garden maintenance

Campion Cull

I have often mentioned the rose campion, Lychnis coronaria. It’s one of the easiest of garden perennials, practically a weed, in fact. It resists drought, tolerates shade, comes in white or what I call “magenta” (a dark purplish red, anyway), and seeds mightily.

That, of course, is why my place has more than enough of this plant. In the first flush of summer bloom, the white form is visually dominant in the back garden.

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Multiple clumps of white-flowered campion

The thing is, I find it impossible to yank out or dig up a plant that looks healthy, especially if it’s in full bloom. L. coronaria manages to look too good to kill most of the time, especially if deadheaded. This extends the bloom season and delays the onset of seediness. By July or August, deadheading 3 dozen or more plants gets to be a pain, especially those that are hard to get at. I resort to cutting the flowering stalks down or removing them altogether. That minimizes seed production, but does not eliminate it. Which is why I have so many plants.

This winter has been relatively tough, and one effect of that is that the campion plants look distinctly shabby.

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Noticing this, I seized the opportunity and a digging tool, and did a bit of a cull. Of course, there was no way to tell which plants were white-flowering and which were magenta, but I concentrated on spots I recalled as having way too many of the white form.

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Results of the massacre — a pile of pulled up campion plants.

At its best, the white-flowered form is as cool and elegant as many difficult perennials.

July 2, 2012

White Lychnis coronaria and unknown Euphorbia.

 

After the massacre, I started feeling some regret at the number of plants I had removed. Looking around, though, there is no shortage of Lychnis coronaria in this garden. And if I feel there is, all I have to do is let a single plant produce seed and scatter it around. Repopulation is guaranteed.

The Art of Raking

Every day there are more leaves on the ground. The outlines of the garden are growing blurred under a patina of yellow, brown and muddled green. Time to get the rake out of the shed and wield it cleverly.

Leaves being assembled on the grass circle among perennial beds.

Leaves being assembled on the grass circle among perennial beds.

In a place like mine — a mosaic of paths, mixed beds and borders, and small sections of grass (usually known as “lawn”) — raking isn’t just a matter of applying the rake’s tines to the ground and stroking toward oneself. On grass and paths you can do that, but winkling leaves out from among herbaceous and woody plant stems and off groundcovers that range from tough (periwinkle) to fragile (moss) requires attention and a variety of techniques.

A delicate touch works best — don’t bear down hard on the rake, just feather along the surface to snag leaves without beating up the underlying plants. If there are accumulated layers of leaves, keep feathering until most are picked up. It’s all right to leave a few leaves behind; earthworms will take care of them over the winter. Concentrate on removing the heavy, wet leaf buildup that can cause rot. Agile wrist-flicks, turning the rake edgewise in narrow spots, using sideways moves when needed — raking requires a surprising range of arm and hand movements.

Getting leaves out from this kind of situation needs a bit of finesse with the rake.

Getting leaves out from this kind of situation needs a bit of finesse with the rake.

A lightweight rake that’s not too big works best. Bamboo rakes are very light, but I’ve read the ones available today aren’t as well made as in the past, and therefore not as durable. They are also pretty big. My rake of choice is an all-purpose hardware store model, nothing special, really. It’s more than thirty years old, with a wooden handle and metal head, now missing a few tines from each side.  I’ve been checking out rakes in stores lately, and will probably replace the old guy with a similar model that’s no heavier. I also have an all-metal rake whose width can be adjusted with a sliding device on the handle. It’s handy in tight spots or for scooping floating leaves from the pond surface, but is heavier than the wooden-handled dude, and not as well-balanced, so I don’t use it that often. For pond “raking,” a device made from a broom handle, wire coat hanger and a plastic onion bag works quite well, and is a lot lighter.

The Old Reliable is on the right, and the Adjustable on the left.

The Old Reliable is on the right, and the Adjustable on the left.

Leaves that are slightly damp are easier to manage than crackly-dry ones, which float around and are hard to corral. On paved surfaces, a surprisingly effective way to move big piles of leaves is to use feet and legs (encased in rubber boots, of course) in a kind of shuffling motion to push the leaves along. I regularly do this when I’m putting together the huge pile of leaves to be collected from the boulevard by the municipality. Really wet leaves are heavy and disgusting, so it’s best not to put off leaf management too long, at least in places that get a lot of rain in the autumn.

Raking for a couple of hours is pretty good exercise, especially for the upper body. And it’s a pleasant way to spend time in the autumn garden, especially on a nice day — almost sunny, almost warm, without wind. In my recent raking session, I also cut down old perennial stalks, yanked out some elderly rose campion plants, and thought about projects for next spring. In the end, I had tangible evidence of my industriousness in the form of a nice big pile of leaves awaiting removal to the compost heap, and without any of the noise-induced stress I imagine accompanies a session with a leaf-blower. (But then, I consider leaf-blowers to be abominations; maybe some get a feeling of power from the roar they emit).

A classic leaf pile.

A classic leaf pile.

Taking the rake around the garden is the last dance of the gardening year. Whether it’s a waltz, a samba or a tarantella depends on the quantity of leaves, the terrain being raked, and the gardener’s urgency to get the job done.

 

Plants on the Move

Fall is a time for migrations. OK, plants don’t usually pull up their roots and go south for the winter, but this is an excellent time for gardeners to shift or divide the plants in their gardens. A week and a half ago, just before some scheduled minor surgery, I carried out a couple of projects.

Project #1. Quite a few of my plants have moved at least once since they came to this garden — usually in search of sunnier spots with fewer tree roots competing for water and nutrients. Earlier this year I made a list of Plants That Need To Be Moved. The demise of an old lavender shrub in the sunniest perennial bed was a blessing. I have a replacement, grown from a cutting, but I’ll have to find a different spot for it, because its former location — a space about the size of a bath mat — presented an opportunity to re-home almost the entire list.

Wide-open spaces freed up by demise of lavender shrub!

Wide-open spaces freed up by demise of lavender shrub!

 

Another view of the possibilities.

Another view of the possibilities.

The spot now accommodates two nameless yellow and white late-blooming iris, two purple Siberian iris, one Geranium “Johnson’s Blue,” one blue veronica, one Astrantia major, one Potentilla tonguei, and one small stem of Sedum “Bertram Anderson.”

Transplants settling in to their new space.

Transplants settling in to their new space.

OK, I know I’ve jammed too many plants into this spot. But consider: the irises are skinny and are cuddled up against a tall aster (whose bare legs are visible in the photo) that has attained its full growth for the year. And the other plants are undersized due to having endured poor conditions in their old spots, and will take a while to plump up. At that point, some adjustments will be needed. Those adjustments are an important part of gardening, so I’m just ensuring I’ll have something to do in a year or two. A thought occurred to me the other day: There is no point in having a garden, except to have an arena in which to do the activities that constitute gardening. (I’m speaking here of ornamental gardening, of course; growing food is another matter altogether).

Project #2. Several years ago, I prepared a small bed under a magnolia for a planting of Meconopsis X “Lingholm” (or, at any event, plants grown from seed collected from a known specimen of “Lingholm”).

Meconopsis bed, newly dug in April 2012

Meconopsis bed, newly dug in April 2012

The blue poppies bloomed well that spring, but since then have done poorly. I decided to dig up the plants, improve the soil and replant.

My estimation of the survival abilities of my Meconopsis plants has greatly increased, after removing 2 cubic feet of loofah-like magnolia feeding roots from the bed and the root balls of every one of the seven surviving blue poppies. I replaced the removed roots with an equal amount of nicely rotted compost. Most of the Meconopsis look better already, and I hope all seven will sprout out and bloom next spring. Transplanting in fall usually means you have to wait until the following spring to see real results.

 

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In the meantime, I’m forbidden to do any real digging, root ball wrestling or lugging buckets full of compost for the next few weeks, so the only thing to do is admire the new plantings, make more lists, and hope.

 

July in the Garden: Planning and Plant Management

July isn’t a month for starting new garden projects. It’s not a good time to move plants around, too early to plant bulbs, too late to start vegetable or annual seeds (except for winter vegetables, maybe) and too hot for serious digging, sod-stripping and other labours.

Maintenance is the thing now: keeping an eye on everything, making sure water is supplied as needed, lawn mowing, edge clipping, and deadheading. While engaged in all that, the gardener inevitably notices Things That Must Be Done. Just not now. All these tasks and projects are written down in the Garden Notebook.

Garden Notebook

Garden Notebook

 

For example:  Blue irises have crowded out the blue Veronica in the Old Front Bed; and Geranium “Johnson’s Blue” and Limonium latifolium are in too much shade. Must remove some of the irises OR move the Veronica, Limonium and Geranium to sunnier spots. I hesitate to rip out the irises, because they bloomed so well this past spring.

An old lavender in the New Front Bed is on its last legs and scheduled for removal. That will free up a spot suitable for “Johnson’s Blue” as well as some of the Siberian irises now struggling along in deep, dry shade near the driveway. The Veronica can go into a spot a few feet to the west of its present location, currently occupied by a rather pushy Sedum that has taken over more space than it deserves. A small, sunny spot in the New Front Bed near Saponaria “Max Frei” is perfect for the Limonium, or at least can be made perfect by judicious removal of other things, keeping in mind that “Max” is a bit pushy when in full bloom.

Sometimes I think gardening is like running a hotel for the fussy and infirm.

On the other hand, there are plenty of plants that need “managing” rather than cosseting. One that does almost too well here is good old Lychnis coronaria, the Rose Campion. Now that I have time, I have managed to keep up with deadheading my dozens of plants, even though that means snipping off each faded flower individually. It helps that most of them are between knee and waist level, and I can get at most of the plants without acrobatics. But it is a seriously tedious task, one best done in a “Zen” frame of mind.

Rose Campion and deadheading equipment.

Rose Campion and deadheading equipment.

Another reliable plant that seeds prolifically is the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica (had to include that Latin moniker, of course!). Years ago, someone gave me a plant of the basic orange form. Then I bought seeds of a strain called “Thai Silks,” and a few years after that acquired seeds of a white or cream-coloured form. These have mixed and mingled, with bumblebees moving pollen around, so every year there is a different proportion of colours.

June 19, 2016

California poppies in 2010.

California poppies in 2010.

The only problem with these easy-going plants is that by mid to late July they lose their looks — floppy, too many seed pods, not enough flowers. The thing to do at that point is harvest some of the seeds by snipping off almost-ripe pods, and then cut the plants to within an inch or two of the ground. They quickly put out fresh growth and are blooming again in a few weeks, much to the delight of gardener and bumblebees. Oh, about those seed pods — when ready, they split and spew seeds all over the place, so put them in a glass or a jelly jar to contain the explosions.

Pink California Poppy and Lemon Thyme.

Pink California Poppy and Lemon Thyme.

And now, back into maintenance mode…

 

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Tools of garden maintenance (except the rock, of course).

 

New Front Bed in July.

Part of New Front Bed in July.

August in the Garden: Weeds and Visions

In one of my favourite garden books — My Weeds : a gardener’s botany — Sara B. Stein reveals that by the end of July she has “had it with weeds and gardens.” She no longer bothers to pull up weeds and spends the month of August in a place without a garden, and therefore without weeds. Whatever plants happen to grow there are fine; there is no need to identify any as weeds and struggle to remove them from the scene. Gardening makes some plants into weeds. Without the gardener, the garden is taken over by weeds and ceases to be a garden.

Stein outlines some of the measures she used in her own garden to make it less dependent on her attentions — using native species when possible, along with non-natives that are at home in the same conditions as they. This means revising paper garden designs and compromising on colours, but the results, she hopes, will make her gardens less sad when she can no longer look after them. In a garden populated by plants that are quasi-weeds, the gradient between “garden” and “untended nature” is less steep.

I have often thought that a similar approach would make gardening less of a struggle in the latter part of the summer in a climate with little or no summer rainfall. Especially in a garden whose soil is sandy and full of tree roots. Artfully arrange the tough plants that tolerate such conditions and voila — a garden that looks after itself. Of course there will still be mowing and edging, cutting back and cutting down, and yes, some weeding too, but no longer that feeling of battling an implacable adversary who is slowly winning, cosseting feeble darlings and helplessly watching them succumb despite my efforts.

August is a good month for me to think about this, because my garden looks pretty sad, at least in the harsh light of noon. There is a weary, crispy look to things. It would be seedier if I hadn’t done a lot of deadheading and cutting down of old stalks in the past week. The pond area is especially beaten-down, thanks to the busy paws of a raccoon family — a mother and two or maybe three little guys. I should be used to this by now; there’s always a raccoon family. Several generations may have spent the summer here since we dug the pond in 1993. I don’t mind, really. In a way it’s good to know my patch provides shelter and a livelihood to creatures, but I wish they didn’t make such a mess. The plantings around the pond are supposed to be lush and jungly, a green oasis even in summer, but it’s hard to sustain that illusion when plants are broken down and mashed flat.

Never mind. I originally meant to say that August is a sort of time-out month in the garden. The plans and aspirations of spring have either succeeded or failed by now. It’s not too early to make some new plans; indeed, September is a great month for reworking and replanting. Rip out a Senecio that has never looked good, along with excess Geranium sanguineum (a rather sneaky spreader) and replace with the young plants of white Echinacea grown from seed this spring. Someday they will be joined by a Dierama and Gaura that are now just seeds in pots. Liatris looks great with white Echinacea, and there is a soft orange poppy, none of whose names I know, that would be just the accent for the planting.

Who knows how these notions will turn out in reality?

That’s the thing about gardening — so much of it is done in the gardener’s mind and in some perfect future. Much better than futzing with weeds.

 

The "jungle" by the pond (in June)

The “jungle” by the pond (in June)

Lessons Re-Learned

Epimedium "Frohnleiten"

Epimedium “Frohnleiten”

Today was my first full day of gardening since last fall (not counting the pruning session in March). While generally happy with things in my little plot, I was reminded of a few truths for those who garden in small spaces (anything less than half an acre).

1. Never plant any shrub that suckers, no matter what sentimental associations it may have, or that it’s a native plant, or that some garden writer you admire spoke highly of it. This includes Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) and the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris). It also includes the woody perennial (not quite a shrub) Phygelius (also known as Cape figwort). I have all of these, and spend several unpleasant hours every year yanking, snipping and sawing their adventurous shoots. It’s an especially unrewarding task because I know most of the shoots will re-sprout and new ones will join them. It’s too late to remedy my unfortunate plant selection decisions, however, since the original shrubs, now huge and deeply rooted, would require immense labour or dynamite (or both) to dislodge them. Beware of rampaging groundcovers as well, such as ivy and Vinca major. Even the deceptively dainty-looking Vinca minor has thuggish tendencies.

2. If your garden looks like a hopeless mess at this time of the year, do three things before you give up on it:  mow the lawn, edge the beds and cut down last year’s old stalks. This will instantly impart the look of a managed garden and motivate you to make further improvements by weeding, loosening the soil, introducing new plants and mulching. Even if the plants occupying the beds are nothing special, this treatment will make them look better. (This applies to perennial and mixed ornamental beds; vegetable gardens are another thing altogether).

3. If your garden is mainly one of tough, drought- and tree-root-tolerant perennials and shrubs along with various bulbs, don’t expect plants with more exacting requirements to do well or even survive without a lot of special attention. They are already having to put up with less than ideal growing conditions and will be no match against tough, colonizing plants such as peach-leaf bellflower, lamb’s ears, toadflax and rose campion. If you can’t provide them with a separate bed, keep an eye out for their early spring growth and make sure they aren’t overwhelmed by their robust, faster-growing companions. I say this after rescuing Thalictrum delavayi “Hewitt’s Double” and even Geum chiloense “Mrs. Bradshaw” (which isn’t generally considered a delicate thing, but is treated like one in my rooty patch). As for my blue poppies (Meconopsis), they have their own slender slice of earth to dwell in, but I wonder if it’s too close to a rather hefty magnolia. They have sprouted out quite well, all seventeen of them, so I have hopes.

Henry Mitchell said, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn. This was said about literature, but it really fits gardening better.” Very true.

Fiddleheads of Dryopteris filix-mas

Fiddleheads of Dryopteris filix-mas

Plants Are Not Furniture

Plants are not furniture, but some people try to use them as if they were. Books on landscaping and garden design often advise turning one’s plot of land into a set of “garden rooms” separated by hedges, trellises, shrubs or changes in elevation. That analogy is useful, but some take it further, instructing the homeowner to furnish the garden rooms with suitable plant material as well as actual furniture such as benches.

In selecting plants for a particular space, the architectural approach is useful. It makes sense to think of shapes and proportions before going to a nursery or plant catalogue. This approach, however, cannot ignore the fact that plants are living things that grow and change.

I began thinking about this topic upon seeing brand new gardens laid out and existing plantings undergoing maintenance. The new gardens look so promising — young, healthy, compact plants spaced out in plots of freshly turned and enriched soil, oriental hellebores alternating with ornamental grasses, and a few shrubs to add height. Very nice.

The established planting was one near a large new commercial/residential development intended to have a “village” atmosphere. More than a year ago, legions of blue fescue and lavender plants were installed in a long strip along a major road. At the time I wondered how they would fare, while acknowledging that they looked pretty good, lush yet neat. Recently, an army of landscaping company personnel trimmed, raked and mulched the planting, refreshing it and restoring tidiness.

Looking out at my as yet un-edged and mostly untrimmed beds, I felt more than a twinge of envy at the thought of these orderly plantings, but I have been a gardener long enough to know that application of considerable resources is needed to maintain this state. Plants, as I’ve already said, grow and change. The sofa and coffee table in one’s living room don’t double in bulk over the years or die out in the middle. Rugs may get grubby but they don’t start expanding into adjoining rooms. Perennials, shrubs and groundcovers do all these things, some very quickly. The only way to keep them within the bounds intended for them is to prune, shape, divide and sometimes replace. Even so, some plants die and others fill the spaces left vacant by their deaths. Unintended plants, weeds and others, creep in. The owner of the property may grow tired of the struggle and give up. A few years later there is little or no bare soil to be seen and the proportions and colour schemes so carefully worked out at the planning stage are gone.

If the neat, newly-planted or strictly maintained look is wanted, there are only a few solutions — rip everything out and replace it all at regular intervals, say annually or every two or three years, or choose a few plant varieties that lend themselves to regular trimming, plant them in masses and hire an outfit to keep them in shape.

But is that gardening?

Gardening is more than just keeping things orderly in the “outdoor living space.” Gardening is entering into a relationship with the plants and other living things in the garden, and negotiating with them to achieve a result that is visually and spiritually rewarding. The gardener learns what a plant does through the course of its life, rather than ripping it out when it loses its juvenile charm. Years of successes and failures, experiments and happy surprises, all of that gives a garden a history and makes the person who acquires plants and works with them into a gardener.

Too Many Leaves!

I spent this morning wading through masses of fallen leaves, overloading my compost pile with them, fishing them out of my pond and in the end cursing them.

There seem to be way more leaves than usual this fall, most likely because we have had fewer windy days and the leaves stayed close to home, rather than being blown to other people’s yards. Anyone who has read the garden-related posts on this blog must know that I often complain about the trees (Norway maples and a Tree of Heaven) that make my garden drier and shadier than I would like. I have also muttered about too much wind. Now that I’ve had to deal with the results of a windless autumn, I may appreciate windy days more, at least while leaves are falling.

In The Essential Earthman, gardener Henry Mitchell commented wryly on people’s zest for raking up fallen leaves, “as if the fate of the garden depended on raking them immediately.” It’s true that raking leaves is a fairly simple-minded chore and perhaps more fun than cutting down peony and daylily stalks, planting bulbs and pruning roses. A big pile of leaves with bare lawn around it surely does show that a gardener has been industrious.

Never mind that I, like the improvident gardener Mr. Mitchell speaks of, haven’t as yet cut down my peony stalks, or, for that matter, those of asters or the trailing stems of Geranium “Anne Folkard,” which wrap themselves around the rake like tentacles when I try to rake leaves from the perennial beds. Wouldn’t it be much easier to rake if I took the time to cut down those stalks and stems first? Of course, but then who says a gardener is always rational?

Tidiness aside, there are a few good reasons to rake leaves. First, thick mats of leaves on the crowns of perennials can lead to rot and slug attacks when the plants sprout in spring. Second, leaves blur the edges of garden features such as lawns and paths, imparting an instant air of neglect. That might not bother some gardeners, but it bothers me.

Having dug up the stepping stones of this path last summer, I would prefer to keep it leaf-free. “What path?” you say. “What stones?” Exactly. Which is why I raked it (yet again) this morning.

Finally, I will mention leaves and ponds. Now I know that installing a pond in the proximity of several large trees is not a good idea, but it’s too late. Every year I spend a considerable amount of energy removing fallen leaves from my pond, and every year quite a few of them sink to the bottom and add to the sludge layer down there. Unlike Henry Mitchell, I do not drain, clean and refill my pond once a year. More like once a decade, so all those sunken leaves are a cause for occasional fretting. Because the pond is the lowest spot in the garden, any nearby leaves tend to end up in it, so it’s important to rake them up.

The trees are finally bare and the majority of leaves corralled in a huge, messy pile (it can’t really be called a compost heap) that will eventually break down into leaf mold, which is always useful in the garden. But the wind has picked up and it promises to be a windy night. I just know there will be leaves in the pond again, and also in the basement stairwell, another popular low spot. I’ll be kept busy chasing leaves until next spring.

Peach-Leaf Bellflower: Garden Enemy #2

I was out in the garden on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, doing what I expected to be routine cleanup — cutting down old perennial stalks, removing the odd overgrown specimen, etc. But I realized I had a bigger problem on my hands — peach-leaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia), entrenched and spreading all over one of my sunnier and tree-root-free perennial beds. A planting of variegated irises and a specimen of Eryngium yuccifolium were threatened with oblivion as the peach-leaf pest sent out new offsets and and an ever-thickening mat of roots.

I happily included this plant in my post called Tough Plants for Dry Shade, and I still think it belongs there, but now I issue a warning:  do not plant Campanula persicifolia in places other than dry shade, especially if you garden on light, sandy soil. In hospitable, sunny spots, it becomes a rampant thug. Plant delphiniums there instead.

In a hasty attempt to get rid of the unwanted bellflowers, I went from hand-pulling (useless except for seedlings or brand-new offsets), to stabbing with a trowel, to deploying the gardener’s big gun — a digging fork. That did the trick, except that I dug up a bunch of tulip and crocus bulbs along with the bellflower mats, and, worst of all, sliced off a nice hyacinth bud that was awaiting spring under the soil surface.

That’s the really awful thing about spreading plants — they cover up other plants and, unless the gardener has a really good memory and/or really meticulous records, render them invisible. The busy gardener glances over a bed and sees nice, healthy plants of peach-leaf bellflower, totally forgetting about the irises, eryngiums and bulbs that were planted there in the first place. When the truth finally dawns and Something Must Be Done Right Now, havoc and destruction ensue.

Some may say I’m being unfair to Campanula persicifolia. Just because I was too lazy to keep an eye on things, I need not vilify the bellflower, which is an attractive and reliable plant. Maybe so, but gardeners should know about a plant’s bad habits before they introduce it into their premises, so I think this screed is justified. (And of course I’m still upset about that hyacinth).

On a related topic, following my post on Plant ID, in which I made observations about different kinds of plant labels, I actually received as a Christmas gift a couple of dozen rather nice permanent metal labels with solid plastic stakes to hold and display them. I’ve decided to use them to mark valued plants that are at risk of being overwhelmed by the rambunctious “tough plants” that I have allowed to proliferate here. The idea is that the labels will remind me to check on the well-being of the plants they represent, thus ensuring that the markers will not be of the RIP sort.

Oh yes — and what is Garden Enemy #1? In my garden, it’s those maple trees, of course. I’ve ranted about them before, and will likely do so again.

What to do in August

Every year since I began this garden, my daily weather-and-garden notes have an entry around August 20 that says “Garden looks like Hell.” That includes this summer, which has been quite cool — perfect, actually, with highs consistently in the low 20s (C, not F). But there has been no rain for the last 31 days, and it shows.

Coming home from work and looking at the garden is a disheartening experience these days. Often, my first impulse is to go inside, close the door and ignore the mess outside. Often I give into that impulse, but eventually (on weekends) I get to the point of Something Must Be Done.

So what can be done to improve the garden in August, if escape is impossible?

It comes down to two things: removal and definition. First, get rid of the stuff that offends the eye. Then clean up the edges. After that, it may be worthwhile to do some watering.

Start by deadheading and cutting down withered stems. Especially cut back anything that has zillions of seeds ripening, such as good old toadflax (Linaria purpurea), campion (Lychnis coronaria) and mullein (Verbascum). A bonus of doing this is that these plants sometimes rebloom in early fall, after the first rains. In the meantime, their old, seedy remains are no longer giving that tired, unkempt look to the scene. Get rid of anything that looks dead (or is dead). Colour is a clue — brown, khaki and white are often indications of deadness.

Some raking is also in order. Raking? In summer? Most definitely. I get the rake out regularly, at all times of the gardening season. In this windy climate, there is always stuff to be raked up. In late summer, along with the usual blow-downs and blow-ins there are plenty of tired green leaves and prematurely brown ones, as trees thin their leaf burdens in response to drought. Once on the ground, these leaves are certainly no asset to the garden. Removing them instantly improves the look of the place.

Once the scurf has been removed, clarify the edges of the beds and borders by clipping the verges of the lawns; or even edge them, if that hasn’t been done for a while and it’s hard to distinguish beds from lawn. I guarantee that this will make any garden look 100% better, without doing anything else. The whole process is the garden equivalent of a bath, shave and haircut — it doesn’t change the fundamentals but improves the presentation.

Clipped and raked, not too bad for late August

Finally, embrace the season. Maximum growth and flowering has been achieved by many plants, and they are simply past their best. As a reminder of this, all I need to do is visit a nearby park that preserves a remnant of the natural flora of the place in which I garden. At this time of year, it’s a vista of faded greens, browns and bleached white. In contrast to the springtime display of wildflowers and the lush grass of early summer, there isn’t much going on. The place is waiting for rain, for fall and the turn of the year.