Our vegetables are fast coming on stream, with more variety than we usually manage

July Gardening Miscellany

Weatherwise, it’s been perfect for gardening; just a little rain, but all my newly acquired plants are now well established, and the ‘hungry’ ones – beans and sweet-peas – are fed weekly with diluted seaweed extract. Even though we made a late start (wet and cold in the high Cotswolds) we still have far more produce than two of us can possible consume. My July Gardening Miscellany will take you from our own plot, through the garden gate for inspiration near and far, and then to hopeful holiday-time activities and relaxation. All with gardening as the catalyst, of course.

The flower patch is already attracting a whole range of insects

The flower patch is already attracting a whole range of insects

Creating a flower patch within the vegetable ‘allotment’ has been perfect for attracting insects – mixing climbing vegetables with the flowers has intensified pollination. Vegetable trials of new varieties are ongoing, some are better than others – at least they are in our soil and conditions. Once established, we never water; it’s a waste of precious resources, and with produce and flowers packed close together, the heavy clay ground does not dry out. Though we do take advantage of ‘grey’ water and water butts.

Beyond the Garden Gate

RHS Tatton Park science-inspired show garden from 2013

RHS Tatton Park science-inspired show garden from 2013

Once routine chores of weeding, dead-heading, harvesting and preserving are completed, we look to ‘refilling the well’ of inspiration. My July Garden Miscellany this year should have had me posting ‘live’ from the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, but circumstances have prevented me from being there. ‘The Great Garden Carnival’ is on from now until Sunday – and how I would have loved to be  enjoying the various eclectic styles of unusual show gardens which in previous years have been unlike any I have seen at other shows. Set in magnificent parkland just north of Knutsford (Cheshire),  the Show is divided into four zones, each with its own distinctive theme and flavour. The ‘Grow’ zone is a plant-lovers paradise, whilst ‘Inspire’ will take you, amongst other features, to a spectacular set of show gardens based on ‘The Elements’. The ‘Feast’ zone includes “edible at its most incredible” (explore the ‘Great British Allotments’ section as well), whilst ‘Escape’ will allow you to do just that in a carnival atmosphere, from arts and crafts to Country Living, and a whole lot more. Do visit if you can.

The entrance to Whichford Pottery winds down the drive towards such an amazing array of delights

The entrance to Whichford Pottery winds down the drive towards such an amazing array of delights

Whichford Pottery in south Warwickshire (7 miles south of Shipston-on-Stour) are running a special event this very Saturday (26th July, 10.00am to 5.00pm) entitled ‘Pots, Plants and Pollinators’ – with special talks on “bee-dazzling ideas to attract wildlife to your garden”, plus plants, pots, willow-weaving and honey tasting. And if you miss that, make a note of their ‘Bulb & Pot Bonanza’ (Friday 5th to Sunday 14th September, 10.00am to 5.00pm) offering many unusual varieties of bulbs which are hard to find elsewhere. And whenever you do visit the Pottery, you can now enjoy some superb refreshments in ‘The Straw Kitchen’: serving home-made lunches, brunches, tea, coffee and cake. An oasis of calm on my regular list of places to inspire – not just in my July Garden Miscellany  – whether you sit indoors or surrounded by herbs on the terrace (please note, closed Mondays and Tuesdays, though the Pottery is open).

A book of gardening pleasures

Take a book with you, as I frequently do, and stay awhile eating and drinking coffee or tea after you have wandered around the pottery. How about ‘The Virgin Gardener’ (subtitled “Inspiration for the first-time gardener”)? Sassy author, Laetitia Maklouf (who studied horticulture at The Chelsea Physic Garden), offers clever advice and plenty of glamour whilst demystifying gardening. In fact she does more than that and this is not just for readers new to gardening but will appeal equally to those for whom past failures may have deterred them from moving forwards. Published by Bloomsbury in 2009, it is overflowing with simply gorgeous ideas under the headings of Basics, Decorate, Eat, Drink, Grow, Luxuriate, Extras, and The Lust List.

Painted Lady - ust one of the many butterflies seen in our garden

Painted Lady – ust one of the many butterflies seen in our garden

No matter where you are between now and the 10th August, do your bit for the environment by taking part in the world’s largest butterfly survey. Definitely on my July Gardening Miscellany list. Spearheaded by Sir David Attenborough, President of The Butterfly Conservation Trust, you are urged to help butterflies by allowing a small patch of your garden to grow wild. Sir David explained: “If you have space, why not let a small patch of grass grow out rather than mowing it short; leave a patch for nettles and brambles to flourish. Just these small acts will create much needed butterfly habitat and help provide a lifeline for the UK’s back garden wildlife.” It’s important because butterflies are a key indicator species of the health of our environment – if they are struggling, then many other species are struggling also. Check the gardens you visit as well as your own; and for identification purposes, you can download a pictorial butterfly chart from the BCT website.

Summer Relaxation within my July Garden Miscellany

pre-digital photo

Feverfew in the herb garden: a scan from a print (original photo was shot on film, circa 1970)

Always on my July Gardening Miscellany list are three topics: 1. Veg that can be sown now (such as certain cabbage and winter lettuce) – I’ve left it rather late to check for July, so I visited the ‘what to sow in August section’ on the Dobies website. 2. Collect seedpods that can be used in winter flower arrangements (poppies are perfect). 3. I also look around the garden, and anywhere I visit, for aspects I want to record photographically – so much easier with a digital camera than when one had to wait for prints from a processing house; by the time you had them in your hand, the plants you were photographing were usually past their best. I particularly  like to look for unusual angles, or plant combinations – or tree-bark or stone-walls that can become backgrounds for digitally manipulated collages. Strong sunlight usually bleaches an image, so shoot in early morning or late evening, and check that your own shadow does not fall across your subject!

Created from a map, painted sketches and napkins when garden-touring in Shropshire

Created from a map, painted sketches and napkins when garden-touring in Shropshire

I also take time out to prepare backgrounds for little garden keepsakes or travel journals that I can slip into my art bag and work on when I am away from home. I use old maps, paper-napkins, and my own words and sketches, preparing the pages ready for assembly but stitching them when I am back home. These sell well at craft fairs – eventually, I will paste instructions for their creation on my personal Journaling blog. Scroll down the entries and you will see other keepsakes inspired by gardens and plants, for it is a subject to which I continually return. (Can you spot the fish that leapt out of the river, in the page on the left?)

Two pages from the little book upon which I worked when staying in my caravan in Shropshire earlier this month.

Two pages from the little book upon which I worked when staying in my caravan in Shropshire earlier this month.

the final page ...

the final page …

Do keep visiting this Dobies Blog as I continue my storyline approach of “words, images and ideas to inspire keen gardeners”. I’ll be blogging until the end of September, probably two long posts a month, on a range of topics. And then I will be indulging myself: gardening, photography and creative mixed-media art.