Most gardeners dream of growing the tastiest veg, or cultivating the most fragrant blooms, but sometimes, the reality of growing your own bears little resemblance to the airbrushed images presented in glossy gardening magazines. It can be hard, frustrating, even upsetting, with more failures than successes. So, when growing your own gets the better of you, remember, August is the natural shift into a more relaxed time of year. This is when we take the foot off the accelerator, step back a little, and give ourselves a pat on the back, whatever the state of things.
Late summer is when I come to accept the garden for what it is. It’s not going to look any better than it currently does, and for the most part, I’m happy with it. Hedgerows are beginning to look overgrown, fruit trees are weighed-down with ripening fruit, and flowers have crossed their borders to slowly creep across scorched lawns, but August has a laid-back feeling, and it’s something this frantic gardener is slowly coming to terms with. So what if I forgot to tie-in the odd raspberry cane, and I haven’t deadheaded the faded dahlia flowers, and I’ve yet to turn over the compost bay? The bees are still buzzing and the birds are still visiting, so I must be doing something right.
If I’m honest, I’m a little relieved this mellow month has arrived. As a professional gardener I’ve never been so busy. I’m very grateful for it, but spending days in other peoples’ gardens means that I’ve been chasing my tail to keep up with the chores in my own garden. The last few months have been a frantic sprint to get everything done; if gardening ever becomes an Olympic sport, I’ll be there, representing my country!
As I think back, I realise it’s only been three years since I was working in central London as a television producer. In August 2018, the offer had just been accepted on our new house in the country, and our journey to lead The Good Life in rural Suffolk had begun. Now, here we are in summer 2021, and my life couldn’t be more different. Most of my gardening work is long-term contracts on large estates, giving me the opportunity to really leave my mark on them. I love bringing new ideas and implementing seasonal projects, and I recognise the privilege of leaving my ‘green’ fingerprints on these wonderful gardens.
At home, summer harvests are in full swing, but with one eye on autumn, planting winter veg has moved up the jobs list, although I find growing winter veg a much more relaxed affair. Colder temperatures mean less diseases, and I have little need to construct barriers to keep away pesky critters. I’m happy to hand the reins over to winter with the view that what will be, will be. I can’t control the harsher weather, and strangely, I take comfort in it. Jack Frost will try his best to hinder my growing veg, but he’s actually doing me a bit of a favour; the colder temperatures disrupt sleeping pests and sweeten crops such as swede and Brussels sprouts.
At the moment, the winter brassicas are all coming on well, and are growing in pots under mesh on a raised bed. At this time of year, both the cabbage white butterfly and the flea beetle are working their way across the kitchen garden, so barriers are up and eyes are peeled. Originally, these were too be grown on in the greenhouse under mesh, but the tomatoes, peppers, chillies and aubergine plants are so tall this year, the light was struggling to reach my growing seedlings.
Overall, I’m very happy with the kitchen garden. Of course, there are things I’m already thinking I’ll do differently next year. The unseasonable rainfall has sent plants reaching for the skies, but most things look healthy, if a little lost due to all the excess foliage. For now, this gardener is reaching in deep and pushing on to autumn. I’m not going to lie, I’m exhausted. I have days when I think Detective Roger Murtaugh knew what he was talking about:
But, I can’t complain and I remind myself of just how lucky I am, particularly when I think of nurses on the frontline or school teachers trying to navigate their way through these crazy times.
Gardening can be creative, productive and open doors you would never think possible. It’s also very hard work with every season presenting a new challenge. But as we move into August, I’m going to kick back a little and try to enjoy it.
Happy August, folks!