June-August, 2021: garden diary

Shhhhh … don’t tell anyone, but our garden’s full of drugs!

For a start there’s the Poppy, a well-known source of opium and morphine. I’m fairly sure ours are the wrong variety, but I will confess to currently being addicted to some rather crunchy bread rolls produced by Tesco, with poppy seeds scattered all over their tops. Could it be true that “Poppy seeds contain small quantities of both morphine and codeine”? [source: Wikipedia]. Hmm … makes you think.

Then there’s Feverfew. It can create a bit of a headache for gardeners, as after a few years this herb spreads quite widely around the garden, with seedlings proliferating until eventually they have to be treated as weeds. It’s quite a pretty plant though and, according to folklore (though not yet confirmed by science, apparently), it’s a very effective cure for headaches, including the ones it causes. Just try to ignore the possible side effects of dermatitis, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, mouth ulcers, etc., etc.

If the use of Feverfew sets your heart a-flutter, you can always talk to your doctor about some kind of medication to restore your pulse to its normal rate. The pharmaceutical world seems to have narrowed down the production of products derived from Foxgloves (Digitalis); but ‘Digitalin’ is still prescribed for a number of heart-related complaints such as atrial fibrillation. But I don’t think I’ll be getting out my test tubes just yet.

Down by the little pond, we watched a plant with very large, coarse leaves appear from nowhere. Neither of us had ever seen it before but eventually Lynn identified it as Burdock (Arctium) which, as well as being a quite important ingredient of the beverage Dandelion and Burdock (which can still be found for sale, eg in Sainsburys), is taken by many to treat all manner of bodily ailments – as a diuretic, for instance – though, again, the medical profession beg to differ on its efficacy. Its prickly heads, known as burrs, have been known to trap small birds and condemn them to a slow and painful death …

Got a cough? Allow me to introduce you to our pot of Thyme. This is a herb with many genuine medicinal uses, and Thyme tea is sold commercially if you don’t want to go to the trouble of growing your own. It smells good, can be used as a disinfectant and, like the apples, pears, rhubarb, blackberries and other fruits in the garden, it contains vital vitamins.

Of course, many so-called remedies are simply passed on in folklore, with no scientific evidence to back up the claims made about them. Thus I will not be trying out our Elderberry (Sambucus) next time I get fever, rheumatism, a burn or the common cold!

But there are some plants that really do seem genuinely valuable in the manufacture of prescription drugs. Valerian produces bright red flowers in our garden – though I gather there are other varieties – and blossoms for many months during summer. Below the soil surface it forms a dense mat of closely woven roots which can be extremely hard to dig out. It’s Valerian’s roots that are widely used for the preparation of numerous products, including anti-convulsants and products to help with sleep disorders.

We’ve seen quite a few species of butterflies this summer; but none more so than the sudden clouds of Painted Ladies, which appeared almost overnight towards the end of August. They were everywhere …

… but most notably, as always, in the Buddleia (the “butterfly bush”).

I cut the buddleia back hard in autumn 2020. In the past, in previous gardens, I’ve pruned them in early Spring, but this one was so massive that I had to take action urgently.

Our Hydrangea in the front garden was hit by frost in the early part of the year, but it recovered really well and is showing no sign at all of lasting damage.

Our Mock Orange (Philadelphus), growing in partial shade, produced a spectacular fountain of fragrant white blossoms in May and June. The photograph doesn’t really do it justice.

If you follow my blog, you may recall my planting of the five old-fashioned David Austin roses in November 2019. I ordered them as bare root plants. The rose bed is finished now and the roses are maturing. I think one or two of them suffer slightly from not being in direct sunshine for long enough each day; but most put on a beautiful show and some are still in bloom months later.

This has been another great year for roses elsewhere in the garden, too. I love the pillow-soft, pink mottling of this one, for instance.

Here are some of the others, all growing in the front garden.

Here’s the climbing rose next to our conservatory door. Wasn’t quite as spectacular as last year because of the high winds, but we tied it up for support and it recovered fairly well.

Vying with the roses for attention in the front garden, along with the Cosmos, Canterbury Bells, Sedum and Petunias, the Achillea have maintained a vibrant display of reddish shades for months on end. These were amongst the various perennials I bought from Thompson & Morgan as plug plants (a great purchase at about £9.99 for 36 plants, by the way!). They’ve finally gone over and I’ve pruned them back, thinking I was dead-heading. Time will tell whether this was adviseable. Lynn thinks not …

Personally, I’ll think they’ll be fine. Plants just love to grow … see how a single Lobelia seed has grown up and spent the summer squeezed in between the courtyard wall and the concrete floor …

… and how these Japanese Anemones have performed a similar trick down the side of the house.

And below the birdfeeder, a single Sunflower seed made its own bid for freedom.

Above the Lobelia, adding more splashes of bright colour to the black-and-white of the walls and woodwork, are a couple of hanging baskets, which this year we planted up using bought plants and seeds. Our time has been limited because of preparing for our intended house move but we think the simple mix of Petunias, Lobelia and Begonias works quite well.

Meanwhile, back in the fruit and veg. patch, there are still some broad beans to be had, along with beetroot, tomatoes and courgettes, including one rather odd-shaped specimen. Now, at the end of August, we can watch the six sweetcorn plants as their corns swell and ripen on the stems.

The new flower border, full of the plug plant perennials that I nursed through the winter, eventually matured and reached a point where it looked quite dazzling. Here it is on the way to that point.

But the problem arrives when things won’t stop growing! A lesson for the future – plant sparingly at first, and add new plants only when longer-term gaps are clear to see. I do love the Gaura, a plant we’ve not grown before, which has continued to flower in the border through the summer months but it has eventually rather overwhelmed the area with its long, wavy stems carrying beautiful white flowers. It’s ended up looking rather straggly and untidy, unfortunately.

So, as Summer turns into Autumn, we begin final preparations for our planned house move. With property as with gardening, things don’t always work out as intended. But we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

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