outside-in: August (3/12)

Outside-in charts my attempts to bring the garden into the house with haphazard English Freestyle flower arranging.

yellow cosmos gardening blog


The garden is in transition everywhere right now. Potato and pumpkin leaves are beginning to yellow and shrivel. Seed heads are becoming more prominent among the flowers. You can see, hear and smell that summer is waning.

But as the sweet peas succumb to the inevitable mildew, flowers from the daisy family are coming into their own.

Steve grew hoards of cosmos (Purity) from a pack of seeds that came free with one of his gardening mags. They add a welcome, refreshing splash of white to otherwise tired borders, and brighten up the house too. According to Sarah Raven, they will keep flowering until November if we’re lucky.

white cosmos gardening blog

cosmos are perfect for plonk-and-go flower arranging

One of M’s sunflowers sprouted lots of smaller flowers on slender stems around the main head. I need a step-ladder to pick them. But they are really cheery and last for ages.

sunflowers gardening blog

M grew these herself, and gets very excited about picking them for the house

Steve loves dahlias, and has planted a dozen or so in pots and a sunny corner at the top of the garden. Once again, I have found myself coming to appreciate a plant that I thought I didn’t like. Some of them are a bit gaudy for my taste, but even the most glitzy ones are OK from a distance – they certainly make an eye-catching display. I’m sure I’ll be glad of them over the next couple of months when everything else starts dying down.

dahlia gardening blog

I’m not a huge dahlia fan, but I do like this one: Bishop of Llandaff

dahlia gardening blog

they last well in a vase too… I am learning to love them


keeping the pumpkins comfy

blue hubbard gardening blogOur pumpkin patch is becoming more ridiculous every day.

Perhaps I should have checked the descriptions of the varieties I was buying, rather than just choosing names that I liked. But as I sifted through packets of heirloom seeds at last autumn’s Malvern Show, I had no idea what monsters lay within.

When vines started scaling the veg patch fence, I assumed they would grow nice compact gourds that would hang prettily as they ripened. As they reached rugby-ball proportions, Steve said something about Monty Don using hammocks to take the weight of pumpkins that he grows up poles. So I tore a pair of tights and rigged up supports for two particularly big ones that were threatening to take the fence down with their weight.

In two weeks they have gone from this…

Blue Hubbard gardening blog

to this…

blue hubbard gardening blog

Now that they’re taking shape, I’ve identified them as Blue Hubbard – evidently a mammoth variety. Since they are bursting out of their tight-hammocks my latest tactic is to prop them up with any suitably sized pots and troughs we have lying about.

I Googled ‘Blue Hubbard recipes’ to see if it was really going to be worth sacrificing our fence for them. Apparently they taste great, but are a real beast to get into. One recipe suggested using an axe to crack them open, and said one gourd can feed a family for a week. Maybe M can take some in for her nursery’s harvest festival. If she can carry them.

turks turban gardening blog

Turk’s Turban – at least these are growing on the ground

Despite the Blue Hubbard dominance, we do have a few Turk’s Turbans quietly lurking. They seem to be developing nicely – and a little more sensibly – on the ground. I have popped bits of tile underneath the gourds to stop them rotting if we get a lot of rain.

acorn table ace gardening blog

that’s more like it – something that can be tackled with a kitchen knife rather than an axe

I also spotted a couple of bright green ones growing this week. The plants are all in such a tangle that I can’t trace the route from the fruit back to the label. But I think they are a variety called Acorn Table Ace.

Sadly the other two varieties we grew – Marina di Chioggia and Butternut Ponca – seem to have been completely overwhelmed by the brutish Blue Hubbards. I waded into the patch with wellies and gloves on earlier to have a good rummage under the scratchy leaves, but can’t see any signs.

gardening blog

vicious vines that irritate my skin, as well as threatening to crush the fence

I’m going to reserve final judgement until we’ve harvested and attempted to cook this year’s crop. But I reckon when I’m buying seeds for next year, I’ll be reading the packets more carefully. I might also remember to give the plants a bit more space.

You can see what the squash plants were up to a month ago here.

Have you experienced pumpkin domination in your garden? I’d love to hear about it – or get some recommendations for more manageable varieties.

going to seed

gardening blog allium nigella Don’t say it too loudly, but the nights are drawing in.

I know this because most of my real gardening is done after M has gone to bed. In the height of summer I get a good couple of hours out there, until the evening chorus reaches a crescendo then falls into abrupt silence and my only companions are bats and moths. Now I spend a few minutes pottering, then it gets too dark and I worry about stepping on toads.

There are other signs that summer is set to wane. Like the sweet peas. gardening blog sweet peasI gave up trying to keep picking-pace with them a couple of weeks ago, and now seed pods are starting to appear among the flowers.

The nigella have shed their petals and left us with eerily beautiful seed heads.

gardening blog nigella

gob-stopper seed head on nigella

I sowed them direct around some alliums we planted behind the garage. It was a tip I’d read in one of Carol Klein’s books, to hide the allium foliage when it dies back. It didn’t quite work out that way for us. But I love the way they combine at this stage of the season.

gardening blog nigella allium

these two pair-up well late in the season

M has discovered that the nigella seed pods make a very satisfying ‘pop’ when she squeezes them…or if she pulls them up and stamps on them. So who knows where we will find it growing next year.

The pleasing nigella / allium seed head combo got me thinking about how we can enjoy plants long after they have finished flowering. I took pics of a few more pods to remind us what they look like when we’re planning next year’s planting.

gardening blog foxglove seeds

foxgloves aging beautifully

gardening blog salvia seed head

this salvia still has a wonderful scent – although I’ve heard some people can’t stand the smell

gardening blog scabious

we were a little underwhelmed by these scabious when they were in flower, but the bees & butterflies loved them, and we think the goldfinches were at them too

I hope you enjoyed my gardening blog – please share your own thoughts or gardening experiences…


verbena bonariensis

gardening blog verbena butterfly

Last year I noticed lots of gardens with elegant purple flowers that lasted way into the autumn. I had no idea what they were, but finally identified them as verbena bonariensis.

Steve had also admired them, and since he is far more organised than me, he bought some seeds which he tried to grow in a couple of trays on the spare room window ledge. Unfortunately nothing happened – probably because we kept forgetting to water them. Eventually one of the cats decided the trays would make a handy upstairs toilet.

My dad came to the rescue and gave us a tray of young plants he had grown on the nursery. By this time we didn’t have much room in the garden, but we dotted them here and there, wherever we could find a space. We stuck a few in pots too.

They have shot up over the past few weeks. Some are close to six foot. But they are so slender that they don’t overpower the garden. From a distance, their long graceful limbs give an interesting height and shape to the borders. Close up, each stem has a cluster of exquisite mauve flowers that are a real crowd-puller for bees and butterflies.

gardening blog verbena bonariensis bee


Apparently verbena bonariensis is a short-lived perennial. It’s more likely to survive the winter if you leave the dead stalks alone. And it’s also a prolific self-seeder.

So, they don’t just look great, they are low maintenance too. Hopefully this means we can leave them to their own devices, and we won’t have a seed-cat-pee-combo in the spare room next year.

garden creatures

gardening blog wormsWhenever we are digging in the garden, M is right there with her bucket trying to cadge any worms we unearth. Ideally, she likes to have two big ones and a smaller one (mum, dad, baby) and they keep her occupied for some time, until we persuade her to release them close to where they were found.

Today, I put her interest in garden creatures ahead of my desire to get some gardening done. I found a fab ‘mini beast hunt’ worksheet on the Nature Detectives website run by Woodland Trust. It captured her interest the moment I mentioned it. We were outside, wellies on and worksheets in hand just before 8.30am.gardening blog mini beast hunting

I did have a bit of an ulterior motive. A few months back, after finding our new rambling roses smothered in greenfly, I ordered 50 ladybirds and 50 of their larvae from Green Gardener. Steve was skeptical, and to be fair we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of a ladybird since I released them. But I am the optimist of the family, and was quite sure we would find them lurking somewhere if we just took the time to look.

gardening blog ground bee

out of focus bee, but you can see the hole in the ground he emerged from before buzzing off to start the day’s foraging

Wanting M to have an early success on her mini beast hunt, I first steered her to where I knew some ground bees were nesting. I thought they were solitary bees, but we watched 20-odd coming out of one hole. I am quite intrigued by this, and wonder if each of them has its own little cell down there, or if they all snuggle up together in some sort of underground cave.

We spent most of the morning upturning pots, rummaging through leaves and rooting around in piles of sticks and other detritus. There were some great fat centipedes, hundreds of woodlice, an ants nest, lots of slugs (I had to resist doing them in, since it was a nature hunt), beetles. Plenty of

gardening blog leaf cutter bee

leaf cutter bees have been here – but we didn’t get to see one in action

bees and butterflies too once it warmed up. M is a bit young to identify individual species, but there was evidence of leaf-cutter bees on the rambling rose up the pear tree. Didn’t manage to see one in action, but you can see some really fantastic pics of one on Hedwigia’s blog here.

I thought we might see a toad or two as we get a lot in the garden in the evenings, but maybe they were hiding under the bigger stones and logs that I couldn’t lift. Weirdly we didn’t see a single snail – I wonder if this is due to the thrush family that we think are nesting nearby.

Sadly, there wasn’t a ladybird to be seen. But then, we didn’t see many greenfly either. I like to think they have done their feasting and flitted off to help another gardener.

gardening blog fir cone

mini beast hunting