It is the end of something: high summer, long days, holiday spirit and langour. It is also the beginning of something else: harvest, moonlit evenings and the urge to start new projects.
It is also a fine time in my relatively new and very small, flint-walled, back garden which shelters between an ancient mound and the back of my early 19th. Century terraced house in the middle of this beautiful English market town.
We have just spent our second summer together, this garden and I. After stripping out a scruffy and pointlessly tiny lawn and replacing a stony raised patio, I now have a old york stone space surrounded by small beds where I planted climbers in plenty. One more year and I hope to see it reach an early maturity.
There is a small bonus area at the back of the house which is lower than the garden proper but which had been just a place to store dustbins and breed snails. It has a high flint wall on each side and it is paved in old brick which retains the summer heat long after nightfall.
Fruit and vegetables will always have to share the space with various marigolds though as their optimistic brashness just doesn’t fit in up the steps in the grown-up garden above but I cannot live without their joyful confidence or their musky smell. I used to have just English and French Marigolds here in terracotta pots but when I went away for a week, the snails fought back and the French were eaten down to their roots. I replaced them with big assertive Americans in honour of the fallen French and their revolutionary cousins across the Atlantic. This is, after all Tom Paine year so I hope it is not too disrespectful commemorate the man who helped in the birth of two great nations with a pot or two of Marigolds.
Somebody with a lot more taste than I have, told me once that no colours clash in Nature because they are always framed in green so even though I shield my Marigolds from the mockery of the roses in the main garden, I have braved public outrage and kept my stone-potted fuchsia down here in this little courtyard where it is very happy and where it continues to prosper. If you don’t like it, just look away. Gardens need to have their irregularities.
Up a small flight of brick steps, is the york stoned courtyard which is separated from the house by a small wooden fence with a flowerbed which was once going to be devoted to herbaceous flowers but the plan came awry when a friend gave me the wonderful golden rose, Golden Celebration.
I used to vow that I would never grow yellow flowers in the Summer as we have so much yellow in the Spring but, what the heck, it is great to be proven wrong. This unintended golden input has woken up all the other colours this summer and I am now a convert to Gold. I know that it will grow and grow too so that herbaceous bed is going to shrink away as Golden Celebration spreads. I will be brutal though if it tries to usurp the position of my blue denim irises. There are limits to my toleration.
It is sharing the bed at the moment with a splendidly bright group of red Gladioli which sport carelessly large brushstrokes of white. They are so different from everything else here that they deserve their place telling us not to get too serious about this gardening lark. They are party creatures and they invite you to join in the fun.
The gold and red make a grand contrast with the deep blue pansies which sit on each side in their urns. Usually, by this time in the year, they have passed their best but I have persisted with them as they are particularly handsome. Also, they have disproved the pessimistic advice of one of our local plantsmen who told me with a knowing look that there was nothing you can do about Pansy Wilt. A lot of carefully pruning and feeding has brought them back from the grave and I think it was worth the effort.
I have grown them for years, these small flowered and highly scented antique varieties but, whispering this in case they hear, I am beginning to tire of them. That obalisque would look great planted with a winter flowering jasmine if it could be induced to share its deep green leaves with one of its summer flowering relations.
The Passion Flowers have spread their tendrils greedily in all directions and their flowers pop out of foliage on all sides in their battle with various varieties of clematis and a sturdy army of climbing roses.
Passion Flowers are meant to be delicate but here in South East England, protected by my flint walls they survived a harsh winter and I am hoping that they will be here to stay. Their exotic, decadent flowers speak of just the kind of High Summer pleasures that go so well with a bottle of chilled wine.
The battle between my sweet-scented and star-like mauve clematis and the delicately pink but rumbustious and equally perfumed rose Edward Sacker has been one of the garden’s triumphs this year. The combination, in appearance and in its mixture of scent has been intoxicating all month.
Other Clematis plants have taken turn in dominating their patch as the season has progressed. There has been a constant switch of colours and shapes in what could have been just a rose garden with the same old blooms coming again and again.
Not that I am bored with my roses yet. They have been pushing their way upwards all year and by acting quickly and murderously when one of them got a nasty leaf-shedding habit, I seem to have kept all the others in vigorous growth with nothing more to blot their record than a bit of leaf spot.
Most of them took a pause in early August but they have all returned with their blooms still amazing to my innocent gaze. I have been most impressed my Benjamin Britten who has kept up his chameleon-like shade shifting between pinks and reds with a hint of orange.
After a spectacular display of flowering in the early summer, Iceberg is returning too. Its pure white flowers make a dramatic contrast as it bursts through the deep green Passion Flower leaves.
In the middle of all this profusion is George, Horace’s brother who, with his many other spider acquaintances, has been setting his trap for aphids and flies with true diligence.
So there is still a lot to look at in my little patch in the middle of town but if I do begin to tire of the current crop of flowers, the climbing fuchsias are about to flower in this jungle of aggressive competitors.
In there somewhere too, though a bit slower on its growth is my young Trachelospermum Jasminum. It is evergreen and its small white flowers are sending their strong sweet scent out from down there in the mass of leaves. If the Passion Flowers ever get mowed down by the frost then I hope Trachelospermum will ensure that I don’t miss them whilst I sit there under the umbrella with that glass of chilled white wine.
Fancy a glass?