You can have an August holiday but the garden doesnt need to

Francine Raymond on the delights of eating outside, and how to fit furniture into your garden.

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When designing my previous garden 30-odd years ago, I can’t remember dedicating such a large portion to the sole purpose of sitting and eating. Now nearly a third of my new plot has been set aside for just that. Perhaps in the meantime we have become a nation of alfresco diners, maybe the weather really is warmer, or possibly I just spend a lot more time sitting down.

If people ask for help planning their gardens, I usually say: start from the house and look outwards, not just to design the view in the distance, but to work out the bit you use most frequently.

A couple of weeks ago, as a birthday present, my sons came and constructed a huge deck for me. Solidly built of scaffolding boards, the result is chunky and ready to take tables and chairs, benches, pots and planters.

It covers the area in front of the French windows – a small courtyard in the shelter of the house, sided by a weatherboarded garage and a tiny brick extension, and I’ve tried to use materials and colours that echo the house. The dark grey roofing slates and the stock bricks have governed my palette of purply grey and sandy yellow, and I’m using galvanised containers on slate shelves. The two yellow brick paths that lead off into the orchard were laid from bricks rescued from the skip and bonded with Dansand, a Danish organic silica/sand mixture that is supposed to inhibit weed growth – no more hours on hands and knees scooping out every weed known to man.

I have a small picnic lawn ready for my grandson, Ludo, to take his first steps, easily cut with my vintage cylinder lawnmower that’s lubricated regularly with WD-40 and sharpened each mow with a tiny Swiss Istor sharpener (from www.niwaki.co.uk) so no more futile attempts to pull start petrol mowers. With a vegetable and herb garden to my left and a larger pebbled working area on the right, I feel I have everything to hand, and have made a real stab at low-maintenance gardening with barely a conifer or decorative mulch in view.

This August visit Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire or Powis Castle and Garden in Wales to see how make the best of August in your garden.

Gardens can look a bit of a shambles in August, with flowers over, leaves mildewy and all passion spent. Many gardeners are feeling much the same.

But summon a little extra energy, tackle August head on, and rewards can be reaped. Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire shows you the possibilities. I rate it as one of the best July/August gardens in Britain, its ebullience reflecting the characters of its hands-on owners John and Lesley Jenkins.

The design follows the Edwardian blueprint of a grid of hedged and walled compartments, each with its own colour scheme and each devoted to a particular season. So, passing quickly through one area where everything has finished, you step into another where everything is in bloom.

August’s highlights include the long clematis corridor – where purple, ruby, violet and white C. viticella varieties are massed over walls and arches, often several kinds together – and the pink, lilac and white phlox garden, which is spiked with purple agastache, cream veronicastrum and mophead monardas.

At home, I recently rejigged a section of border by one of the house doors for a late summer climax, and I am enjoying the new opening salvo it is giving the garden. On the south-facing terrace wall, Phygelius capensis, which produces a mass of scarlet trumpets over many weeks, is already well established, and its roots have infiltrated the wall cracks, giving it extra protection through cold winters. To fuel the blaze I have added a cauldron of the similarly coloured, tender fuchsia ‘Coralle’, growing in a pot with salmon diascias and sky blue lobelia, while running along the base of the house wall behind is the exotic, but hardy, orange funnel-flowered Lobelia laxiflora var. angustifolia.

In contrast to all this is a haze of lilac verbena, feathery-leaved Thalictrum delavayi (a good substitute for verbena in shadier borders), phlox and asters, into which I have inserted a fat clump of that wonderful dahlia, ‘Admiral Rawlings’ — impressive not only for the fact that its dark magenta blooms open on stout stems a full 7ft high, but for the hardiness of its tubers, which at Powis Castle have survived for decades under no more than a light mulch.

Powis is another outstanding August garden, as well as one of the most scenic – though everyone, including me, is very agitated at the moment as the handsome valleys it overlooks and commands are possible routes for giant pylons carrying electricity from the new wind farms the National Grid proposes in the hills.

In spite of this threat on the horizon, the gardeners have pulled off a display of tender perennials in the top terrace this year as dashing as I can remember: royal blue Salvia patens ‘Guanajuato’ in tandem with the crimson scabious ‘Chile Black’, sticky orange Mimulus aurantiacus with purple heliotrope and white marguerite, blue-grey melianthus leaves, a big fat tetrapanax, scarlet fuchsias – a terrific show. Tender exotics are a bit of a palaver, but with a much longer flowering season than most hardy border perennials, they do guarantee to keep things chirpy from June until the first frosts.

The taller ones, like dahlias and cannas, are handy for planting in front of shrubs that have finished flowering and looking glum. I use them in my little shrub rose area, together with a few late-performing hardy perennials such as Japanese anemones and bottlebrush-shaped persicarias to disguise the aftermath of the hardy geraniums. Powis has a very good pairing of the deep red dahlia ‘Chat Noir’ with red persicaria and the self-seeding annual, purple-leaved atriplex, as well as a pairing of pink persicaria with a pale pink, beautifully scented silkweed, Asclepias syriaca, which I had never met before.

No, there is certainly no need for a garden to be on holiday in August, even if you bunk off for a couple of weeks yourself.

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