Friday, 31 January 2014

Summer’s searing heat and sunflowers

Summer’s searing heat has wilted those spring-like blooms and long lush growth spoilt by spring rains. Summer swooped in quickly here and suddenly the lawn browns, the roses disappear, the garden looks tired. Rather like us.

But miraculously, it seems, where there’s a little shade, the hydrangeas lift their heads of mainly white little florets and Crinum (below) open their satin tulip-like bells adding a light fragrance to the garden. (South African Crinum x powellii is a handsome plant with presence when flowering, at nearly 2m tall, but I can never see it without looking at its dirty petticoats and remembering my favourite horticultural lecturer’s words about the foliage of this plant as being like `a badly made compost heap’! - Professor James Hitchmough.)

Today I discovered the first of the sunflowers, a charmer called `Ice Spray’ (top), suitably pale, but not washed out. I’d planted a row in front of the veg patch and I am hoping, very much, that they are not a traditional, one-flower-per-stem variety but a generous plant that has branches of flowers that may go on until the cool winds arrive. What I particularly like is the pale centre; I don’t warm to a black centre which is particularly inharmonious when teamed with white petals.

Some are planted amongst Jerusalem artichokes, from a friend, which look like they are planning to flower soon, too; the combination will be interesting...
From the veg patch I've been happily collecting seed: kale red Russian and black Tuscan; ruby chard; mustard greens; and from the flower garden white umbellifers – lacy heads if they weren't so large - giant hogweed (see post 15/12/13) and Orlaya. I've even found some old pods of broad beans; it’s intensely satisfying (if a little untidy in the kitchen as they dry). This sunflower is so pretty that I’ll try to collect seed from it too.
Nectarines have ripened on our dwarf tree near the kitchen and I suspect we donate a high percentage to visiting birds (below). (Our first peaches, too: delicious.) I've brought a few in, a little firm (nectarines, not parrots), and eaten them when ripe but it’s not a perfect system yet. Off to the iron worker for some good hoops I think, and (very important) some good netting that won’t entangle the native birds.
The soil is already quite hydrophobic but still the newly wallaby-proofed fence continues its magic and (some) plants are still growing: I have flowers instead of dry sticks; it’s very exciting after 20 years, you see.

Jill Weatherhead  is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead  Garden Design. (

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