Cottage garden style in a heatwave – collapse!
Have you got an August garden full of billowing shrubs and flowering perennials? Are your borders a riot of colour from all the high summer plants you’ve carefully chosen? Mine isn’t. My front garden that faces south is a parched dust bowl with great gaps of hard baked soil.
My Twitter feed is awash with people’s blooming gardens and I’m feeling a bit deflated.
Where did all that April and May frothiness go?
When I cut back all the hardy geraniums that were brown, crisp and shrivelled, I found there was nothing else there. The plants that I’d tucked in through May/June hadn’t settled and had died still in their pot shape.
Strangely though this has prompted me to have a good rethink. In my last blog I described my beds and borders as an airy froth. Well the problem with that is that when the froth collapses in summer heat it looks rubbish and can’t be re-frothed. It’s a burst bubble.
The joy of hardy geraniums is that they grow from a base the size of a saucer but spread out to cover a huge circle about 4ft in diameter. If, as I do, you have lots planted together, that is what creates the wonderful wild, casual, airy look.
Can the cottage garden style survive a heatwave?
I now don’t think my favourite style can sustain itself without risking a total collapse in mid summer every year. If I had cut things back when they first looked sad in early July, there would be lovely fresh green regrowth by now, more able to withstand the heat and worth watering. There’s no point in watering plants that have brown crispy leaves and no flowers!
In July I couldn’t bear to lose any flower colour and now I’m paying the price. It takes such confidence in one’s experience to shear longed-for growth back to ground level in early summer in order to have new growth by the end of August to last into Autumn.
Would a dry garden work here?
I read about a dry garden on themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk and thought that might be the answer. Listening to the detail though it wouldn’t work here. My soil is clay but with 30 years of compost gradually added and so is fabulous soil but even this has dried out like it’s a desert. A gravel garden has gaps and I read that a dry garden is very high maintenance in the weeding department as weeds love gravel gardens. Definitely not for me.
Of course I water pots and containers throughout the year.
But I don’t think watering beds and borders every time it’s hot can possibly be sustainable. I hear nearby sprinklers on day and night squirting droplets into the air in the vain hope of getting water to the roots of ailing shrubs.
Even the expected heavy rain won’t solve the problem long term of having a wonderful spring garden and an empty summer one. I’m wistfully remembering how fabulous it has looked in previous years with all the autumn flowering plants giving the golden red colours, heleniums, crocosmia, grasses, daisies, thistles, etc. Those came and went. Where do all these plants go? Anyone know??
My only hope now for autumn is that fresh green covers every inch of soil and stays that way through winter till I cut it all back again in February. I know that my alchemilla, epimediums, geraniums and herbs will regrow very quickly but I am on a quest now to find more substantial plants to plant in late autumn. Hopefully these will be well settled by next spring.
If you have this problem too this year, stick with me as I find out what I need to plant to avoid a repeat next year. There has to be a way.