Fruitful Summer, with a touch of rain

Monday 8th July. First dahlias fully out. All hideously red with yellow eye. Left in for now, but will compost at the end of the season. Cut and bundled rows of poppy seed heads. Turned them upside down into paper bags.

Tuesday 9th July. Writing. Email from Niwaki confirming me as a stockist. Thrilled. Dreamt of about gift boxes with scissors and snips for florists and gardeners. Too soon to mention Christmas?

Wednesday 10th July. Birthday. Supper in F's beautiful garden in Milverton. Huge box balls, hydrangeas and a striped lawn. Hugo fell in the swimming pool and Puppers ate the champagne cork, both of which make it sound much more rock and roll than it was.

Cosmos Purity

Cosmos Purity

Thursday 11th July. Dinner at Pig at Combe. Landscape glorious and bathed in golden sunlight. Kitchen garden wonderful. Enviable squash and the fruit-cage of dreams. Rows of calendula and cornflowers for edible flowers. Pulled out the last broad bean plants in the dusk because weather forecast to change.

Friday 12th July. Rain. Actual proper rain. Potholes on the track full of water and bathing birds. Roses perked up within hours and although some of the sweet peas were marked, the colours intensified overnight. In court all day.

Saturday 13th July. Packed orders. Parcels and boxes and tape and labels. Coffee and podcasts and piles of sleeping dogs indifferent to industry. Cut first proper harvest of cosmos. Deadheaded flowers that had set seed to keep them going.

Sunday 14th July. Hedges and edges. Swept the courtyard around sunbathing dogs, tidied away empty pots, gave up on some blank seed trays and tipped onto compost heap. Expected to prune all the espaliered apples but managed only two as they grow like thugs. James Grieve is planted for our eldest nephew and is always the strongest. Native hedge thick with yellow plums.

Sweet pea ‘Nimbus’; mirabelle plums; Rosa ‘Grace’ by David Austin

Sweet pea ‘Nimbus’; mirabelle plums; Rosa ‘Grace’ by David Austin

Irish setters & a spaniel

Irish setters & a spaniel

Sweet pea harvesting and summer days

Monday 8th July. Harvest of white foxgloves, calendula, ravenswing & corn poppies. Brown paper bags everywhere. Made broad bean pesto with lemon and fresh peas from house garden.

Copper strawflower

Copper strawflower


Tuesday 9th July. Took box of seeds to the Newt. Tried to deliver in person to the shop to have a look round but sent round to the deliveries entrance, much to A's amusement. Made up for it with breakfast in Bruton.

Wednesday 10th July. Back to work. Morning in the office and then Bath in the afternoon. Stopped the car on the way home and gazed at a smoke bush in full glory. A hot hot day.

Sweet pea Erewhon

Sweet pea Erewhon

Sweet pea ‘Valerie Harrod’

Sweet pea ‘Valerie Harrod’

Sweet pea ‘Nimbus’

Sweet pea ‘Nimbus’

Thursday 11th July. Corfe Farmers' Market. Bought jams, bantam eggs and bags of fresh salad. Someone lit a bonfire on the other side of the village and for a moment, it smelt like autumn. Debated an honesty box at the front of the cottage.

Friday 12th July. Rain in the night. Air feels fresh and the grass is wet up to thighs on the morning dog walk. Cut honeysuckle back where it is choking the young beech hedge.

Saturday 13th July. Trip to busy Bridport with A to buy an arch for akebia. Bought two perfect Sarah Gee Ceramics mugs instead. Hugo came. Behaved moderately well.

Sunday 14th July. Hot but coming cool in the evening. Cut and photographed the sweet pea harvest. Piggy Sue still stand out variety in terms of productivity, health and beauty. Stem length starting to shorten as the vines reach the top of the tunnel.

Cup by Sarah Gee Ceramics

Cup by Sarah Gee Ceramics

Fruitcake planting and the turn of the year

Matrix planting: This features quite a lot in this week's newsletter because that's what I am working on at the moment. Matrix planting is a type of planting design drawing on the theory of a good fruitcake; stoic and solid 'background' plants forming soft swathes in which the feature plants can be studded, like raisins. I like cherries and almonds in my fruitcake, so my matrix planting has some seriously big hitters (Stipa Gigantea, Helianthus 'Lemon Queen') to make it truly memorable. All of my plants are also chosen for being good for both cutting and growing from seed. Expect to see lots more grasses on my website over the next season.

It is based on a design done for me by the wonderful ex-Sissinghurst now-Forde Abbey Joshua Sparkes. Link to his Instagram below; he is quite quite something. Now it is planted, I will leave it to mature and establish and it will get better year after year. It has been a leap of faith to embrace this sustainable and radically different form of growing and I will admit to moments of very wobbly doubt. No more. I hope it will be starting to hint at its full promise by August when the field will be visited by all sorts of terribly influential people. Many of the sessions are sold out but if you fancy seeing how a fruitcake is expressed through the medium of flowering plants, please do click here.

Sweet pea ‘Piggy Sue’

Sweet pea ‘Piggy Sue’


Monday 1st July. Packed up camp and drove to Lost Gardens of Heligan. Coffee with H. Discussed reality and its alternatives, order and chaos, tolerating ground elder in vegetable gardens. Also, how other people react when you leave to meet up with someone you only know off of Instagram.

Opium poppies in a tin can; hazel sweet pea tunnel; Irish setter

Opium poppies in a tin can; hazel sweet pea tunnel; Irish setter

Wednesday 3th July. Planted final part of the matrix planting. Thought I had nearly finished but had blisters from digging by the end of the day. V hot in the sun. Hugo insisted on being out in the field. Watches me from an upstairs window and barks unless involved.

Thursday 4th July. Coffee with C. Admired her roses. Collected vegetable plugs for house garden. Cut and photographed Nimbus, Piggy Sue & Bristol sweet peas. Piggy Sue spectacularly prolific. Direct sowed biennials - sweet rocket, honesty and wild carrots. First fat hazelnuts in hedge. Felt like the beginning of the end of Summer.

Friday 5th July. Took up the marker-string from the matrix planting. Plants growing inches every day. Calendula Sherbert Fizz set seed. First harvest collected and dried in paper bags.

Saturday 6th July. Sun high and strong. Hugo squashing grass under apple trees to keep in the shade. Evening - Lit oven in orchard for pizza to celebrate my & A's birthdays. Rained last thing. Glorious to hear it.

Sunday 7th July. Grey and still start. Turned hot mid-morning. Watered and staked everywhere. Rudbeckia Triloba looking particularly fine. Pinched out the biggest. Cut Betty Maiden and Jilly sweet peas by the armful.

(If you are wondering what I did on Tuesday, we slept and did endless loads of washing. Because camping does that, and setters do not function without twenty hours sleep a day. Also, I tied in and picked sweet peas every single day. This is a given at this time of year. Please keep on top of them. If they are in pots, feed and water regularly.)

Cocker spaniel Hugo; wood fired pizza oven; opium poppies

Cocker spaniel Hugo; wood fired pizza oven; opium poppies

One hot Sunday at the very end of June

Monday 24th June. Angelica Archangelica started to germinate. Disproportionately pleased as had been told it would not grow until next spring as it needs a period of cold. Determined to ignore advice of others in future. Turned on radio to Rupert Everett reading Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature. Sat perfectly still until it had finished. An iconic garden arising from such pain and grief. Beautifully written and beautifully read. Sent out a box of seeds with the message ‘thinking of you’ and meant it from my heart.

Tuesday 25th June. Planted out Nicotiana ‘antique lime’. Cleared some more ground in the top beds for more plugs to go out. Pinched out blue and black cornflowers. A David Austin Sally Holmes is on borrowed time.

Wednesday 26th June. Cut sweet peas. Tied them in again as they have grown a foot in less than a week. Gave feed of seaweed. Put in beetroot and chard from the greenhouse.

Thursday 27th June. Heatwave forecast. Watered everything twice. Opened all and every window in the greenhouse. Put younger plants under the staging for shade and crossed fingers. Drove to Porthallow. Walls full of bleached Briza Maxima. Hedges studded with honeysuckle. Weather grey.

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Friday 28th June. Shattered the peace of the Potager in Constantine by arriving with two enthusiastic girls and a slightly shouty Hugo. One of my favourite places demolished a memorable breakfast with pots and pots of tea. Coffee with Orphelia and the Viking. Covered family narratives, grief, the perils of curly hair, how all the settings on my camera are wrong, the blessing and the curse of creativity (its care and maintenance), hope, how small business owners need specialist psychological support, and Iceland*. Drove home with love in my heart and caffeine jitters. Reports of thirty degree heat at home in Somerset.

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Saturday 29th June. Walked along the coast path in grey, breezy weather. Finished at farmers market in St Keverne. Bought garden kale, courgettes and strawberries, and fat wheels of Helford blue. Found a copy of living etc. Rifled through it to get to the page about my August garden days. On the lust list, page 137. Lust for romantic plantings and tall grasses and long tables and good company. Described in the article as ‘botanical guru’. Husband roared with laughter. Barbecue. The sun briefly shone and the girls sought shade in the hedgerows. Drank wine and ate cheese. Walked down to the sea in the dusk. Puppers ran across the beach & rolled joyfully in seaweed.

Sunday 30th June. Morning in St Ives - hatefully busy. Lunch at Scarlet Wines - incredible. The sun finally shining. Had a cider with lunch and we all napped under an ash tree in the afternoon.

*country not the shop.

HIgh Summer and thinking ahead

We're basking in high summer. It's dry and arid and it's all too easy to have a little siesta under an apple tree. I find myself dreaming about autumn. I've just bought some twill culottes and a navy blue ribbed fisherman's sweater. I drink gin but I'm secretly thinking about red wine. There's salad and kale to be cut in the garden but I'm eying the ugly bulging Italian green pumpkins.

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Emotional health can often be a perfect balance of living in the moment. Learn from your mistakes and plan for tomorrow; but dwelling too much in the past or anticipating too far into the future will send you mad. But with a garden it pays to plan ahead. It's coming to August and that means it is nearly time to start sowing hardy annuals. These are seeds that start their growth in the autumn and will happily sit in the ground over the winter and then, when the spring comes and the soil starts to warm, they're already good to go. This means big, strong plants and earlier flowers. Everyone is a winner. 

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It's been five years since I created no dig beds in my flower field and it's given generously in all that time. This autumn, the field is getting a big boost with lorry and lorry loads of green waste compost. This means that this August, we'll be sowing hardy annuals into pots and trays until the ground is ready for them. If you want guaranteed early flowers and you're a bet-hedger, try a bit of both. I've put together a pack of my favourites for August sowing if you want to get on it now...