August approaches in gusts this year, with warm breeze and heavy showers - but not quite as much rain as I would like in this area. The garden is in transition. Lots of plants have raced ahead, perhaps with the lack of water, flowering quickly and prodigiously and then flopping on long stems. I realise I should have given things like Anthemis tinctoria 'Sauce Hollaindaise' and Campanula lactiflora 'Loddon Anna' the Chelsea chop. This is when you cut back the main flowering stems in May - traditionally the week of the Chelsea Flower Show - to give the plant a sturdier and more branching form. I always find this so difficult - cutting plants back in their prime, when they are growing so joyfully - but next year I will try and remember how my campanulas flowered for only several days before collapsing sideways on their too slender stems.
Stalwart plants in the back border at the moment include the echinops - both blue and the greeny-white flowered Echinops ritro 'Alba'. I love the way they are backlit by the sun, and they are looking so lovely through screens of Molinia 'Transparent' and Stipa gigantea. Penstemon 'Garnet' is echoed in the colour of the luscious Gladiolus papilio 'Ruby' which I have been trying to increase to dot around the border. At last my 'Annabelle' hydrangeas are flowering and looking stronger - they need so much water so have been struggling in the dry spring.
The front garden is taking on the same wheat-blond colour of the countryside around us, the Stipa tenuissima dominating my small brick-edged beds. The Ammi majus has dried to a tawny brown but is still holding its shape, just, and the Digitalis grandiflora's pale yellow spikes have faded to nut brown. I need colour in this colour-leached framework, so have planted cosmos and dwarf sunflowers ('Magic Roundabout' and 'Double Dandy' from Sarah Raven), and have let last year's marigolds seed around. My favourite marigold this year is 'Touch of Red Buff' (below right), but I'm disappointed that its flowers are much smaller than the orange marigold and it seems to run to seed more quickly.
My summer pots are doing well, with huge armfuls of cosmos, agapanthus, and a rather lovely mixture of Antirrhinum 'Liberty Lavender', Nicotiana 'Lime Green' (below left) and Phlox 'Creme Brulee' (below centre). It does strike me every time I water them (most evenings) that container gardening isn't the most sustainable way to garden. Pots dry out so quickly, even if there is rain. We have discovered an underground water tank in our garden that we didn't know was there, so Mat has bought an old water tank and a vintage pump and is working out a way to get the water up so we can use it for the garden.
And finally - the veg garden is coming into its own. I'm picking armfuls of Swiss Chard, hundreds of runner beans and dwarf French beans, and the kids are starting to groan at anything with courgette. I love this time of year when we can eat straight from the garden. I go out at lunchtime for lettuce and tomatoes, and my favourite quick supper is chard and goats cheese omelette.
I have been cutting things back in the main border in back garden in the hope that plants will revive before September 8 when I open my garden for the village. Tired Alchemilla mollis, Salvia verticillata and geraniums have all been attacked, leaving gaps that I hope with some rain will be filled again. One Geranium Rozanne had completely collapsed in the middle so I chopped it right back and it has already formed a pleasing mound of foliage with buds forming. It may seem counter-intuitive to do this but it's so worth it. I also pulled out masses of opium poppies which left quite a few gaps which I filled with cosmos I'd grown from seed - 'Sweet Sixteen', 'Psyche White' and 'Rubenza'. Some of the seedlings were looking spindly and unpromising, but I cut the tops off them to encourage more branching plants, and as soon as they were planted and watered they revivied and will hopefully keep flowering now until the first frosts. Another sweet stalwart for this time of year is Dahlia australis (below left), a species dahlia that I first grew from seed a few years ago. Unlike big-flowered hybrid dahlias it has delicate single pink flowers on long stems that wave in the breeze. It's so easy to grow from seed and now I just leave the tubers in the ground each year and they come back.
And of course there are the dahlias, which hold my front garden together. Most are planted in the long border next to the picket fence so people can see them as they walk past in the lane. Colour themes are apricot and darkest red, with 'Chat Noir' and 'Rip City' (below left) as my all-time crimson favourites. 'Labyrinth' (below centre) is such a good performer with huge blowsy flowers in subtle shades of peach and raspberry, while 'Preference' (below right) is a very tasteful apricot cactus. More on my dahlias next month - I'm hoping they are still going to be looking good on September 8 for the open garden day. I'm deadheading fanatically and someone said give them some tomato feed to keep them flowering, so I might try that - or give them some alpaca poo from Lou's Poo!