July in the garden is like a big, blowsy barmaid who has seen better days in better pubs. A barmaid who has gone to seed, just a little, and whose corsets cannot quite contain her bulk.
Plants, if left unchecked, overflow their boundaries, they spread and lean on their neighbours like drunken louts who fall about, making a thorough nuisance of themselves on hot summer nights.
July is probably my least favourite month in the garden; the fresh green promise of spring has given way to brassy fact; some plants have given up altogether and just sit there, sullen and miserable like bored teenagers, and the mellow tones of autumn are still in the future.
It’s the time of year when my fingers begin to itch for the secateurs. Shrubs which have finished flowering need pruning into submission on the one hand and stimulating into sufficient growth before the onset of cold days to help them produce abundant flowers next spring.
Roses need pruning, but not so severely that those who produce a second flush have their job made impossible. Treated judiciously, the ones in this rose border will flower until the first frosts. I’ve cut the last ones at Christmas several years. In the meantime, they produce long, wavy, viciously thorny tendrils which can rip your skin to pieces. A perfect sleeping beauty thicket.
And then there are the hedges. Because nesting birds mustn’t be disturbed it’s a good idea to wait until mid to late July to attack them; only by now you need industrial strength hedge trimmers for the job. Gardener is doing ours in stages. Before his heart attack he tamed the great beast in two days, single-handedly. What’s more, he used to burn the trimmings in one enormous bonfire, which always terrified me. I used to fuss and flutter around the fire, rake and hosepipe at the ready, pouncing on every stray spark. The fields around the castle have been bone dry for weeks and this year I’ve insisted that we stuff the hedge down the deep caverns under the cattle grids instead. My excuse is that I’m also saving hedgehogs from a watery, muddy grave when they fall through the metal bars.
Hostas are being pushed out of the way by this part of the hedge.
Behind the little window is Beloved’s desk. Fortunately, there is another window a little less smothered.
One of Millie’s favourite garden gates is being swallowed up by a rampant rose on one side and a prostrate clematis opposite.
Even a utilitarian path by the side of the house has plants encroaching enough to make access to the back door a bit of an obstacle race.
There is a kind of insanity in my way of gardening: I do everything to produce the most luxuriant, abundant growth, I feed and nurture, chop and stake and prune, I weed and mulch with heavenly compost worth its weight in gold; then, when I have achieved what I set out to do, I can’t wait to rip it all out and start all over again.
The twelve months of A Year In The Life Of A Lady Gardener are over.