Aimless August gardening
If there is any time of year to be wandering round the garden aimlessly, it must be in high summer. The evenings are still long, the cold wet misery of last winter is just a memory, yet we shall grumble when the temperature rises above 26 degrees, or below 20, moaning it is too hot to garden or too cool for proper summer. The mad spring rush of sowing propagating and planting is over, and although there is still plenty to do, it is not of a strenuous kind, until it is time for hedge trimming.
It is time to stop whatever work you have been doing, make a mug of tea or pour something nice into a glass, and have a look round. You do not mean to garden, so you have no tools with you, but soon you will see something which requires attention. There are many absent-minded jobs catching the eye which can be done one-handed, and of course you will soon be stooping to pull out the odd weed and strands of bindweed, without spilling your drink.
This is gin and tonic gardening. My favourite G+T job is dead heading penstemons. Slide the fingers of your free hand down the gone-over flower head, well down the stem. With a tweak of finger and thumb the stem will snap in a most satisfying manner, and you can post the dead head down out of sight into the bush.
Removing side shoots of tomatoes is similarly satisfying. Old aquilegias sometimes snap nicely, and occasionally do not, which is irritating. Certain stringy and tough stalks will not snap at all, so picking sweet peas without scissors is difficult if you do not have a long sharp thumbnail. Seedlings of fat hen and nipplewort will always come out cleanly with the steady pull of one hand, but you must put your glass down to deal with dandelions, creeping buttercup and plantain. It is better to return another day suitably tooled up.
Having done that, I hope you will have the time to have a sit down and finish your drink in peace. If you have designed your garden well, the route to your seat will be slightly overhung by the kind of scented shrubs which release their perfume only when you brush past them. Lavender is the most well-known for this purpose and Salvia greigii will scent the air with blackcurrant at the touch of a leaf. Cistus purpurea leaves waft a pleasant resinous scent on a hot day. Other shrubs do not waft readily – choisya, rosemary and mints are best gently pulled through the hand in passing.
There are more seats some gardens than opportunities to sit in them. One garden I know has chairs in odd corners and a bench at the far end of every vista, which lends the air of an empty doctor’s waiting room. Unused seats mock us, reminding us we endure lives too busy for repose on a summer’s day. It is worth experimenting with an old kitchen chair in the garden to test how often you sit down and when and where. I should want a morning coffee position to catch the breakfast and elevenses sunshine, and that need not be an expensive solution, as I will not dwell there for long.
Once I invest in a truly splendid and comfortable Sitting Spiritually swinging seat, I shall have worked out where it will be best for evening G+T, and the route thence will already be lined with scented plants. I shall also have tall pots of lilies nearby, but not so near as to drop pollen on seat cushions -it stains very badly. Relaxation with the heady scent of lilies and the clink of ice…that is the epitome of summer for me.