Anna Taylor, owner of Anna’s Flower Farm in Audley End, shares what’s going on in the garden this month
When the world seems topsy-turvy and uncertain, our gardens are a refuge. As I write, the birds are singing, recent rainfall is dripping from dahlia leaves, and I can see weeds to pull and seed heads to pinch off. Nature is oblivious to this roller coaster of a year, growing away and doing its thing regardless.
The gardens are better than ever. We have been working on the ‘Walled Garden’ since late 2016 and the ‘Braybrooke’ since 2018. So much has happened since then, and the approach and purpose has changed many times over that period. But the constants – ranunculus flowering in April, roses in June, dahlias in September – return each year. With the smallest interventions from me, the plants grow. My tasks really boil down to introducing the plant to the soil, material to the compost heap and then returning it to the soil. In one way or another, the cycle continues with the compounded effect of effort rewarded.
When I first started gardening over 20 years ago – with youthful, arrogant confidence and an overwhelming lack of knowledge – I was assured that plants want to grow. It is their ‘raison d’etre’ – little to do with me! I have had successes and failures. Some can be predicted easily. Should a seed stay in the packet, there is little to no chance of harvesting a fruit or flower from it. Others are less predictable, like the nicandra that usually self-seeds everywhere, but is hardly to be seen this year. And the very little that grew isn’t where I would have chosen. I’m going to have to make some tough decisions and decide which plants will mature. The nicandra has selected my favourite psychedelic annual chrysanthemum as its bedfellow. These two do not cohabit kindly and I am dithering over which to favour.
Last year, every plant was desiccated by slugs, pinched out again and again. This year, they are rising up, about to flower magnificently, and I can’t wait. The anticipation is all the sweeter for it.
The rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’ is taller than me already and still has a couple of months of flowering ahead. It was originally a plant gifted 15 years ago and has moved with me, waving its sunshine daisy petals against the summery, deep blue sky until I took it for granted and just one plant remained. Two years ago, our gardening club split up a huge but tired clump that was sulkily refusing to flower. Last year, every plant was desiccated by slugs, pinched out again and again. This year, they are rising up, about to flower magnificently, and I can’t wait. The anticipation is all the sweeter for it.
This summer, I have hardly any ammi, orlaya or nigella, so I am sowing these now for early plants to remedy their absence. I’m also germinating echinacea, hollyhocks and baptisia – perennials that will take a few years to bulk up enough to cut from.
Many years of experience has left me more patient and perhaps a bit more grateful for gardening: its stories, memories and generosity. I am smugly sage about my mistakes, but wildly optimistic about the future. I know successes are often luck over judgement – nature over my nurture. But if I remember to stake and net my annuals ahead of summer storms, deadhead and cut back spring flowering perennials, it certainly helps the results into late summer.
This month, the gardens are a raft in unpredictable waters. We aren’t overwhelmed by tasks, so I enjoy the long shadows and cool of the mornings, slinking away in the late evening to water deeply once a week, feed with my homemade (stinky) comfrey tea and snip off flowers as they go over. It’s a daily reset, and I think the garden supports me more than I do in return. It’s a tacit, symbiotic relationship – and we are both rewarded handsomely.