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On a Chalk Hillside September 2018

Some later summer plants, gardening clothes, and a mystery solved.

I thought this month I would start with some pictures of a few plants that are normally flowering in my garden in August and September.  I say normally, as the drought and heat has altered flowering times enormously.   Like many in the South and South East we have had no meaningful rain since mid-May, and almost all of July temperatures were well over 25 degrees.  
As an example of how early and quickly plants have been flowering and going over here this year I’ll start with a teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) usually in flower at the beginning of August. This year, with the heat and drought the teasels are at least 40cm shorter, and have flowered in early July.   They are not a long flowering biennial, but the seedheads last for several months, even after the goldfinches have had a go at the seeds in the autumn and winter:-

These are usually covered in bees when in flower.  You may recall I was inspired to buy the original seed on my visit to Great Dixter on the first day after I stopped working in 2004.  I sowed it only once, in 2005, and ever since this biennial seeds itself around the garden.  I try not to weed out the rosettes of leaves if they set themselves in appropriate(ish) places around the garden, so that the following year these 1.5m flower spikes appear.  I expect them to tower over me – this year I have towered over them!  Some years the birds leave enough seed for me to gather some for the HPS seed distribution.   
Another plant that gets smothered with bees and hoverflies when in flower in August here is the Golden Rod (Solidago):-

These golden rod were one of the original plants in the garden when we arrived, and whilst I collect their seed for the HPS seed distribution, as I don’t know which golden rod it is it goes into “The Mix”.  (I must admit until I was emailed to this effect I didn’t know there was more than one sort of golden rod!!)  Having looked into it a bit, I am assuming it is one of the “old” Goldenrods – tall at about 1.2m even on the thin chalk, and very happy to set seed in the hoggin paths, rather than the newer more compact ones such as “Goldenmosa”.    This year the clump is much smaller and shorter than usual, and the flowers are going over very quickly, even the bees and hoverflies are struggling to find nectar in them.
The orange day lilies (Hemerocalis fulva) that my friend Mary gave me a small clump of from her garden are normally still in full flower in August – the bigger the clump gets I have discovered, the longer the display goes on for, as it throws up more and more buds.   This year, having started flowering in late June it looked to have burned itself out before the end of July, but after the day of windy drizzle we had at the end of July (hurrah!) it has thrown up new flowers for August. Unfortunately, this day lily is not scented like some of the newer American introductions:-

Talking of scented lilies, two oriental lilies in my garden that usually make a gorgeous scented splash in August:- Lilium orientalis ‘Baferarri’, a lovely white and yellow flower:-

And Lilium orientalis ‘Muscadet’ – white with a delicate pink splash:-

Baferarri is supposed to get to 1.2m, whilst Muscadet only reaches 70cm in height, but although Muscadet is a bit shorter, Baferarri has not yet reached a metre in height here, but the scent from these really makes their presence felt, even before you see them.  This year they flowered by mid-July and had gone completely over before the end of the month.  At least the hot dry weather made the scents more noticeable for the short time they were in flower. 
A plant that is still making its presence known, even though the flowers are spent is Phlomis russeliana.  Its seed heads are very attractive, but they REALLY hurt if I try and harvest seed from them later in the year – they are so stiff and scratchy, even with gloves on.  I find if I want to hit the deadline for sending fresh seed for the HPS seed collection I have to try and prise the seeds from the still greenish seedheads, rather than leaving the whole thing in a paper bag hung on the clothes hanger in the utility to dry, when the seeds come out with less damage to my fingers in late winter.

Another plant I collect seed from for the HPS which flowers in August here is Hemp Agrimony, or Eupatorium cannabinum a vigorous upright perennial with reddish stems, palmate divided leaves, and flattish light pink or purple fluffy flower heads in August and September.

Surprisingly as it likes moist soil, in non-drought years it still manages to grow as tall as me, and makes a big clump.  It does droop though if not trussed, as below:-

Which, apropos of nothing, brings me onto another burning matter - what clothes do we chose to garden in?  This has been in my mind recently, partly because finding the old photos of developing our garden to show you, I see we are still wearing many of the same clothes to garden in now as then – which is over 14 years in some cases, and a testimony to their durability, comfort and practicality.   And most particularly because one pair of summer gardening trousers bit the dust early this year.  I was most miffed.  They were a posh pair of cotton seersucker ones I had had at work which once we moved here were relegated to the “garden/diy” category of clothing, and for many years were the “presentable” pair I wore when we had visitors to the garden, or to dash to the garden centre for something as they were NOT covered in splashes of paint or full of holes from the brambles biting them.  They got gradually less posh, but it was only when they got so thin at the knee they ripped all by themselves, and the rip just carried on up and up so that I could not repair them, that I realised that they had served me well for nearly 20 years, and I should not feel so aggrieved.  My husband is hanging on for dear life to his favourite blue shorts – modelled by him in last month’s article lowering the pickerel weed into the pond in 2009 and now so full of tears as to be almost indecent – this is the second summer he has said would be their last one…
You may have noticed from the photos that we don’t garden in smart clothes, none of that wafting about in floating pale cotton pastels with a large floppy straw hat, a trug, and a pair of snips – in fact I don’t seem to be able to garden without getting soil/mud on me, (and collecting a large number of scratches.)  I do wear a hat with a peak, but that is to keep the sun out of my eyes, and rarely ever look “presentable”, rather more of the dragged through a hedge backwards vibe.  A case in point is the oriental lilies mentioned above.  As you can see below, they do generate a lot of pollen, which we all know stains FOR EVER, so my gardening hat is covered in dark yellow stains no matter how often it gets washed.

I expect growing lots of prickly and thorny plants doesn’t help me with the scratches and tears in clothes – we have roses all around the garden, and hawthorn, berberis etc that we want, and lots and lots of brambles that we don’t and are for ever waging a war with.  However, when even the hybrid tea roses give you late flowers for the third time in a year, you have to forgive them drawing so much of my blood – here is ‘Alexander’ a bright vermillion hybrid tea rose surrounded by two sorts of ivy in mid-October last year:-

The dark ivy is the common ivy Hedera Helix in its mature “tree” stage, and the variegated one is Hedera Helix ‘GoldChild’.  A nice cheerful vignette that doesn’t look as autumnal as elsewhere in the garden. 
Speaking of roses, I have finally done some research with David Austin Roses, (as recommended by HPS members on my very first or second article all those many months ago) to find out what my ‘nice pink rose which may be Isphahan’ actually is.   As you may recall it is a repeat flowerer, so not at all likely to be Isphahan.  Here it is in flower in October last year:-

In fact it turns out to be Rosa ‘Lavender Lassie’ (HM).  It is a Hybrid Musk rose, dating from 1960, and is described as a bushy medium-sized shrub with strong healthy dark green foliage and large clusters of very fragrant semi double or double flowers 7cm wide, purplish pink, in summer and autumn.  Here is a shot of the whole bush flowering in the garden in June to give you a sense of its habit:-

Hopefully you get an idea of the foliage and the multiple flowers on one stem from this picture, but unfortunately not of the fabulous scent.   Here are some of the flowers cut and displayed to give you a sense of their form:-

And here is a shot of one flowering cluster hopefully showing the abundance of the flowering and also the tonal change as the flower ages:-

How nice to now be able to put a definite name to a plant that figures so much in our garden.
Next time a hedge update, and a deer problem.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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