So here we are in early August, it’s 33c outside, and I’m making blackberry jam! What on earth is going on? No sooner had the strawberries finished fruiting than the blackberries were ripe for picking! Is it me or has there been a worldwide conspiracy perpetuating the mysteries of jam making? 10 minutes, some jam sugar and fruit and it’s done. How simple was that. I’ve even gone on to make blackberry coulis. No doubt the apples will be rotting off the trees by the end of the month so I’ll try my luck at Apple Cheese. Blackberry and apple pie in a heatwave is just a bridge too far.
As we enjoy a glorious respite in the garden I’m reflecting upon our eventful summer: first our Hort Soc coach trip to Kent and East Sussex, then Thompson & Morgan Press Open Day, followed by our NGS Open Day hot on the heels of the London Gardens Society competition.
On July 1st, 29 of us set off on our three day Jolly amid gardens great and small, no responsibilities, no driving, no phone calls, no housework, no gardening. Yikes, what about the watering? Our irrigation system (aka leaky hose, some lengths leakier than others, due to careless forkage) only runs along the back of the borders. The central island bed, fernery, front borders and containers all need daily watering, if not twice daily. (Yeah, I know, Right Plant Right Place, but what exactly constitutes The Right Plant for this searing heat in clay soil, eh?) Patio no problem; the veterinary nurse who comes in to minister to ours cats’ needs (go on, say it, They Have Their Own Nurse Maid?) was happy to water. But the garden beyond is out of bounds (my Dearly Beloved bolts the gate with an iron bar to ward off intruders) so at the eleventh hour, he managed to rig up a timer onto our oscillating sprinkler (had to look that up, I had no idea what those up-and-over sprinklers were called, did you?). Next decision: which part of the border gets lucky? In the end we opted for the hot border that was about to come into flower and all was well.
A couple of weeks later, as T&M plant triallists, we were invited to attend Press Day, held at RHS Hyde Hall. T&M’s new show ground is so breathtakingly colourful that surely you could see the floral displays from space. Swathes of vibrant flowers and foliage to inspire and motivate you. A new range of echinacea, improved alstroemerias, petunias and begonias. And of course hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride Snow White’, winner of Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2018. New trends for 2019 include Climate Gardening, Stress Relief and Extending Summer. Venerable British gardening writer and TV broadcaster Peter Seabrook was there (I do love a celebrity, don’t you) to present an award to T&M’s very own veg guru, Colin Randell for 50 years in the horticultural industry. Most of all though it was lovely to meet the team and talk about future plans.
Back on the home front, it was time to start preparing the garden for the London Garden Society judges and NGS Open Day visitors alike, and that included filling the gaps that I had left for some last minute judicious planting. And boy, did I heal’em in! The long awaited day of the annual Chenies Manor Plant Fair dawned. Over 30c it was, quite hideous in fact, but did it put me off, no way. Plants were purchased and abandoned for collection later by my long suffering DB (David Broome/Dearly Beloved – get it!?) Such is my bewildering sense of direction I had to photograph the plant stalls on my phone so that we could find them again later! A sudden urge to redesign the planting on the roof terrace meant loads of new grasses and red hot pokers. I felt sorry for the plantsman who was selling the elusive willowy rudbeckia Prairie Glow; I swooped upon him with such excitement he must have thought I was unhinged. Friends Yvonne and Marjorie, clearly also in the throes of plant lust, filled up the car with their finds until it steamed up. The back seat was dominated by towering lythrum, showering its flowers like confetti in an attempt to pollinate the upholstery.
Long story short, after weeks and weeks of subtropical temperatures, the day before our NGS Open Day the heavens opened, the winds blew. Saturday morning I was out there in my babydolls, staking and stringing up the wayward thalictrum, filipendula, lythrum. (Felt like stringing myself up actually.) Having baked cakes all the previous week, max temp 35c, and bought a glass drinks dispenser with tap to serve elderflower cordial (for visitors) and Pimms (for after party-party-party), come the morning in question it was heavy rain, thick cloud and gusty wind! Bitter sweet or what? I’m not bitter…..Two cakes stayed in the freezer and out came the tea urn. (Why oh why is there always one visitor who wants decaffeinated tea?) But by 2pm opening time it had cleared and in point of fact the general consensus was that cool air had brought the visitors out whereas 90c would have kept them away. Could have done with those two cakes an’all. Still, you never can tell. 120 visitors, £1000 donated to NGS charities. Result!
The very next day the heat wave resumed and here we are in August, enjoying the slower pace of school holidays: roads and back gardens are quiet, parking is a joy, watering goes on and on. After such intense preparation I feel as if I’m neglecting the garden but in truth, apart from regular deadheading, feeding and watering, its doing its own thing quite happily with the minimum of intervention. Actually I feel like a spare part.
One or two loose ends. I regret to admit that as far as T&M trial tomatoes are concerned there’s not an awful lot to report. Despite the better light levels, regular feeding, damping down and watering in the greenhouse, I have about a grand total of half a dozen trusses resulting from six cordons. And they are climbing out of the window! Cucumber Nimrod is another story – lovely fruits and loads more to come. I have managed to make a gazpacho so all is not lost.
More by luck than judgement my patio theme 2018 has been very definitely Red! Red T&M begonias – what was I going to do with 36 Non Stop Mocca red begonias? No problem, they are everywhere, front and back, punctuating all the container displays – red thalia fuchsias, red salvias, red cannas, red coleus Campfire, red ricinus communis, red seat cushions, red framed wooden wall art, red hose and watering can even. Of course when it came to the LGS judge’s observation that this simple colour theme was strikingly effective in it simplicity, I had to concur, didn’t I.
And finally…..on our aforementioned coach trip we visited fellow T&M triallist Geoff Stonebanks’ Driftwood garden in Seaford. What a showman, a great host with a larger than life garden, with quirky plants and ornamentals everywhere. No wonder he’s been so successful in his charity fundraising. Well done Geoff, keep up the good work. We’re having a year off next year. Eat your heart out!
The Summer of 2018 will be remembered with mixed feelings, but one thing’s for sure, once the heatwave has gone and the nights start drawing in, we’ll miss it, you know.
Caroline Broome has been gardening for more than 20 years. Having passed the RHS General Certificate, she has since developed her East Finchley garden into a “personal paradise” that she and her husband invite the public to visit each year via the National Garden Scheme. Learn more about our contributor using T&M’s ‘Meet the experts’ page.