Midsummer’s day

Well, there it is, we reached midsummer’s day on 24th June and everything was at a peak in the garden. From now on, us miserable gardeners, determined to look on the bright side, start saying things like “nights are drawing in” and “it’ll be autumn before we know it” but really, where does all the time go? And are we the only ones who rejoice when it rains? This week we saw some significant and much needed rain on the garden and most of it fell over night – perfect I’d say. For once we were not spending all day with watering cans, hoses and sprinklers on the go and we could get on with other things.

The community garden veg plot is looking fantastic and has started rewarding everybody with some produce and flowers.

We have been able to start offering fresh produce from the plot direct to the Tiptree tearoom and to volunteers. We hope to be able to make it available to the general public on Tuesdays, when the gardeners are there to harvest it and dependent on us having enough to offer. A bag of the freshest veg you can get, grown with no artificial fertilisers, no insecticides or herbicides, no transport or packaging costs. Just from the plot straight to the plate!

If you want to see what’s available, call in at the plot on a Tuesday between 10.00am and 4.00pm to see what we have each week.

Of course it doesn’t appear by magic and the garden team have been hard at work this week making sure the harvest gets better and better.

Nellie was keeping watch over the potatoes while Barbara got stuck in with some weeding.

Bob was busy constructing a display bench for all the lovely produce.

It’s not all hard work and Brian and Andy found time for a chat. Brian has been helping us tackle a mole problem and Andy was planting out the Occa and Ulluco, the South American tubers we trialled for the first time last year.

In the walled garden the jobs list doesn’t get any shorter, with trimming box hedging and the start of haymaking being priorities this week.

One cut now and the maze should look smart for the rest of the year and will continue to thicken up to fill the gaps. This maze was planted about 7 years ago and is just beginning to look like a solid hedge. It sometimes gets a battering from little feet, as our youngest visitors gamble precariously to the centre or older ones take a short cut and leap through, but it’s a tough plant and seems to be growing nicely.

Dwarf box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) is very slow growing, only putting on between 3-5cm of growth in a year. For a taller maze the common box, Buxus sempervirens would be a better choice. Hedge mazes in English gardens date from the sixteenth century and became popular as a result of travel to French and Italian gardens where they were already well established. Strictly speaking, a maze of this period and this type should be made of low growing plants such as thyme or hyssop but box was chosen here for its practicality and the ease with which it can be clipped into tight shapes. Box became popular from the middle of the seventeenth century and soon became the plant of choice for this purpose, but it took a while before everyone was convinced of its virtues. Before then it had been regarded too smelly, it was thought to kill bees and it was believed to ‘corrupt the air’.

The leaves of all box species contain buxine, a narcotic and sedative used medicinally well into the twentieth century. The wood and root of box is very dense and close grained, making it very heavy and strong. Traditionally it has been turned, carved and engraved into flutes, pegs for musical instruments, combs, nutcrackers, chess pieces and used as the blocks for printing. Six hundred tons per annum used to be brought to England from Turkey for use in the printing trade alone.

The meadow flowers have largely gone over for another year and the gradual process of reclaiming the areas to a shorter sward has begun. Using a scythe rather than a strimmer is a much gentler, process, allowing the wildlife a chance to escape instead of being whizzed to pieces. We cut the meadow grass small section by section to allow an escape route for small mammals and insects.

Alison is using a continental scythe to mow through the meadow area in the walled garden orchard. This is much lighter and easier to use than the traditional English scythe which is more rarely used these days. For those interested, you can find out all about scything and the differences between English and  the Austrian scythe here. I like to use these traditional methods of gardening where we can. They interest the public who often stop to watch and then share their memories of seeing scything done in the past. One lady was telling us how her father almost completely severed the leg of their dog when it ran in the way of him scything. She had a distinct memory of watching it being stitched back on again – ouch!

What has been the most asked about plant this week? It has got to be the Life of Man plant, a type of morning glory called Convolvulus tricolor, flowering cheerfully in the vine border around the Veronica spicata.

Any plant with three colours or an association with the number three would have attracted the Tudors, with its symbolic link to the trinity, as the meaning of plants had far greater significance then than it does now. This plant is an annual and loves a sunny position where it will flower its socks off before succumbing to the first frosts. This particularly eye-catching variety is called ‘Blue Ensign’ and is available from Chiltern Seeds if you would like to grow some.

I love noticing which flowers attract which pollinators in the garden and seeing which are clear favourites.

The bumblebees certainly favour the teasels and this one, Dipsacus sativus, flowering in the dye border is hardly ever without a bumblebee visitor. Their long tongues are clearly well adapted to probe deep into each tubular flower to reach the rich nectar.

I like this description of the wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) by Richard Jeffries in the 1879:

“The large leaves of this plant grow in pairs, one on each side of the stem, and while the plant is young are connected in a curious manner by a green membrane, or continuation of the lower part of the leaf round the stem, so as to form a cup. The stalk rises in the centre of the cup, and of these vessels there are three or four above each other in storeys. When it rains, the drops, instead of falling off as from other leaves, run down these and are collected in the cups, which thus form so many natural rain-gauges. If it is a large plant, the cup nearest the ground – the biggest – will hold as much as two or three wine glasses. this water remains there for a considerable time, for several days after a shower, and it is fatal to numbers of insects which climb up the stalk or alight on the leaves and fall in. While the grass and the earth of the bank are quite dry, therefore, the teasel often has a supply of water; and when it dries up, the drowned insects remain at the bottom like the dregs of a draught the plant has drained. Round the prickly dome-shaped head, as the summer advances, two circles of violet-hued flowers push out from cells defended by the spines, so that, seen protruding above the hedge, it resembles a tiara – a green circle at the bottom of the dome, and two circles of gems above”

The insect seen on this yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a hover fly or some kind of solitary bee (sorry I’m not an expert), and having a much shorter tongue, it chooses to feed on plants of this type with broad, flat heads of flowers which are easy to land on and the nectar is much more accessible.

It is a fascinating how plants and insects have evolved to mutual benefit. If you would like to know more about different flower shapes and the insects they are best adapted for, take a look at the Pollinator Garden website. This is a good time of year to pay a visit to the walled garden which is full of all kinds of pollinating insects visiting our wild flowers.

And finally, how about this for a good bit of accidental flower combining? As the flower heads of the Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium emerge they are the perfect match for the same coloured but different textured flowers of purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria. A wild flower garden can be trendy too!














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