Petal power

I’ve lived in Ayrshire 50 years and never seen the ground so dry

All water through the meter, the bills would make you cry

Is this the future ‘normal’? For a downpour I am wishing

The plants would then be happy and I could do some fishing.

I know the nights are drawing in and the autumn chill is not far away but there is still plenty of colour out there this month.

In the veg plot, the Swiss chard is looking lovely. I planted this as an alternative to spinach as it doesn’t go to seed as fast in dry weather. Bright red stems that look like they have been filled with rosé wine and a great addition to a stir-fry, or Italian cuisine.


Swiss Chard has performed really well this summer and is ideal for cooking and even salads

Swiss Chard has performed really well this summer and is ideal for cooking and even salads


The Deep Purple cultivar of carrot lived up to its name. Cooking makes them go completely black. It's a very tasty old variety – but don’t overload your fork – the purple stain is very difficult to remove from the tablecloth (or your fawn chinos).

I was considering sowing a late season ‘green manure’, like winter rye or mustard, to add organic matter to this heavy Ayrshire clay but the leeks and parsnips are in the way and shouldn’t need disturbed unless the winter gets particularly severe.


Purple carrots - just dont get them on your shirt!

Purple carrots - just don't get them on your shirt!


No need to tell you – this summer has seen some odd weather. The jet stream seems to have held away out in the Atlantic and put the West of Scotland in the centre of a prolonged high pressure zone.

Any rain that came our way hit the Outer Hebrides, scudded around Orkney and then descended on Aberdeenshire and below. Currently, we are 60% short on our average summer rainfall.

Sunflowers seemed to crop up everywhere this year. That bright light in the sky, day after day, gave them a tremendous boost.

Interesting to note that the taller plants did not necessarily have the biggest blooms. I saw gigantic 10-inch plus heads on plants only 1m tall. The bees were having a great time and the birds will benefit later too.


Sunflowers have done really well in Scotland this year, much to the delight of the birds and bees

Sunflowers have done really well in Scotland this year, much to the delight of the birds and bees


The herbaceous border is starting to look a bit tired now. The hot weather meant that a lot of the stock is flagging and the flower stalks and seed heads will need to be cut down to preserve the strength in the root system.

One plant that is still showing good form, however, is the aptly named anemone, September Charm. Strong candy pink flowers that give a dazzling display and the only downside is that it likes to wander. Wee tufts of growth will appear in the gravel, or between slabs.

These can be dug out (and maybe potted on) to control the expansion. A small price to pay for such a charming plant. Try Pamina for a double flower, or Whirlwind for its unusual white petals.

There is usually a great late summer show of hydrangea in the gardens along the Ayrshire coast. This year they found it a bit of a struggle with the drought – sun-bleached foliage and mottled flowers.

Those that were positioned in a bit of dappled shade fared much better. The variety Masja is a reliable deep pink mophead type and flower colour remains good and true in all soil conditions. The lace-cap cultivar, Teller’s Red, is an attractive option – broad heads with frilly cerise florets.

Don’t be too harsh when pruning hydrangeas. Be selective. Cut out the flowering stems later in the year and leave the other shoots completely alone. These will have the blooms for next year.


Hydrangea Masja provides reliable flowers for late summer

Hydrangea Masja provides reliable flowers for late summer


The heather garden is in full bloom. A rich tapestry of foliage and flower – certainly a favourite destination for bees and hoverflies.

Most heathers enjoy and acidic peat soil and a common practice – after pruning – is to tuck the plant in with a peat mulch to suppress weed growth and retain moisture at the roots.

This is going to be an issue when the ban on selling peat-based compost comes in to force – as it will. Composted softwood bark is an alternative but as it breaks down it deprives the plants of nutrients and consequently stunts their growth.

This, then, leads you on to consideration of the whole global warming scenario. If growing conditions are going to turn more arid, should we be looking at ornamental plant choice to suit?

The next natural step would be to select shrubs that are native to the Mediterranean climate, like lavender, rosemary, cistus, to name a few. These plants and the likes of hebes (native to New Zealand) will thrive during a hot Scottish summer but – given that we are at the same latitude as Moscow – what will happen if we get a prolonged period of high pressure during January?

The temperature will plunge to minus ‘a lot’ and these plants will snuff it. Drought resistance does not go hand in hand with winter hardiness. Perhaps I should write a wee book on 'Sustainable Scottish gardens in a warming world?'

I see the latest stooshie with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is a desire to award medals for exhibits of clumps of weeds at the Hampton Court and Tatton Park flower shows. Personally, I’m not a fan of the usual (horrendously expensive) displays of glass, water and a tufty fern, but there must be a middle road.

Perhaps I’m luckier than most with my heather garden and shrub border with buddleia and cotoneaster – the place is crawling with all sorts of beasties – but do we need such extremism?

I hope something useful comes out of the much-hyped COP26 gathering in Glasgow later this year – other than another large bill for the taxpayer! Political grandstanding is not what this event is for, neither is it an excuse to glue yourself to the Kingston Bridge. An adult conversation is required to get some workable plan under way.

All these anti-dairy, anti-crofting, anti-woodstove zealots should stay away and contemplate how much jet fuel has been burned getting the delegates (and protesters) to the venue.

Just a final thought. This environmental bandwagon is nothing new. Way back in the 1980s the late (great) Prince was singing about a Pretty Little Red Courgette. Stay calm and carry on.


General points:

* Scarify and aerate established lawns. Maybe give them a wee feed with a potash fertiliser to green them up. September also a good month to reseed the baldy bits.

* If strawberry foliage is looking healthy (no yellow virus) pin down the runners into small pots to make new plants for next year.

* Good selection of bulbs in the garden centres. Try something different like fritillaria imperialis, or iris reticulata.

* Take cuttings of evergreens like cotoneaster and escallonia.

* Put green tomatoes in a polybag with a banana to boost ripening.