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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - summer 2021

30 Sep 2021

Our gardener, Katy, reflects on summer in The Hepworth Wakefield Garden.

It’s not easy to say exactly how summer escapes, or when autumn arrives, as a garden is always in flux, with thousands of subtle alterations every day, but the shifts between the seasons feel keener at certain points. September has this charm, when the sun is no longer so free and giddy with its time but beams a little kindlier and lower in the sky. The ground is alive with warmth and there is a ripening scent, as seed heads dry and plants consolidate their berries, fruits and hips, the culmination of their year’s work.

In our garden the big players of June and July – the bright and punchy salvias – become more meditative with age. As they mellow, they take on a collaborative character. In dry stems of brown and grey, they go from being show-stealers to team-players, providing backing chords to the September stars – the golden Stipa and fluffy Pennisetum, the purple asters and rubber-duck yellow of the wiry Coreopsis.

June 2021. Photo: Jason Ingram
September 2021. Photo: Katy Merrington

In the late afternoon sunshine, all these elements seem to weave together and become one enveloping mass of contrasting textures, the perennials are very tall in places and the garden is at its most meadowy. Certain plants seem to catch hold of the low light and keep it for a while, the garden is lit with more subtlety than in midsummer and it feels like the same scene illustrated in a finer media. The slightest breeze animates the grass flowers, and the planting is rarely still. Echinacea pallida lose their flamingo pink petals, and their seed heads solidify in tone, becoming dark punctuation marks which will persist all winter.

September 2021. Photo: Katy Merrington

Summer tasks in the garden involve regular cycles of path tidying, lawn mowing, edging, weeding, and watering. It has been a very dry year in Wakefield, which often surprises people from further afield, who imagine Yorkshire is a rainy place in its entirety. Our garden, by the River Calder, sits in a slight depression of land with the Pennines to the west and the slightly higher villages surrounding the city often exhausting the rain before it can reach us. Such that it often feels like even when showers are forecast, the water doesn’t seem to land on our spot. The drought tolerant planting of our complex meadow flowerbeds is evolved to cope with this, with many plants hailing from the prairie habitats of North America, where summers are warm and winters cold and so the plants’ deep root systems hold tight to moisture and glean whatever falls. We continue to irrigate our newly planted areas, along with the trees and hedges, which are still settling into our young garden.

On heavy-dewed mornings you feel the tipping point into autumn more certainly than on other days and the first crimson leaves on the Rhus (sumac) are beginning now, like stoking sparks before the fire of autumn-proper, when the trees and shrubs will be ablaze with vivid scarlet.