with Charlie Wilkins
The magnificence and splendour of May and June have no equal! Both are gratifying and gracious in their characteristics. The scents and sounds in the garden lure my spirit into seeing miracles on a daily basis and I accept it in wonderment. I sigh with contentment and praise my Higher Being for nature and the most generous gift of creation. Its potential to nurture and care for my bodily needs is just what my inners need. No, May and June have no competition from either the lushness and youth of spring, or the fulsomeness of mid-summer. Listen now and share with me the secret of gardening for the soul.
Of course advice on any subject should be like a gentle fall of snow, and not like a driving storm of hail. It should descend softly and not be uttered hastily. It should inform without overstating, and be of interest to the newcomer and horny-handed alike. As for gardening advice, the best will come from hands-on experience from a man or woman who gained their knowledge from working with plants rather than from books. This has been hard won, it’s accurate and complete.
Flowers in June will come in great succession. I never mind the constant change: the ‘here this week, gone the next’ for it marks the time and the seasons better than any calendar or man-made timepiece. It’s not all changed of course. I still have permanent shapes and what I like to call ‘imposing structure’
Believe it or not, the real pleasure in summer gardening comes from stolen moments in the very early morning (for example) long before the rest of the family even consider rising, for then, plants which have worked up my anticipation over a number of weeks are liable to suddenly ambush me with their youthful look, all fresh-leaved and innocent.
Last week this happened with some English irises (they’re not in the least English, however), showy bulbous plants with lavender blooms spotted yellow atop blue-green foliage of a modest nature. These come and go in under three weeks but their fleeting beauty only makes my desire to see them again next year all the more intense. Not so with the range of Osteospermums I see as I travel this suburb and my own.
In spite of their grand name and exotic South African origin, Osteospermums are merely daisies-the simplest of flowers. The spirit or simplicity is a great magician. The form which it takes in the gardening world is infinite in number, and when it comes to these South African charmers it works in many delightful guises. Get to know any named form and you’ll end up hooked on their willingness to perform for months and months on end. From a planting made this week or next, any variety will settle in warmed, hungry soil, more easily than you or I would settle in a cosy bed during winter. In no time they’ll have bedded in and started the business of forming hummocks of foliage that gets broader as the season advances. By mid-July, expect a profusion of wiry stems to rise up from these mounds and to display elegantly poised blooms in a stunning range of colours. These blooms can be white by day, blue later (as in Silver Sparkler for example) or deep dull red on top and silver-pink beneath or yellow and bronze respectively (Buttermilk).
The priority with these will always be putting them in full sun and deadheading as it becomes necessary. It surprises me how many keen gardeners ignore the latter, or begin to give up from late August onwards. For perfectly sound reasons, the removal of dead heads (on annual flowers especially) has the most marvelous results. They are frustrated in their main aim of setting seed and dying back. They have to set buds and start flowering all over again, usually within 20 days of their seed-bearing efforts being interrupted. In short, it’s a sort of floral contraception.
In the open garden, or in a larger sized terra-cotta pot try a single plant of Osteospermum ‘Silver Sparkler’ (or whatever is available) and be totally satisfied with mats of large daisy-type blooms radiating in pure white from dark blue centres. Most grow to just under two feet in height and associate well with dark shrubs.
Many varieties are on sale but my favourites are both the deep coloured ‘Port Wine’ and gracious ‘Sunny Sonia’. Either will satisfy no end provided they get what sun is going and a spot of liquid feeding every now and again. When it comes to the soft yellow and brown of ‘Buttermilk’ you’ll delight in how it blooms non-stop from about the time it is bought, right up to the very first frosts. Cheap, reliable, easily sourced, and ideal for those hot sunny positions on the patio or exposed border, Osteospermums in any variety are a must for the adventurous gardener and newcomer.
To close let me remind you that even the best variety will insist on a place in the sun and very precise drainage. Given their place of origin it follows that shade and water-logging are not part or parcel of their lifestyle so choose carefully and you may have them for more than a couple of years. In the best of situations and in hungry soil (too rich a setting will have them producing far too many leaves) they’ll continue happily into old, old age.
Box (Buxus fruticosa and varieties) continue to froth, and if you intend to do some clipping and re-shaping, then put the job off until a cloudy day comes along. Sheared during bright sunshine, the cut leaves will scorch and burn readily, later becoming shabby and ugly. Done under cloud cover however, the plants will dry their wounded leaf edges in the amount of time it takes to gather up the clippings. Box is wonderful for year round structure and interest and all it needs is clipping twice a year; early summer and in the autumn.
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