Summer is really for just enjoying the garden.
There are minor chores, if you want to call them that, but really these a pretty pleasurable: deadheading, tying in a tendril here, pulling out a weed there, eating a strawberry, sniffing a rose.
I do a lot of basking. We can call it mindfulness if you like, but really it’s just basking.
Sitting in the sun, listening to the bees buzz amongst the Salvia and Geraniums, watching the flower-heads wave as the dogs make their way through secret tunnels to the back of the borders…
And basking in this way on my sunlounger yesterday, peering through this hole in the lime tree’s canopy, made me think about looking at things from a different angle.
So I went and laid down on my back in front of the border, and this is what I saw.
I spent a long time looking up through Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’. The stems flick from side to side as a bee visits first one flower, then another. I saw bumble bees of various sizes, their pollen sacks on either side of their body full to bursting. There were also honey bees and hover flies. Looking closely from this angle helped me to appreciate the tiers of flower that are stacked up the spine of the salvia. They are bigger and more spaced out lower down, just like a cake stand, or a Chinese pagoda. I like the way some of the tops are just bending towards the sun. They are basking too.
I shuffled along on my shoulders to Geranium ‘Dragon Heart’. The bees love this too. These flowers are huge for a geranium, and open out flat to make the most of the sunshine. The black veining shines, and there are tiny protrusions on the surface of the petal to give it an iridescent sheen. The veining and the iridescence are to attract insects. When a bee lands on a flower, it rocks from side to side, with more movement than the salvia. The strength of those stems is incredible.
Here is Rosa ‘Summer Song’. It has a really unusual burnt orange colour. I sniffed a flower and was blown away by the strength of the scent. It is described in my David Austin book as ‘chrysanthemum leaves; hint of tea’. However yesterday it was in a very fruity mood. I got mango and passion-fruit and pineapple. I was struck by the elegant shape of the calyx, the green parts that hold the flower. There are five sepals, just as there are five petals on a single rose. These are then multiplied when a rose is a double flower. Roses love maths.
I moved along to Penstemon ‘Pensham’s Plum Jerkum’, which is just developing flower buds. I love the arching stems. I had never noticed before that they are red. This complements the deep purple flowers. I will be taking lots of photos of this penstemon as it comes in to flower. The leaves are also beautifully arched. Whilst the flower stems all arch to the left, away from the afternoon sun, the leaves arch on both sides of the stems, in evenly-spaced pairs. I like the way the light is shining through to give different greens.
This is a lovely combination, with Peony ‘Karl Rosenfield’, Geranium ‘Brookside’ and Alchemilla mollis. There is Rosa ‘Thomas a Beckett’ waiting to come into flower behind, and then the willow trees way up above. Looking from below, I can appreciate these storeys of height, and the way their tips catch the light.
Geranium ‘Brookside’ looks ephemeral in the sunlight. It has such a delicate tracery of stem, leaf, petal, curled stigma, empty calyx and cranesbill seedhead. There is a fine down on everything, which adds to the effect. I also like the contrast with the strong verticals of Crocosmia foliage. It has dark stripes going up its blade, where the leaves are slightly pleated. If you look really closely, you can see a shadow-puppet show of Geranium leaves on the Crocosmia foliage.
The foliage of peonies also bears close inspection. The leaves undulate and catch the light in interesting ways. The veins are translucent, and there are all sorts of shadows where leaves overlap and ripple. Peony foliage provides structure in the summer border. It is strong and stiff, and so can support the lax sprawlers, like Geraniums. This means I don’t have to truss up my plants with stakes and string. Roses also provide this sort of support for their neighbours.
Alchemilla mollis features a lot in my garden. I use it at the front of the border to provide lovely pillowy mounds to soften the edges. This border has reached maturity now, and so the Alchemilla is over half a metre in height. I was really pleased with the rhythmic repetition of plants along the border today. Repetition of groups like this gives a calming effect. Our brains like patterns.
Looking up at Alchemilla, you can see why its flowers provide a wonderful light frothiness. They throw out these spumes of tiny lime-green flowers, with landing-pads of leaves between. The way the leaf encircles the stem reminds me of a treehouse, or the platforms we stood on when we did ‘Go Ape’ the other week.
My eye is drawn to another Geranium, my favourite, ‘Anne Thomson’. I love those curls on the stigma of the spent flower! Again, there are five of them, along with five sepals, and the five petals that have fallen. I love too the darker colouration where the petals overlap on the surrounding flowers. You can see here how plants spread their canopy, just like trees do, so each leaf and flower can get to the light. Even between neighbouring plants, here in the case of Alchemilla mollis, they make space for one another. There is enough light for everyone.
Here is the foliage of Phlox paniculata ‘Starfire’. The flowers of this plant will be very dramatic: brightest magenta-pink. They really fizzle with the more purple-magenta Geranium next door. But for now it is the foliage that is providing the interest. I love the feathered veining, with the contrast of lime and bronze. The veining on leaves and petals echoes our own. Nature has found an efficient way to bring nutrients to all the parts that need them. It also happens to be beautiful.
Clematis is weaving ever higher. It reached the top of its obelisk some time ago, and is now circling around, looking for a landing place. The strength of this plant also astonishes me, as does its tenacity when it finds something to hold on to. It stitches itself into its framework, becoming part of the fabric. In this case, I think it will choose Rosa ‘Benjamin Britten’. The rose is giving the Clematis a hand up, at no detriment to itself. The deep purple Clematis and the coral-red rose look radiant together.
Can I just quickly show you Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’? It’s ‘flowers’ have now faded to soft apricot-orange, and it is the stems and foliage that now provide the sculpture. When seen at an angle, you can, oddly, appreciate the verticals and horizontals!
And just one more, under the lime tree. I don’t often photograph this area, as it is quite dark. But I often want to capture the purple of Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ weaving through the Euphorbia and Alchemilla and Geums. Green is always the dominant colour here, with little pops of intense colour, like gems.
And here is Ruby, seen from below, panting. But what a pretty muzzle she has. That’s Ziggy’s tail too.
I spent the rest of the afternoon reading this brilliant book, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.
I reflected that if we never look at things from a different angle we never learn anything new. This book was written because the author was frustrated that when she attempts to talk about racism with white people, they just want to shut her down and tell her about how they are not racist. This way, they never learn anything new.
Sometimes we need to listen, not to speak. We need to look at things from the other person’s perspective, rather than defending our own. That way we can share space, allow others to spread, and all get to the light.
Please feel free to share this post on social media by clicking the icons below. Or email it to anyone you think might enjoy it too.