An August garden that elicits pleasure is a difficult thing to achieve; the roses have long since faded, late spring colours have paled, seed heads have brought beaver-browns and tawny-greys into the gardenscape. Low pressure systems dominated the month, stormy wet weather and dry cool days changing places like dancing partners. In the Rewilded Garden a succession of diverse and colourful flower heads emerged from pewter skies – bright yellow, daisy-flowered tall tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris) amidst dark red, mini-drumstick burnet (Sanguisorba officionalis ‘Cangshan Cranberry’), strange, bruise-purple sprays of flower panicles of Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’) and the pale-mauve, smoky clouds of tiny-flowered sea lavender (Limonium latifolium).
The rain has made the Kitchen Garden a burgeoning, verdant riot.
Spires of cobalt blue Russian sage are popping now, the oregano seething with
bees, with meadow brown, peacock and red admiral butterflies rising in bursts
as you walk the paths, sunflowers preparing to unfurl their jolly heads. The
vegetable beds have finally got up a head of steam with produce ready to harvest
in profusion. Spring had been so dry that many seedlings struggled to germinate
or survive. Pigeons and blackbirds feasted on anything looking vaguely
succulent, peas dried in their pods and lettuces bolted. When the rains began
with the school holidays, the broccoli (notoriously difficult to grow to any
size without the head ‘blowing’ and running to flowers) formed perfect miniature
trees. There was basket after basket of spinach, green beans, runner beans and ‘Chioggia’,
‘Burpees Golden’, ‘Cylindra’ and ‘Detroit’ beetroot in velvets, tangerines and
gumball pinks. Even Suzi had to admit she may have been a little over enthusiastic
with the sowing and planting out of squashes, courgettes and pumpkins. But who
can resist the joys of a deep orange lantern-shaped ‘Amoro’ and the ‘Custard White’
(actually chalk-green) squashes next to a
canary-yellow cannonball ‘Luneor’ courgette? Or the lime hues of the
ludicrously long Fluegel
–horn of the ‘Tromboncino’ squash? Even
the apricots and peaches were sweet and ripe. Cropping for the house was like
assembling a rainbow.
Kitchen Garden harvest.
Other unplanned plants were making their presence known in the garden with similar degrees of success. These are the wildflowers that piggy-backed into the garden amongst the plants brought in from nurseries, flew in over the walls with birds or on the wind, or hid in the crushed concrete and sand we brought in from the demolished estate farm buildings that became the Rewilded Garden. Charlie has compiled a compendium of all these uninvited newcomers, with a view to giving form to our management of them, creating a grazing index. Some of these plants have immense ecological value, such as ragwort (Senecio jacobaea). It is one of the most visited flowers by butterflies and moths, and more than 200 invertebrates have been recorded on it according to the Wildlife Trust. The orange-and-black-striped cinnabar moth caterpillars, like Alice in Wonderland characters, can be seen feasting on them in abundance in early summer. Some of these wildflowers serve specialists such as the larvae of the orange tip butterfly that lays its eggs on cuckoo flower, garlic and hedge mustard (Cardamine pratensis, Alliaria petiolaris, Sisymbrium officinale). On the grazing index both ragwort and garlic mustard are in mid and low categories, meaning we only weed them out if they are significantly restricting another plant.
Canadian fleabane (Conyza canadensis), on the other hand, is high on the index. We remove it wherever we see it. An annual plant of fields, roadsides and wastelands, originally from Asia, it is reputed to have been sent here in the 1800’s by taxidermists. The fluffy seed heads were used to stuff bird skins. Each flower head might contain as many as 70 seeds and the average number per plant ranges from 25,000 to 60,000. We could use it in the Kitchen Garden, as the young leaves and shoots are edible when cooked. But since it flowers and sets seed rapidly, even in juvenile form, it will quickly outrun us and out-compete slower-growing species. Its basal rosette also covers bare ground, preventing other plants from self-seeding.
This year, scentless mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum) is also on high graze. We left them to grow last summer while the new plants and seedlings were establishing themselves, their white daisy flowers and pleasing dome-shaped habit filling spaces and flower droughts. Like many plants in the chamomile family it both hosts insects and is a source of nectar and pollen and, when we take out larger plants, beetles and small insects are to be found hiding in its shade. But it is a pioneer species that produces a large number of seeds from each flower head and remains viable for many years in soil. We can be fairly certain that even with a high level of purging, plenty of seedlings will reappear next spring. Our roles as proxy landscape engineers and our selective herbivory are always trying to stand in the middle of the see-saw, attempting to balance the tipping points between monoculture and ecological value.
The month ends with the cutting of the ha-ha meadow and paddocks. Although we cut with a motorised reciprocating scythe to save labour and time, we still rake by hand. We mark the ever-increasing mounds of ant hills and cut around them. They are a good illustration of how rewilding principles link to Tom Stuart Smiths’ design of uneven topography in the Rewilded Garden: when natural processes are allowed to drive a landscape, a flat lawn is never flat for very long. These meadow ants are the landscape engineers that add more surface area, aspects and complexity to the ecosystem.
There is an element of meditation to raking the fallen grass,
and a sense of belonging to a long tradition stretching behind us of gathering
in the hay. Not least, it connects us to the land and the changing of the seasons.
End of summer, the tip of autumn coming into view. Taking a breath before the
coming of change.
Moy Fierheller Deputy
Head Gardener August 2023
Photos courtesy of Karen Finley, Moy Fierheller
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