The slowest, wettest spring I can remember has been replaced by the soggiest summer yet. There was a short heatwave that was almost too hot, but otherwise perishingly little clemency from the sky. The last year that felt like this was 2016. On the day of the great referendum showdown, the same amount of rain fell in a few hours in St James Park as usually does in the whole month. Which side benefited most from the downpour remains contentious but I think most people assume it was the Leavers who were up for facing the weather.
This is no place to declare my own position on the matter, but one thing that did interest me was how many of my Catholic friends were firmly behind Leave. Some would argue this presents a contradiction given the inherently universal outlook of
the Catholic Church, but personally I see no such contradiction.
The garden has certainly benefited from the wet weather, even if we haven’t. All plants grow principally as a result of warmth and water. That is why everything grows at three times the rate in the tropics. From the garden’s perspective, it is enjoying warmth (anything over 8 degrees is warm for a plant around here) and water. Everything positively canters upwards. My cardoons are gargantuan. The evergreen is covered in the light green of new growth. A friend mentioned what a good year it has been for cleavers; I concur.
Our strawberries are in full swing though the children generally get to them before we do. Worse, the Labrador has a penchant for gooseberries and took the whole blooming lot this year before I noticed. I don’t know what I can do short of mounting a 24-hour guard. My wife told me off for planting roses in the middle of the strawberry beds because she had an argument with a thorn whilst harvesting. This autumn I will give them a very hard prune so they grow stouter and straighter for next year. A compromise solution.
A dear friend grew a rare persicaria for me from a cutting and kindly dropped it off. He is a very accomplished gardener. Annoyingly, I missed his visit but my brother later asked him how he found my garden. He said: “Charlie is very committed to his rewilding, isn’t he?”, which made me laugh. As I walked round recently with my father-in-law and discussed the garden in the same vein, he described it as “a managed wilderness”. This made me very happy. It is exactly what I am going for and I shan’t pretend otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, we do grow things intentionally here but it is a happy, cosy mess at the same time.
There is always a danger in August that the garden falls a little flat. Things flop around and in normal years there is sun bleaching – quite a different feel to the technicolour of June. The answer is to grow a few carefully selected plants to hold the month. For this purpose I like hollyhock, verbena bonariensis and salvias. Actually, a few wild patches help. Nature has selected her own late-summer stars. There is nothing like a stately thistle to get the pulse racing. They don’t even need staking! Common mallow are terribly underrated but I love them (they are cousins of the hollyhock, so that makes sense). In our meadow, we are lucky enough to have wild carrot which forms wonderful bird’s-nest seed heads which last from August well into autumn.
August is a month of harvest and gratitude but it is also a sort of pause. The whirligig of summer has spent its fury but the turn hasn’t quite set it. It is a moment to stop and think, rewind and consider what worked well this year, fast forward and consider what might work well next. A garden is a place of continual reform or it is nothing, which is why gardens held in aspic seem to lose more than half of themselves. The joy of gardening is continual reform.
In life we must be gardeners too and nothing short of continual reform will do. But whilst continual reform is necessary, certainly for me, it is the only way to make a garden. The Holy Father’s intentions for this month are: “Let us pray for the Church, that she may receive from the Holy Spirit the grace and strength to reform herself in the light of the Gospel.” Yes, please.
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