Having recently found a source of ‘affordable’ steel plant supports, I’m better able to face our late-summer borders where, hitherto, collapsing campanulas, inulas and heleniums have conspired to block paths in the August garden. It was also timely that Roger Turner’s new book, Tall Perennials (Timber Press, £25), should land on my desk at the same time. Subtitled ‘Larger-than-Life Plants for Gardens of All Sizes’, it provides helpful information for anyone shy of border giants. Many are self-supporting, but with summer storms and high winds always possible, it pays to have a prop in place.
The trick is to position it early and let the plant grow through it. Too often, I’ve seen borders rendered shipwreck-like with masts of fallen hollyhocks, delphiniums and ornamental rhubarbs tied to canes or poles-their poise and fleeting beauty quite lost.
Tall monkshoods (Aconitum) provide indispensable late-summer colour, especially where various shades of blue can enhance the reds, burnt oranges, deep yellows and tawny shades of helenium varieties. The likes of Newry Blue, Spätlese and those of the Wilsonii Group stand head to head companionably, and if some of the heleniums were given a Chelsea chop (reduced by about half their height in late May), they can appear wreathed in flower almost to the ground. Fiery Crocosmia Lucifer makes a good neighbour, but it’s the thug of this particular family and needs thinning.
It can lean, too, so supports are worthwhile if it’s not to crash into its cohorts. Other crocosmias are more refined in habit, and the colour range-although remaining in the red-yellow-orange spectrum is now beguilingly extensive. I have an intermingling of Severn Sunrise, Dusky Maiden, Star of the East, Babylon, Jenny Bloom, Canary Bird and George Davison, superb among sprawling Geranium Rozanne, partially cut back every few weeks to encourage a continuous display of its violet-blue saucers.
The long-flowering, trouble-free aster, A. frikartii Mönch, and its upright form, Jungfrau, bring yet more blue into the picture. They’re good in other schemes, too: I’ve planted more of them in the Greenhouse Border to contrast with the late-summer seedheads and burnished foliage of herbaceous peonies.
The new asparagus beds have been a great success. Each of the new crowns threw upwards of
a dozen spears this spring-a feast for the eye, if not the tummy, as we respect the rule about not harvesting them in their first year.
Late August sees the end of our peas and broad beans (with the remaining toughies destined for purées and soups), leaving us with ongoing supplies of young French and runner beans, perpetual spinach (cut to the ground and regrown three times this summer) and enough courgettes to feed that proverbial army. The cleared veg beds make a temporary holding ground for wall-flower transplants until they can be moved to their final flowering positions next month.
The peony Greenhouse Border faces east and looks onto the orchard. Planted in 1992 (rather, replanted, as the original orchard had been grubbed out by the time we came here), it consists of 25 varieties chosen because they were bred locally (in Herefordshire) or were raised about 100 years ago when the house was being built. We also wanted to ‘spread the load’ among culinary, cider and dessert varieties, making sure that some would be ready to eat in the early part of the season as well as having later kinds and those that will keep well if picked and stored carefully.
Among our earlies are George Cave (1923) and James Grieve, first recorded in 1893 and thought to have some Cox’s Orange Pippin blood in its parentage. Both eat well in late August, but such delights as Worcester Permain and Ashmead’s Kernel benefit from the ripening warmth of a sunny September. The Apple Book by Rosie Sanders (Frances Lincoln, £25) is another timely arrival.
Beautifully (and accurately) illustrated by the author’s own paintings, it gives detailed descriptions of 144 varieties, leaving me with a desire for extra ground to grow them all, and reminding me of Mark Twain’s sage advice: ‘Buy more land, they’re not making it anymore.’
David Wheeler’s ‘affordable’ plant supports are made by Plant Supports UK, Skipperley, Rochford, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire WR15 8SL (01584 781578; www.skipperley.co.uk)