Sunday 20 September 2020

Garden Wins from the Summer of 2020

It's that time of the year with summer turning to autumn, when I feel nostalgic for the season that's passed. It's hard to believe that summer's been and gone. And what a strange summer it's been: I've stayed put all summer. With all the crazy uncertainty I simply didn't want to go anywhere. I've been happy to just be at home in my garden. And we've been fine: my garden and I. I've taken care of it, and it's taken care of me, nurtured me and kept me sane. 

So here's a list of the very best bits of my garden in the summer that's been and gone: my horticultural hit parade. 



1. Cosmos


Absolutely top of my hit parade this year were the cosmos. It's the first year I've grown them, and they were beyond fabulous. They're thirsty chaps, they need a bit of staking against the wind, but they are otherwise very unfussy. And they flower. And flower. And then flower some more. I also like their feathery foliage, which looks great in a vase. They don't seem to be susceptible to greenfly, blackfly, powdery mildew, slugs or snails.  And, as we speak now well into the second half of September they're still blooming their vibrant little socks off. 


I grew mine from seed, planted under glass back in March, and then transplanted into larger pots and potted on outdoors. They were a breeze to grow. And once they started to flower they produced loads of flowers on long elegant stems that were perfect for cutting. 


This year they've made me smile more than anything else in the garden - bar the WonderDog. I will totally, definitely be growing these beauties again next year. 

2. Rhubarb

My Northern roots are evident. I put vinegar on my chips and I love rhubarb!


As news of the coming lockdown percolated through I headed off to the garden centre where I loaded up with seed potatoes and rhubarb crowns. The potatoes were a success, but I grow them every year so everyone takes them for granted. In the past I have tried to grow rhubarb, but it's never done  well on my London clay. This time I filled a couple of huge pots with a super rich mix of good compost and well rotted manure, and planted my rhubarb in them. I kept the water flowing all summer, never allowing them to dry out, and they've rewarded me with more sticks of rhubarb than the troops have been able to chomp. 


All summer long we've had loads of rhubarb pies and crumbles, and I'm thinking now of trying some rhubarb and apple chutney. They've been a total success. Added to which their statuesque leaves look quite spectacular. 


3. Calendula


I love the sunshine-on-a stem that is calendula. I'm aware that I could be using this wonderful flower for all sorts cosmetic/ culinary/ medicinal things, but I just haven't got that far yet. Maybe next year. Like the Californian Poppies these guys just grow wherever they're scattered. They're the ultimate low-maintenance flower. 

I went a bit over the top in terms of packets and different varieties, but they were all amazing in the higgledy-piggledy planting that passed for my garden design. 

Calendula: Sunshine-on-a-Stem

Even the seed heads of these plants are pretty, and I love the smell they leave on my fingers when I'm dead-heading them. There's nothing not to like about calendula!

Next Year's Garden

4. Californian Poppies

These babes are so chilled. You just scatter a few seed where you fancy seeing some poppies later in the season and that's it. Job done!

I bought several different varieties and scattered them around liberally in March. Each time a new packet arrived in the post I would have forgotten where I'd sown the last ones, and would wander off to scatter the new seeds absent mindedly, often hitting the same spot several times. The end result was a totally crazy mix - all very au naturel

I loved the bronze colours and the doubles that sprung up in odd places thanks to my amnesiac planting.

One note to self for next year: the fancy varieties tend to be shorter than the tall orange standard ones, so it's best to plant them at the front of the beds with their lankier cousins bringing up the rear.

5. Logan Berries

I've written loads about these chaps before. They are totally fabulous. Mine grow to the size of mulberries with about the same degree of sweet squishiness. They spread on great long vines along the garden wall, where they ripen against the sunbaked bricks to produce rich, succulent berries.

They should be left to ripen until they've reached a decent shade of burgundy, and then devoured immediately. They don't have as many seed as conventional raspberries, and, flavoured with some thyme, they make the very best jam ever, which is the business on a cheeky Victoria Sponge for afternoon tea or mixed with some Greek yoghurt for breakfast. 

6. Rainbow Chard

This plant not only tastes delicious, but looks fabulous in the borders. My garden does not run to having separate vegetable drills; it's an all-mixed-in together affair. With their different rainbow colours these guys added aesthetic value to the beds as well as being very good in the pot at chow-time. And the good news is that they'll go on cropping into the winter. 

7. African Marigolds

My friend Annalisa grows marigolds to ward off greenfly. She companion plants them with her tomatoes. I planted these big muscular chaps because I love their shape and colour in the borders. As an added bonus I pretty much dodged the greenfly all summer. 

I love how they blend with the calendula and the Californian Poppies to give such an explosion of fire colours. 

8. Golden Beetroot 

The deal-clinching quality of these beauties is that they don't stain your hands like their purple next-of-kin. I love beetroot, but hate having to wear purple fingers after I've chopped them up. My thinking in growing this variety was that I'd manage all the beetroot taste without the purple fingers, and it worked like a charm. They're sweet and delicious roasted in the oven with some sea salt and a glug of olive oil, then served with a balsamic glaze. Delish!

I would also like to give honourable mentions to my agapanthuses, my roses, my geraniums (bombproof babes), my alliums (lovely blooms and the best seed-heads in the garden bar none) and my iris. In their own season they each brought their own colourful magic to the party. 

And I've had a few disasters too. My pot sweet-peas were very underwhelming. All the flowers were the same washed-out pink, they bore no scent whatsoever, their stems were too short for cutting and they succumbed to powdery mildew. All things told they were an abject failure. I grew honeywort, and wondered why I'd bothered. It was statuesque in a way, but pretty boring and won't be invited back next year. And I grew some big, bulky uninteresting dahlias that were ungainly and flopped around without giving me much wow. I know dahlias are very popular these days, but I'm not a big fan. Maybe I'll try a smaller variety with more interesting flowers next year. 

I also had an early season disaster with my first planting of rainbow chard, which kept bad company one evening and showed up the next morning without any leaves: not a good look!


And on that disastrous note I'll finish!

All the best for now,

Bonny x

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