August in the Garden

I took a rare five minutes out today and went outside to sit down (what!). It was a beautiful day, typical of July, sunny with fluffy clouds drifting across the sky, and as I sat there contemplating writing this editorial I could hear the swifts twittering above me. Looking up I could see them dancing with the house martins and it reminded me that just sometimes we take this beautiful area and its wildlife for granted.

It is all too easy with busy lives not to appreciate this fantastic area, and how very privileged we are to be able to live and work here. I know there are always things to moan about (there is quite a long list I think!), but for the most part it is absolutely wonderful. I am always thankful that my daily commute is only 10 minutes, and takes in some of the loveliest parts of the Axe and Coly valleys.

Every day there is something different to see or hear (turn off that radio when you are driving and listen to the birds!), our ever changing seasons encouraging us to aim higher or just to try again.

Our hedgerows harbour some of the loveliest plants over the year, from snowdrops, wild daffodils, primroses, bluebells, red campion, buttercups, foxgloves, dog roses, my list is endless, and we haven’t even got to the trees yet! We could all try to use part of our day to celebrate the diversity and beauty all around us instilling a sense of calm and wellbeing. In these times of heightened awareness of our mental health, the cost of living crisis, Ukraine etc, it is worth taking a few minutes to relieve the stresses and strains of our daily lives (oh, and it’s free!!). Happy gardening …

Plant of the Month – hardy geraniums, a really good ‘doer’

Probably my most favourite plant in the garden ever! Native to South Africa Geraniums first arrived in Europe in the 17th century. The now not-so humble cranesbill (so-called because the seed heads look like a cranesbill!) is one of the most diverse and colourful of plants. From tiny alpine varieties only 3-4” high to the majestic Geranium maderense which can achieve heights of 1.5 metres, there is always one to fit almost any part of the garden, use them either in great sweeps of colour or mixed into a border. They can flower from the end of March until October, so provide great value.

Mulch in spring and cut back any dead stems. You can also cut them back after the first flowering for a second flush of new growth and more flowers. They like sun in the morning and evening, (although I have grown them very successfully in full sun), and a humus rich soil. They can be divided every two to three years (share that spare plant with a special friend!).The best thing? The slugs do not like them at all! Why not give them a go in your garden?


It's a busy month

  • Keep Camellias and Rhododendrons well watered at this time of year. This will ensure that next year's buds develop well.

  • Keep patio container plants well watered and feed with a liquid fertiliser every week.

  • Dead-head bedding plants and perennial plants to stop them self-seeding and to encourage further flowering into the autumn.

  • Trim your lavender plants after they’ve finished flowering to keep them compact. Dry the flowers by hanging in bunches in a dry place. They will scent a wardrobe or bathroom all winter! Traditionally used to make lavender bags (great Christmas present idea!!).

  • As Penstemon flowers fade, cut them back to just above a leaf and you will get more flowers.

  • Cut back herbs now to encourage a new flush of tasty leaves you can harvest before the frost.

  • Prune Wisteria after flowering by removing all the whippy side-shoots from the main branch framework to about 20cm from their base (about five leaves from the main stem).

  • Prune climbing roses and rambling roses once they've finished flowering (unless they are repeat-flowerers in which case leave them).

  • Collect ripened seed and store for next year in paper envelopes (remember to label them!). Leaving some seed heads in place can be attractive and allows the plant to self-seed in the surrounding soil as well as being a source of food for the birds.

  • Take cuttings of favourite tender perennials such as pelargoniums and fuchsia to propagate them for next year.

  • Finish dividing clumps of Bearded Iris now so they have time to form roots and flowers buds for next year before the cold weather arrives.

  • Now is a good time to spray ground elder (and other perennial weeds) with a glyphosate-based weedkiller as the plant has lots of leaf surface area with which to absorb it. We are also stocking a new product for killing weeds now that does not contain glyphosate and is child and pet friendly.

  • Look out for symptoms of Clematis Wilt such as wilting leaves and black discolouration on the leaves and stems of your Clematis. Cut out any infected plant material and dispose of it in your household waste.

  • Water sweetcorn plants regularly now and feed with tomato food to get the best cobs. Sweetcorn is ready when you can pop a corn with your thumbnail and the juices are milky.

  • Apply a high-potash fertiliser such as tomato food once fruits start to form on peppers, cucumber and aubergines.

  • Continue to feed tomato plants with a tomato fertiliser and remove leaves lower down on the plant to help with air circulation and prevent disease. Keep on top of the pinching out side shoots.

  • Pinch out the tips of your runner bean plants once they reach the top of their support. This encourages side-shooting and more beans at a manageable height for picking. Pick runner beans regularly to prevent them becoming stringy and to make room for developing pods. Leaving mature pods to set seed can prevent further flowers developing and reduce your crop.

  • Limit the fruits on a squash plant to about three, but make sure these fruits are established before pinching out the surplus.

  • Start harvesting your maincrop potatoes as the leaves yellow and die back. Try storing your potatoes in hessian sacks which exclude light but allow adequate ventilation.

  • Lift and dry onions, shallots and garlic once the foliage has flopped over and yellowed. Store them in onion bags to prevent moulds developing.

  • Keep harvesting courgettes before they turn into marrows! I have a really good recipe for Courgette Bread (actually a cake!!) which is really delicious, call in if you would like a copy!

  • Take cuttings of herbs such as rosemary, sage or mint now to bulk up supplies. Put cuttings in moist, well-drained potting compost (one part grit to one part compost) and place in a cold frame.

  • Established clumps of chives can be divided now.

  • On a dry sunny day, collect seeds of herbs such as dill, fennel, caraway and chervil and dry in a warm spot out of direct sunlight. Chervil must be sown immediately.

  • Keep an eye out for potato and tomato blight and remove and burn any affected plants immediately to prevent its spread. Do not add to a council-collected rubbish system as this green waste is often added to other composts which it could contaminate.

  • Check for cabbage white butterfly eggs under brassica leaves and squash any that you find. Alternatively use nematodes to kill the caterpillars or cover with Environmesh.

  • Keep on top of weeds as they compete with your crops for nutrients and water.

And a small reminder which I cannot stress often enough; now that we have a garden waste collection, please remember not to add any grass clippings that have been treated with weedkiller or other chemicals until you have mown three times, or plantage that has suffered from disease. This can get passed into the compost that is made and cause problems later down the line.

Sue Brown

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King Street, Colyton, Devon EX24 6LF Email:

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