Stars of the season

August disappeared in the blink of an eye. For a few short weeks there was a flurry of family time, hot weather, ice creams and days by water.

Messing about on the River Wye
Eeking out the last of the summer at Kelmscott Manor

Then the rain came and with it a jolting change of mood. The start of a new school, which also marks the end of the baby years; a death and the anniversary of a birth. Eras ending and new beginnings, all in the space of three days.

First day of school
A moment in the nation’s story
And a moment in our own little story

The hot weather has brought on an early autumn, I think. Some of the summer flowers have gone over earlier than expected – or maybe it’s just my imagination, because summer came to a jolting end with the start of the school term. (For the record, I don’t think I will ever get used to the straight-jacket of term times.) Time to take stock of the stars of the summer.

On the veg front, the dwarf beans (Thomson and Morgan three colour mix) have been surprisingly brilliant this year, with a regular harvest over about 6 weeks that’s only now stopping. So too for the chard, which this year was the Seeds of Italy ‘Costa Bianca’. It did threaten to bolt in the hot weather but I cut off the flower stalk, and it’s still cropping just fine – perfect for creamy chard side dishes, stir fries and pasta. The kales are stalwarts, particularly the ‘cavolo nero’ and ‘redbor‘ varieties, as are the courgettes (take note that two plants is more than adequate).

A typical late summer veg drug – including the courgettes that got away

Not yet cropping, but doing well, are the squash and gourds – a Thompson and Morgan ornamental mix will be great for autumn decorations, and the ‘crown prince‘ should make good eating. These plants are fun, give great ground cover, and you can just leave them to get on with it. The borlotti beans are also doing well, and are of course beautiful.

One of the crazy gourds nearing ripeness

Other plants to mention: broad bean ‘crimson flowered’ and ‘super aquadulce’ gave a good length of harvest. The potatoes ‘charlotte’ gave a huge harvest that we’re still working through now. In the veg trug, the peas did fine but I think a mange tout might be a better use of the space. The soft fruit was all on the thin side, effected by lack of water, apart from the wild blackberries, which are magnificent.

The cut flowers have held up to the strange growing season admirably; there’s been something to pick every week since April, from the tulips through to the Sweet Williams, foxgloves and lupins, onto the high summer dahlias, cosmos and snap dragons. There are still promising numbers of chrysanthemums waiting in the wings.

A boot load of blooms

The high summer blooms have fallen into two categories this year – this by luck rather than forethought. First is the romantic, whimsical set, made of whites, pale pinks and the odd bit of hot pink, and spires offset with curves.

A romantic vase of whites and pinks

Star of this set is the white pompom dahlia (name unknown), the super huge white snapdragon Antirrhinum majus ‘White Giant’ F1, which I absolutely love, and of course the cosmos. This year I have a mixture of cosmos ‘purity’, ‘double click collection’, ‘dazzler’ and ‘candy stripe’. Also there was the odd bit of phlox ‘creme brûlée’, which I’ve never grown before, but has earned its place for delicate prettiness alone.

The phlox is a gangly plant but lovely in the vase
The cosmos is a stalwart of the august-september plot

Some plants that I thought I was growing for me actually quickly became colonised by nature. Insects love the scabious, the wild carrot ‘purple kisses’, ammi ‘visnaga’ and sunflowers, so much so that I haven’t got the heart yet to pick any of the latter.

Scabious and ammi are loved by bees
As is the wild carrot

On the other colour spectrum, this summer there’s been bright, carnival peacocks, in clashing shades of orange, hot pink, coral and purple. Most of this fun comes from the dahlias, but I’ll put a word in too for the gladioli, which I failed to take a single decent photo of, but who are the can-can dancers of the bulb world.

A typical bright summer vase

I planted, I think, about 8 new dahlias into the allotment this year, as a trial. Some have performed brilliantly, some less so. Dahlia ‘crazy legs’ and ‘ambition’ are the absolute cut flower winners, along with stalwart ‘labyrinth’. Others have been slower to establish, thwarted perhaps by the intense heat. Incidentally, the 10 or so tubers that got decimated by slugs both at home and on the allotment I rescued and potted up, and are now putting on heaps of new growth. Next year all the dahlias at home will be in pots, for slug protection. And on the allotment, I just want MORE – more oranges, more zing, more pizzaz.

The beginnings of the dahlia patch
‘Ambition’ at the front’, ‘Crazy legs’ at the back

I will make special mention of ‘bright eyes’, which is not a great cut flower but is a joy to have nevertheless. I first saw bright eyes in the Montessori garden at Chelsea Flower Show in 2019, so I always think of it as Harry’s flower.

Dahlia ‘bright eyes’, a favourite

Gypsophila was a pleasant surprise as a romantic white filler. Cerinthe has a certain Halloween quality to it. The sweet peas, in large tubs this year, did brilliantly – by the back door so easy for a daily water and pick.

The season is still far from finished of course, with chrysanthemums still to come and the borlotti, squash and kale still to harvest. But my mind is already flipping forward to the autumn jobs – overgrown tansy to remove, brambles to deal with, ground to cover. And in some ways, after the summer frenzy, it’s a bit of a relief.

Also this month:
Harvesting: Kales, courgette, French beans, lettuce, last of the tomatoes; raspberries, dahlias, cosmos, amaranth, millet, last of the snap dragon, last of all the umbellifers.

Other jobs: Saved seed from sweet peas, marigolds and sweet rocket. Started off autumn trays of marigolds, cornflower, ammi, spinach and rocket as an experiment. Ordered spring bulbs, not so many this year in an effort to save money. Wondering if it’s time yet to plant up amaryllis and paperwhites.

Cooking and eating: Slow roast salt marsh lamb from the Gower; creamed chard as a side dish for roast chicken and lamb; roast new potatoes and carrots; bowls and bowls of plums; pasta with fresh tomato sauce and basil; pasta with courgettes; roast five spice pork belly – the leftovers stir-fried with allotment veg and noodles; chocolate birthday cake with raspberries; Jean’s apple and raspberry sponge with custard.

Also: Building work on the house still ongoing; Our friends left to go live in Vietnam; Last day of nursery; A week in Hay on Wye and the Gower; Kelmscott Manor; First day of school; CBeebies Land and children’s parties; Confounded by the death of a monarch, which was universally a shock, regardless of how expected it was and irrespective of anyone’s view on the monarchy. In all – a busy few weeks.

He knows his onions

My Dad is of a particular generation. Brought up in post-war countryside austerity, all rationing and hard graft, but with lots of space at his disposal (at the last count: four garages, one caravan port, two sheds, two lofts) he is of the ‘It’ll come in useful one day’ school of thinking. Nothing gets chucked out. I have told him that he needs to sort out all his stuff before he pops his clogs, as like buggery am I going to do it.

However. It is onion pulling time and Monty Don tells us that we need to dry them on some kind of rack. I don’t own an onion drying rack, oddly enough. So my Dad spies an opportunity to get out his woodworking kit and before you know it, we have a piece of garden apparatus that is so large the only means of transportation is in Mother’s Berlingo (aka the Pope Mobile).

The chicken wire was last used when my brother was learning to play cricket as a boy; it stopped the windows from being smashed. My brother is now 41. And so the chicken wire has indeed come in useful one day.

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The onion rack in full glory

About these onions. They were planted in sets over the May bank holiday, which apparently is quite late (we bought them on sale). I think they’ve done a good job.

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Matt’s onions

I’ve been asking Matt nicely for the last few days to pull them up, as I want the space. My current thinking is about a year-round-harvest. It’s all well and good harvesting every day of the week from July to September, but what of the rest of the year? Autumn is covered(ish) with cavalo nero, corn, squash, leeks and parsnip. But a girl needs greens, and so in goes more spinach, chard, cima di rapa and spring onions.

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All clean!

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and pigeon protected.

The fennel that I put in two (?) weeks ago has – I think – germinated. It’s not always easy to work out what is seedling and what is weedling.

The dahlias and cosmos look amazing.

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Pulled: Onions and shallots

Harvest: More raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, chard, spinach, pattypan

Planted: Chard, spinach, cima di rapa, spring onions