Growbag Blog

August – Elaine goes on film to explain the Chelsea Chop


We are using the high summer to dig into new territory. Do try our new garden quiz which sits on our site beside Louise’s Great Plants this Month We’ve also ambitiously created a Youtube channel. You’ll be able to click on our first video clip in Elaine’s section…from little acorns etc.
Time was when your garden was pretty much spent by August; the roses were over and going down with mildew, sweet peas had exhausted themselves, Alchemilla mollis going into dingy decline – you could happily go off on three weeks holiday safe in the knowledge that you would be missing nothing of any note and would be back in time to see the Sedums and Japanese anemones get into their September stride.
Then RHS Wisley commissioned a new set of borders to be designed by Dutchman Piet Oudolf and suddenly the Home Counties sat up. I remember walking between these borders for the first time in late August in 2002, thinking that my entire approach to gardening had to change. Great swathes of Persicaria  amplexicaule  throbbing with honey bees, Gaura lindheimeri  en masse fluttering like a swarm of butterflies, Sanguisorbas bobbing their smart little scarlet button flowers on wiry stems,  Veronicastrums with their soft lilac flower spikes held aloft,  Panicum switch grasses and Miscanthus varieties adding substance and resonance – it was like walking through an uplifting horticultural orchestral performance.
Problem was, how to achieve this effect at home. These new plant introductions were largely North American prairie plants used to wide open sunlit spaces where the breeze can make them wave and dance.

Persicaria – tough and long-flowering through August

Well we never really liked our back lawn, so, all gung ho, it was out with the glyphosate and the rotovator and in with our new American cousins.
I am not sure Elaine ever really approved of how quickly we’d abandoned the old for the new – she’s a classicist for whom the English tradition of cottage gardening still fills the soul, and I am starting to appreciate that although our new world friends have brought vigour and gaiety to our late summer scene there is still a place for our old world retainers to add their structure and charm……

Yes, you’re quite right, Laura.  Though I admire the chutzpah of the Piet Oudolf Prairie plantings, my own preference is for a much more ‘mixed-up’ look – lots of repetitions, for sure, to avoid the spotty, hectic effect, but not great blocks of one plant, however impressive.  More pointillist than prairie.
I grow most of the plants that you mention, in my French garden though, and love them to bits.  The garden is only for July and August, and I have had the most wonderful fun refining it over the years.  I’ve made billions of mistakes of course – for instance, I planted far too many once-flowering roses – gorgeous in June, but I’M NOT HERE IN JUNE!
And I put in little delicate treasures of perfect colour and form, which were completely unable to cope with being left alone for up to 8 weeks among weeds, weather and wildly aggressive neighbours.  You gotta be a TOUGH plant to survive in this garden – I suspect it’s the same in Caroline’s, though for rather different reasons associated with location.
A beautiful summer rose
Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate

I do indeed have lots of cottage-garden plants among the late perennials – marjoram, rose campions, lavenders and roses.  Have you tried Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’ with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ or Sambucus nigra? Or Rosa ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with Verbena bonariensis and some frothy white Ammi majus – sensational colour combinations!

Chelsea-chopping at the end of May delays the flowering of loads of things – Anthemis, Leucathemums (big daisies), Aster divaricatus, Coreopsis, Phlox….. I made a short video clip about it last week in my Normandy garden – do share it with others if you find it interesting.  You can even Chelsea chop Sedums, which I tried this year – a bit of an error here, because they are clearly now  going to flower in September, when I’M NOT HERE.
To add to Laura’s list – Hemerocallis and Hydrangeas (do you grow Hydrangea ‘Kyushu’? You should), Salvias and Stipas, late Clematis varieties (including the redoubtable ‘Princess Kate’- see our earlier blogs!), Eryngiums and hollyhocks  (Laura persuaded me to buy an Althea cannabina at Jardin Plume – a beautiful plant, though not perhaps as exciting as its second name might suggest!)
August, a dull month of the year in the garden?  As our darling father might have said, not on your nelly!

Uh-hu, so it’s not just a question of  buying more plants as the year progresses – who knew? To be honest I could only answer five of the questions in our garden quiz – so I’m easily out of my depth with Chelsea chopping. I did dead-head and cut back a few things like the Salvia nemerosa in the hope of a second flush, but it was ages after Chelsea – I’m all behind in more ways than one. It is generally too turbulent here for many of those herbaceous delights, we’ve been doing practical things like removing the Euonymus which emphatically ‘checked out’ without warning after eight years of looking delighted in its admittedly very windy pitch – all opinions welcomed, and de-rusting the little railway (you’ve been spared a video of this + sound effects – the latter having prompted very Anglo Saxon expressions of surprise from golfers teeing off for championship points just over the wall).
We did discover how high summer beds should look by visiting nearby GreyWalls at Gullane, a garden believed to be a Gertrude Jekell design. Head Gardener Neil Davidson explained to us how the stock must adapt to the very sandy soil and described how the piping hot colours of Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’; Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’  and the ‘Bishop of Landaff’ dahlias are relieved by the white flashes on Nicotiana; Gypsophila and Hydrangeas. I must redouble my efforts!
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The ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ garden at Greywalls in East Lothian


By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

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