16th July 2015
With the summer sun over the past few weeks, the garden at Stoke has engulfed the raised beds and the soil is no longer readily seen. The plants are growing at full pelt – slowly they are encroaching upon one another in a controlled, deliberately planned, almost slightly chaotic assembly, and as each week passes by, the garden’s colour pallet formed ripens and expands in rich and sultry blooms.
In the largest of the raised beds we have cornflowers. These are one of the most easy and beautiful summer annuals to grow, last brilliantly in the vase and picking them encourages more flowers; they are absolutely adored by bumble bees, too. We have 2 types, the typical turquoise ’Blue Boy’ and the striking deep blackcurrant ‘Black Ball’. Also beloved of bees and all pollinators is the Echium ‘Blue Bedder’, which has one of the highest nectar contents of any flower.
Towering sunflowers loom almost above the gardens walls. I prefer the red flowering types to the yellows, as these don’t get ridiculously huge flower heads. Instead the main flower is a size more suited to being picked, and each plant may bear several flowers rather than just a single one hit wonder. Sunflowers are very greedy plants and as seedlings need to be potted on as soon as their roots begin to feel confined. I’ve been feeding ours with organic chicken manure, and each stem has been tied to a firm stake in case of strong winds. The red flowering varieties I am growing are ‘Claret’, ‘Earth Walker’ and the fabulously titled ‘Moulin Rouge’ – this one’s name is reason enough to want to grow it.
Equally greedy in their requirements are the sweet peas. Sweet peas cannot get enough feed; if they begin to feel at all deprived they get mildew, and their flower production stalls easily by the end of July. With lots of attention, the wigwams will hopefully stay looking good into August.
All of our sweet peas are varieties trailed by Sarah Raven at her Garden in Sussex. Sarah and her team grow tons of sweet peas each year, selecting only those with the best scent and pizzazz! In the garden we have a few heritage and new types. They include ‘Almost Black’, ‘Black Knight’, ‘Barry Dare’, ‘Matucana’ and ‘Lord Nelson’. The sweet peas I’m picking 2 times a week – you must keep cutting them! They are scattered in jugs on the counters, filling the air with their unbeatable scent.
The dahlias are also beginning to bloom with the heat – they have been waiting for the long warm days to stir into full growth. I like the single types best, such as ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘Bishop's Child’ which I’ve grown from seed. Larger flowering dahlias include the clout carrying cactus types like ‘Rip City’ and ‘Arabian Night’.
In large pots I also have one of my favourite Asiatic lilies in flower called ‘Pink Flavour’. It’s a wonderful lily and quite recently bred. Each stem is thick and holds many large Caribbean flamingo sunset pink blooms. These open out like stars and the petals arch inwards, protruding the orange pollen laden anthers – incredibly striking and exotic. Lastly, the ethereal Shirley poppies have been incredibly beautiful, flowering in every shade of pink and red imaginable; alas they are very fleeting, but they will self seed readily for next year!
Enjoy the sunshine!
With very best wishes
16th July 2015