6 August 2010
In times of drought it can be somewhat wearying to watch as plants, left and right, become increasingly dishevelled. Without readily available moisture they are unable to put on much fresh growth and flowering often ceases as they try simply to stay alive. In a normal year many early flowering herbaceous plants benefit from a mid-season cutback to remove congested old flower stems and encourage fresh regrowth, but in a droughty season this is also a useful technique to ensure they survive until better times. Cutting off all the leafy growth above ground reduces the amount of moisture the plant needs so instead of dying the plant will regrow from the base when conditions improve. It can take a hard heart to savage a treasured special but if you keep in mind that the buds shrivelling on the plant won't open this season anyway it becomes easier to steel the nerves for a severe chop. Keep in mind that this way they will next season.
Here is a collapsed Geranium 'Claridge Druce'. It has flowered and fed the bees for months. It is tough as old boots and will survive the worst the garden can throw at it but now it has become a mass of sprawling seedheads, and frankly looks a bit of mess. I don't need to steel my nerves for this one (it gets this treatment every year), I grasp the stems together in a big clump and chop the whole lot off.
Which leaves me with this.
I want some quick regrowth to fill the gap - or someone "but I'm not stood on anything" will soon be standing on it - so it gets a couple of buckets of water thrown over it to give it a bit of encouragement.
In a week it has new shoots coming through,
I expect it to be back in flower by the end of the month with no additional watering and it will flower well on into Autumn.
Other plants, not as tough, and cut back to aid their survival have not been watered. This seems contrary but encouraging fresh growth from these before there is rain will soon see them struggling again to support the new leaves. Better they wait beheaded and quiet until the overall conditions improve.
The lack of rain over the past few months has resulted in many of the best sources of nectar drying up, quite literally, as plants have put their energies into quickly setting seed rather than continue the show and new buds have withered. Such is dry gardening in a dry season but thankfully there are a few species that are reliable sources of nectar late in the season no matter how dry.
The Globe Thistles, Echinops sp. are bee magnets when they come into bloom in late summer. The plants growing here were grown from seed randomly pocketed on a garden visit somewhere so I am unsure of their parentage but they are little different from the rest - 1.5m high, rough, thistly foliage and blue-grey flower heads in perfect globes. There are named varieties in confident clear shades of blue and silver, some tall giants and some of compact growth but in the main the Globe Thistles are all similar with relatively minor differences. They are adapted to grow with minimal summer rainfall and have deep tap roots to reach any remaining moisture down below. The early season growth rapidly produces strong clumps of coarse white-backed grey-green leaves, they aren't the prettiest and can become rather tatty over a long dry summer, but by then the exciting spiky satellite buds are forming so who would care?
The heads are made up of lots of individual flowers and as they open the bees, big and small, gather. First on this flower is a small male White Faced Bee. He's feeding, but also waiting for a hungry female to arrive, ripe and ready for ravaging.
When the bumble's get in on the act there isn't much room for the smaller bees and their randy antics, this trio of circumnavigating workers stamping about have probably spoilt the mood and they have it to themselves.
After flowering and setting seed the heads are disappointingly short lived, there are no winter silhouettes to be had from these. When they fall apart and the leaves become increasingly disgraceful I will simply chop them down. They won't mind at all and neither will I.