to be a long old haul to sort out, but some pots of pelargoniums and dahlias, and a mini swathe of hardy annuals should at least add some colour for this summer.
Expecting the best, I have already had a poke around in the pots of the overwintered dahlias and, fingers crossed, so far they’ve come through the winter. From now on I just have to watch out for early slug damage to the tender new shoots.
At last I have a rough plan, you could, at a stretch, call it a design for the backyard. It has been just over a year since I moved in and I have been observing the sunlight and shade patterns and I can see I have my work cutout to achieve any kind of flower garden. Disappointingly, there’s more shade than I had expected, not least from the enormous eucalyptus tree three gardens down.
It is a long-established tree and is easily 10 feet or so taller than the surrounding three-storey houses. As I write, its upper branches are violently whipping around, bending this way and that in the strong winds. It is really quite inappropriate for a Victorian terrace backyard and it overhangs six gardens. I am guessing it was originally planted to screen out the neighbours at the bottom of the garden and has just been left to grow and grow by a series of non-gardening homeowners.
Finishing on a more optimistic note I am looking forward to more of this
It’s November and the hardy chrysanthemums have just come into flower, but as we still haven’t had a frost (unusual for my part of the world), the cosmos remain upright and blooming. I’m certainly not complaining and there’s even enough with the addition of some viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ to bulk out a half decent flower arrangement for the mantlepiece. Ordinary flowers, but all naturally flowering together resulting in a slightly odd combination.
Okay with just a tiny bit of extra help. I bought a 10 bloom bunch of supermarket salmon pink carnations that looked so awful they’d been reduced to half-price. Strong salmon pink is not a favourite colour of mine, but with plenty of the dark, evergreen viburnum foliage and the rich magenta cosmos they made a passable display.
Not everybody’s favourite, but dahlias have seen a huge resurgence of interest in the last couple of decades here (in England) since the late Christopher Lloyd grubbed up his rose garden at Great Dixter and planted an exotic garden featuring amongst others dahlias. Here’s his forthright views on the matter from ‘The Well-tempered Garden’ (revised edition):
Dahlias are now available in such a varied assortment of flower forms and plant habits that there is not justification for sweeping them aside with a dismissive gesture as vulgar or clumsy.
Hear, hear – and what visual inspiration they make too!
I’m English and therefore ‘the weather’ rules! I have been so fed up with the rain ruining the flowers that as it started to pour again I decided to cut the remaining roses. There will be a second flush from the repeat-flowering varieties and a smattering of blooms from the continuously-flowering, but that’s it for my summer only roses.
Sadly, as daylilies (hemerocallis) live up to their name, flowering for just one day, they aren’t really used as a cut flower. It is a case of appreciating them in the rain and taking a quick photo.
I don’t think I’ve noticed the ‘plant’ year so ahead of itself as it is this year in East Anglia. I heard on the radio that in some parts of the country the cobnuts are already forming nearly a month early. I trotted down the garden and sure enough I spotted some beginning to mature on the tree – well that will be until the squirrels find them!