Pumpkins are a lot of fun to grow.
The young plants start off looking so innocent and fragile. Then, come July, you take your eyes off them for a moment and they’ve swamped the entire garden with rampant, vicious vines bearing a canopy of huge leaves.
Best of all is the excitement of spotting the gourds that manage to set and start ripening as summer wanes.
Last year we unintentionally grew some enormous varieties, like Blue Hubbard. I’d gone for the names I liked rather than reading the seed packets properly.
We’ve opted for smaller ones this year; Sweet Dumpling, Little Gem, Uchiki Kuri. I had a notion that we could train them up pyramids of stout hazel sticks.
It worked to an extent – except that they went up and over the pyramids and still managed to engulf the best part of the veg patch.
And that’s the problem. Much as I love roasted pumpkin soup, or even just having a pretty row of winter squash on the kitchen windowsill, I’d quite like to grow some other winter veggies. Two or three of the parsnips we sowed have managed to battle through the sea of pumpkins. But the swedes have been totally swamped. And the leeks never had a chance.
So next year I’m going to limit myself to two or three pumpkin plants.
If a lot germinate, I’ll just have to find good homes for them. Or steel myself up to put them in the compost bin.
Last year we decided to add a bed of flowers to the end of the veg patch, just for cutting.
I imagined I’d be gathering armfuls all summer long. In fact, I thought we’d have so many that I’d be able to leave surprise bunches on friends’ doorsteps like some sort of benevolent flower fairy.
I wasn’t quite naive enough to think I could blithely scatter seeds and leave them to their own devices. Instead I sought advice from traditional cut flower grower Benjamin Ranyard of Higgledy Garden. His website is packed with tips, and his seeds are some of the most reliable I have ever grown.
My plan was to start early, sowing seeds in our unheated greenhouse. Then I’d acclimatise the young plants to go out in May. I hoped we’d be picking by the end of June.
At one time I had hundreds of happy little seedlings coming on. Didiscus blue lace, ammi majus, cleome, gaillardia, achillea, larkspur, consolida… I wondered what I’d do with all the leftover plants that we wouldn’t have room for.
Little did I know that the garden would get besieged by rabbits this year. Or that I wouldn’t pick a single flower from the cutting patch.
Only the calendula and borage I interspersed with the veg to help attract pollinators really thrived. There are a couple of sad-looking earthwalker sunflowers but the cleome (pink queen) look quite stunning. One or two cosmos, centaurea and rudbeckia have soldiered on, despite being nibbled within an inch of their lives.
The truth is, I lost heart after so many plants were eaten rabbits. What’s left has pretty much fended for itself since June, battling against the weeds and a rampant squash plant. So I’m leaving the few valiant flowers for the butteries and bees.
Much as I love gardening with my daughter in tow, the time I catch out there after she’s in bed on summer evenings is very precious.
If I’m lucky, I get an hour or so of weeding, deadheading, watering or whatever jobs need doing. Totally uninterrupted.
The garden takes on a whole new personality in the half-light.
Some flowers seem disembodied from their plants – beacons to passing moths.
The borders are less defined; everything is a bit blurred about the edges.
But it has its own quiet beauty.
This week M asked me what ‘blissful’ means. I think pottering in the garden with the bats is as close as you can get.
Tonight I tried to capture it on film. These pics were taken around 9pm, just before the garden descended into darkness.
A couple of days ago we took part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count.
You spend 15 minutes in a sunny spot, count how many butterflies you see, and submit your sightings online.
I knew the buddleia outside the kitchen would be teeming with nectar-lovers desperate for a late afternoon fix. But I couldn’t face spending quarter of an hour breathing its sickly scent. Instead, I set my almost-four-year-old up with her identification sheet between two borders stuffed with rudbeckia, dahlias, gaura lindheimeri and verbena.
Last year’s verbena bonariensis survived the winter and has come back as tall and willowy as ever. We’ve also grown verbena rigida for the first time. What it lacks in height (ours is about a foot tall) it makes up for with an intense, almost glowing purple haze of flowers. Both varieties are popular with butterflies. After watching closely for 15 minutes, you notice how they are repeatedly drawn to the same plants.
M thinks she counted 23, but there was a bit of doubling up as she’d count them twice if they fluttered off and back again. The true total (I think) was 10: 1 green-veined white, 1 peacock, 1 painted lady, 2 commas and 5 small tortoiseshells.
Her enthusiasm, and the fact that she completed the full 15 minutes without flitting off herself, made me think M might be ready to have a go at raising a butterfly from a caterpillar. We’re probably too late this year, but perhaps we’ll try next summer.
Plugging the hungry-gap
It was good to take some time out to look at the garden. The dahlias and verbena have been in full swing for a couple of weeks now, and seem to have plenty of life in them yet. There are lots of other nectar-rich flowers around the place too: cleome, cosmos, eryngium and sedum are all blooming – or about to. We’ve managed to close the hungry-gap between early and late summer.
If you live in the UK and want to take part in the Big Butterfly Count, it’s running until Sunday (10th August). Find out more here: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ .