Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Cristo's June 18th!

The great man himself

So, what’s so special about June 18th? Well, it kind of goes a little like this.
I can never remember from where I heard it, and it certainly wasn’t from the great man himself, but I have often quoted the great Christopher Lloyd who believed that gardens reach their peak on June the 18th.  In fact, myth has it that he actually gardened with this date in mind, spending the first half of the gardening year working up to this horticulturally picture perfect day. As I say, I can’t recall exactly where I heard or read it, but I’m certainly not making it up! I definitely heard it somewhere.

To be teased by the teasels!
Anyway, whether it be truth or myth, it certainly has Cristo’s stamp of wit and wisdom about it.

It sounds like the kind of thing he would say, so I’m sticking with it!

Think about it for a moment, around that time, perhaps the weekend closest to that date, go poke your nose into a few gardens and I guarantee that they'll be hitting their annual peak around then. Of course, it makes complete sense when you think about it and smacks of the stupefyingly obvious.

Our gardens closely follow our clocks and calendars, the quarterly seasons and the associated weather patterns. Although we often remain completely unaware, we too are intimately related to the changes in our seasons, our ever-changing weather; the ebb and flow of daylight length, the rising and falling of our plant life, and so on.  You could almost set your watch by the various seasonal tasks required in the garden, with a tick-list too long to recount here!

le maison et le jardin
Look at where we are now, around Cristo’s June 18th. Gardens are at their peak. The soft lush foliage of trees and shrubs has reached maturity in shape, size and colour. Flowering time reaches its peak also, with probably the highest number of summer-flowering plants reaching their colourful best. Insect activity is also at its busiest and day length is fully extended with a solstice sun reaching its zenith. With this is mind, I’ve often heard designers say that Chelsea is a few weeks too early in the year, and that Hampton Court is a few weeks too late. Why neither of these famous shows are staged in mid-June is beyond me! 

Such successional abundance!
Then, following the hectic, heady heights of June, gardens begin a very slow decline: resting into a sulky July, often  overworked and somewhat exhausted by August, before receiving a little pick-me-up from the freshening winds of September.

As a gardener, people often ask me how I get through the winter months. Well, believe me, December and January are often busier months in the garden than July and August! In fact, many gardeners I know prefer to holiday in August, due to the general inactivity in the garden. Usually, by then, both gardener and garden need a rest!
With autumn comes another period of intense activity in the garden. Helping to put a garden to bed, rushing around behind it as it descends into dormancy is quite a skill, and is closely linked to its opposite – that of opening it up again (letting it unfold) in the spring: autumn and spring are more closely related than you would think. Rather gloomily, I once told my students that pre-winter work in the garden is not too dissimilar from assisted dying, in that your task is really one of helping your plants to die with both dignity and grace!

Those low autumnal tones I mentioned.
Of course, for new perennial lovers such as myself, September - and into the autumn - remains my favourite time of the year. I always plan to see many naturalistic gardens around this time: Scampston, Pensthorpe, Sussex Prairies, the Oudolf borders at Wisley, and so on. The combination of the many perennial daisies (asters, heleniums, rudbeckias), coupled with ornamental grasses reaching their beautiful best, and all backlit with low autumnal tones mingled with a chilly breeze is, to me at least, easily the most enchanting period of the garden.

Caryopteris x clandonensis
So as you can see, for most people, the horticultural crescendo that reaches its peak around the summer solstice really is a garden at its height. By then, all of it is pretty much up and doing so to speak. Okay, there may be a bit of wiggle room either side of that date, two or three weeks of weather wobble causing flowering advances or delays, but generally that is when our cottage style gardens are at their best.
As you can probably guess, the flowering window for most plants is relatively short - only a few weeks at most - and these windows open and close in quick succession throughout the year.  However, it is only now that the luminous June sunshine throws a brilliant gloss on to our plants and beckons us to throw open the largest window of them all – an invitation to simply get out there and see for ourselves!

It's all so good.....!

Le Jardinier.
Bye for now....

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