August National Trust-ing

No summer holidays for us – no cash – but we do have our National Trust membership to fall back on. The past few weeks have taken me to Croome Court, Packwood House, Baddesley Clinton and Biddulph Grange – and each visit has given new ideas for both the allotment and our newly-acquired back garden.

When the National Trust began back in the 1880s, its co-founder Octavia Hill was on a mission to provide green-spaces for put-upon urban dwellers…and as I wandered around the late-summer borders at Baddesley yesterday, I smiled at how her intentions are still coming good, over a century later. I think it’s fair to say however that our pal Octavia wouldn’t have taken Argentinian-style snacks with her on her countryside visits. The Olympics have inspired Matt to do some South American cooking and his pasty-sized empanadas made for great picnic food.

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It’s not a picnic unless there’s a grease-soaked paper bag involved

Today’s post is nothing more than a pinning of ideas that I like so that – hopefully – they can inspire my planting next year. I don’t even know what some of these plants are called so I am hoping that my mum will come to the rescue.

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Packwood House, Warwickshire

At Packwood, the borders were filled to the brim with sky-high hot-colour plants. I spotted lilies, sunflowers, agapanthus and dill, off-set with green foliage and grasses.

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I love the hot red against the acid yellow

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More hot yellow planting

In the veg garden at Packwood, cosmos and calendula were planted en masse with rudbeckia (?) for beds with real wow-factor.

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In the veg garden, cutting flowers are thrown in together for a riot of colour

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Matthew gets in the way of the camera, as usual

Baddesley Clinton is smaller than Packwood but the walled garden felt very, very special yesterday. One edge is given up completely to dahlias, with the surrounding borders filled with swathes of painterly-style bright colours plus tall stands of everlasting sweetpeas. Yes, the grass is traditional, but it’s neatness provided structure to balance out the beds. My photos don’t really do the planting justice; it was verging on garish – but I think it’s marvellous!

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Baddesley Clinton is more pared back – but the drifts of colour feel a bit more achievable

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Love these!

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What feels like a mile of dahlias

One corner at Baddesley is a herb-garden-turned-border. I actually looked at it for several seconds before I even realised that all these plants have a culinary use, so good was the effect. A tarragon had been allowed to grow into a sizeable shrub, the blue hyssop was humming with insects, and the parsley, sage, camomile and thyme gave good ground cover.

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The herb garden is transformed into a border with hyssop, parsley, tarragon and sage

With a few weeks of summer still to run, I’m hoping to get to a few more places to help get the creative sparks buzzing!


Hired thugs

Finally, after three and a half years, my patience has snapped. I am happy to live in harmony with the slugs and bugs provided that they limit their foraging to a few leaves only – but this year they have gorged themselves. They think that the allotment is a 24 hour buffet and I am the chief Cook and Bottle-wash, there to pander to their every nutritional need.

Enough is enough. Consider the evidence:

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The climbing beans are in a very sorry state

The beans should be at the top of their poles by now, but have either been munched to the ground or have had all (and I mean ALL) of their leaves devoured. Hopes for a borlotti or green bean harvest have faded.

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The brassicas are a lacy mess

A month ago the brassicas looks fantastic, marvellous, luscious. Then something enjoyed a midnight feast in the brassica cage and now they’ve become a lacy mess. In particular the experimental ‘frills of hex’ kale has been reduced to its skeleton, all green leaf removed.

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The bean pods are OK, but the broad bean plants have been decimated

The broad beans are actually cropping well, but the plants themselves have been shredded of all green matter. Meanwhile the chard and lettuce are covered in tell-tale green slime and even the sunflowers have got holes in their dinner-plate sized leaves.

I think there’s a variety of critters at work here. The slugs have definitely had their fill of the climbing beans and the lettuces, but the brassicas and broad beans look like they’re suffering from an infestation of some kind of flying insect, or its grubs. The damp warm weather has no doubt helped these infestations.

There’s no point stomping one’s foot and whining about pests. They are what they are, they do what they do, and the gardener has to accept the challenge. And so this week I’ve called in the help of hired thugs: nematodes. You can buy nematodes to deal with both slugs and winged insects and I’ve applied both kinds in the hope that it’s not too late. I dislike biological and chemical control methods for slugs – both are pretty violent – so hopefully one treatment alone will be enough to encourage sluggy to slope off elsewhere.

I read this week that it’s normal for gardeners to both love and loathe their gardens in equal measure, so intense is the relationship between humans and their land. That was a lightbulb moment: I’ve had low-lying anxiety for the last few months that I’m falling out of love with the allotment. The weather and the pests and the endless weeds have conspired to make it feel, well, difficult. There’s been a heck of a lot of graft with very little reward. But then yesterday the sun came out and I spent a happy hour collecting strawberries, courgettes and raspberries (the latter have established themselves from nowhere in the wilderness at the back of the greenhouse). I then spent an even happier hour podding broad beans and processing the berries into summer-scented compotes for the freezer. So there is hope.

And actually, some things are thriving.

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But on the plus side, the hops are thriving this year

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Unexpected bonus: raspberries have established themselves in the wilderness area

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Harvest of redcurrants…

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…and of strawberries

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Our first broad beans

We have to wait a long time on our chilly allotment site to get good veg, but the flowers do do well. I’ve been picking sweetly-scented sweet peas for at least a month, and the calendula are now out in shades of orange, red and yellow. Matt made me a prize-specimen-display-system for my birthday, inspired by one we saw at Sissinghurst, and it’s now anointed with lion-faced blooms.

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Sweetpeas make for an elegant vase

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Calendula in my prize-specimen-display-system

Sowed: Chicory, fennel, rocket, chard ‘lucillus’
Going over: Foxgloves, aliums, winter lettuce, true spinach
Harvest: Broad beans, courgette, last of the winter lettuce mix, lettuce ‘reine du glace’, lettuce ‘Tuscan mix’, rocket, silver chard, perpetual spinach,  nasturtium, heartsease, strawberries, redcurrants, ‘wild’ raspberries, sweet peas, calendula, first cosmos, first ammi, basil, oregano