Monday, 31 August 2015

Too early for the A word

This is the first year I can recall where I’ve not risked the ire of my fellow human beings with a premature mentioning of the A word. Hot weather saps my energy; while I’ll put a brave face on it for work, I’m keenly looking for the first signs of the change in season from the end of July. In recent weeks there’s been a stampede of people throwing up their hands in despair at the early onset of autumn, but while I’d be delighted to find their angst justified, I think it more likely that we're having a bit of a wet end to summer after a protracted hot, dry spell. It is, after all, still August. And this is, after all, England.

That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t expect to see signs of the approaching season; the night-time temperature is beginning to drop away from the uncomfortably clammy, while several mornings this past week have seen me pulling up the blinds to discover a fresh, chill mist knocking at the glass. Above all this, the thoughts of the gardener are beginning to turn from what can still be achieved in the beds and borders this year, to how best to prepare for the next.

One thing in particular will help with my own garden in a year from now – I need to face up to the truth about molluscs. I’ve been in denial, having evidently been at pains to create the perfect environment for snails in particular, although slugs too are well represented. Over the past few years I’ve adopted a fairly hands-off gardening style here; fine as long as I was happy to stand back and watch the dynamics within the borders, leaving the plants to their own devices, though it does naturally favour a survival-of-the-fittest scenario. Consequently, I have a late summer bed of flowering thugs – solidagos, Japanese anemones and crocosmias – while most of the charming asters, echinaceas and heleniums have been grazed to the ground by the battalions of snails emerging nightly from the heaps of lush foliage encouraged by my neglect. One tiny pocket of resistance against the endless onslaught is being offered up by Aster divaricatus. Rain battered and, by now, going over, it must taste disgusting to snails, for which I am immensely grateful. Its presence is a minor reprieve I surely don’t deserve.

Aster divaricatus, bravely soldiering on, albeit a tad dishevelled
From hereon in, then, a more interventionist approach is called for, which means gardening here in the same way I garden everywhere else. In other words, tidily, or at least being strategic about which areas I allow to become untidy. The forest of under-performing acanthus is to go – who knows, it may even flower better if I stick it in a less luxuriant spot – which will have the dual effect of removing a vast snail hotel, whilst freeing up a whopping great spot at the end of a bed into which I can plant something exciting. The geraniums will also be cut back – I don’t have anything too invasive (in the ground, at least – I have a specimen of the ridiculously vigorous pink flowered 'Claridge Druce' confined to a large pot), but they’ve been allowed to sprawl a bit this year. Except the phaeums, which I did subject to a Chelsea Chop.

I’m starting to get concerned that things might begin to look a little organised; will I in a few months – horror of horrors – find myself in the position of having “put the garden to bed for winter”? I think I should perhaps just take this one step at a time.

Anemone x hybrida 'Königen Charlotte'. A right bruiser.


  1. I can relate to the "heat saps my energy"-part as well as to giving snails and slugs a too comfortable environment. Having moved this year from a garden with virtually no snails to one with (seemingly) millions, I realize I have some adjustments to make to my gardening style. :)

    1. It's encouraging to discover it's not just me, Yvonne! We'll get there!

  2. We have a "pet" Roman snail which took up residence in one of greenhouses. By treating it as a welcome guest as opposed to an unwanted invader we look at it from a different perspective. That is not to say that its smaller relatives (those with & without a home/shell to call their own) are welcome, they are certainly not but for fear of endangering the one welcome guest I refuse to harm the interlopers. I have however been seen, torch in one hand & long handled grabbers in the other, gathering them for a relocation exercise. Rehoming "Homing" molluscs is now a regular worry.

    1. I can see why you'd not want to risk your splendid Roman Helix, I hope you don't have French gourmands for neighbours! Will it hybridise with other snails? Sounds a bit lonely otherwise.

  3. Replies
    1. Hi Abigail. You must be the Yin to my Yang. Or the Yang to my Yin. Something like that...

  4. I share your enthusiasm for cooler temperatures...The truth is that despite the indisputable joys of summer, with it's leafy abundance, warmth and (especially) long days and evenings, this approaching season of 'mellow fruitfulness' is actually my very favourite. Fall leaf colour, the sound and scent of dry leaves, gusting winds and sapphire skys...The chill in the air is invigorating, in contrast to the torpor summer's heat can induce...
    Also a great fan of Aster divaricatus. Seems to be under-used around here, but it's such a great plant with masses of tiny blooms to brighten up a dry shade area, atop those gothic black stems. Do you know Amsonia hubrichtii? Blue salviform flowers, and narrow foliage that turns a buttery yellow in fall.
    Snails are a constant companion in my garden as well and I share your irritaton with their voracious meanderings through the garden. I use eggshells in spring to protect Delphinium, Cardiocrinum and Hosta leaves as they emerge. Seems to work fairly well, but not practical on a larger scale. It sounds like you are following the best course, by removing their foliage villas...A challenge to negotiate that fine line between chaos and sterility in one's own garden for sure...As usual, really enjoy reading your musings : )