September Garden Diary

Photos by Clare Foster and Oliver Hobbs

Dahlia Rip City
Dahlia 'Rip City'
Auricula theatre, plant shelves
Auricula theatre turned dahlia display
Helenium 'Sahns Early Flowerer'
Helenium 'Sahns Early Flowerer'

September arrived suddenly, the shorter days book-ended by dewy mornings and cool evenings – and for three glorious weeks at the beginning of the month the sun shone constantly. We had a proper Indian summer with those crystal-clear, sparkling blue skies that are quite rare in the UK. And then the summer ended abruptly, with squally winds and heavy rain to give the garden the water it needed so desperately. The garden, even though I say it myself, is looking good, largely thanks to the incentive of the village Open Gardens day on September 8. I worked hard to keep it going through August and was quite brutal in what I chopped back, but it certainly paid off. The alchemilla, geraniums, anthemis and campanula have come back, flowering valiantly, not quite as strongly as their first flush but enough to bring a haze of colour to the borders, and hours of deadheading have paid off. 

I have finally started selling the auricula theatres/plant shelves I designed earlier this year, and have been enjoying using the prototypes in my own garden. I have put them up on the wall of the house near the back door, and have used them for changing displays throughout the summer. The auriculas can be moved once they have finished flowering and replaced with anything else that takes your fancy – herbs, violas, dianthus, trailing plants, or even jam-jar flowers. I think they would be perfect for a balcony or conservatory – and the tall shelf would work in a shady side return in a London garden. Buy them here

Cosmos and Penstemon Ruby
Cosmos and Penstemon Ruby
Aster turbellinus and Verbena bonariensis
Aster turbellinus
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Rudbeckia Goldsturm, Sedum Herbstfreude
Verbena bonariensis and dahlias
Verbena and dahlias in the front garden
Greenhouse, cosmos, Froomes Garden
The greenhouse through a cloud of cosmos
Hollyhocks, Froomes Garden
Hollyhocks near the front of the house

As always I’m so thankful for the cosmos, which I grew from seed and grew on in 9cm pots, to be planted out as needed into the gaps that form in the border as the summer goes on. I left a last batch until very late and neglected them, so they became spindly and dry – I thought I’d lost them but before planting I soaked them for a day or two and chopped off the top of the plant to make them less leggy. Forgiving creatures that they are, they soon bushed out again when they were in the ground and have flowered prodigiously.

To prolong the flowering season I planted two kinds of aster – A. umbellatus (creamy white) and A. turbinellus (mauve), both small-flowered types that are subtle rather than shouty. (Sorry, I am stubbornly refusing to give asters their new name - Symphyotrichum). In my last garden I had masses of A. frikartii Monch which looked amazing at the end of the summer with Stipa tenuissima. Its flowers are beautiful but quite a bold lavender-blue, and in this garden I felt I needed softer colours. I’m already straying away from this intention though because the overall effect seemed insipid. I spend hours looking out of the French windows in my kitchen just staring at the border and working out what it needed, and decided in the middle of the summer that it could really do with a little more zing. I bought three Helenium Sahns Early Flowerer, and dotted them through the border – and that was all it needed to lift it. Having visited my old next door neighbour recently and peeked over the wall at my old garden (always nostalgia-inducing and not a good idea), I have a feeling I’m about to reverse my decision about the Monch too, but won’t overdo it. 

In the front garden the intention was always to have bright clashing colours, so the dahlias and rudbeckias rule the roost.  I know people have a love-hate relationship with rudbeckias. I have 'Goldsturm' in generous clumps throughout my brick borders, and I do love them for the colour they bring at this time of year. But this summer, like last year, it’s been so dry and they really hate that. I have had to water them quite regularly, and I really don’t want to be doing this. They are planted in the sunniest part of the garden, so I might move them to a slightly shadier spot in the back garden and replace them with something else. Suggestions from others include asters, helianthus and perovskia. I had heard that another rudbeckia, R. subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers', might be a little more drought tolerant - but someone with first hand experience has said not! A shame, because I've been wanting to grow this one for a while -  it has narrower, quilled petals, so the overall impact is more transparent and subtle. This is the joy of gardens. They never stand still, and moving plants round in an ever-changing tapestry is all part of the satisfaction of making a garden. 

Helenium Sahns Early with Cosmos and Verbena
Helenium Sahns Early Flowerer
Sowing hardy annuals
Ammi visnaga and Verbena bonariensis
Ammi visnaga and Verbena bonariensis

I’ve been sowing some hardy annuals as I love having a few seedlings in the greenhouse germinating in the autumn. Getting outside and seeing those green shoots emerging as the days get shorter is always so uplifting. I like having a reason to go out there. I sowed Ammi majus and A. visnaga in seed trays, and also tried sowing a batch of Larkspur ‘Misty Lavender’, although I think these may be non-starters as it was so hot the week after I sowed them, and I left them to fry in the greenhouse. Larkspur can be tricky to germinate and often needs a week or two of cold temperatures to kickstart the process. The rest of the seed packet has gone into the fridge and I will try another batch soon.