Nature Calendar: August in the British Garden
Like July, this may be a wet month, al-though there are usually periods of fine weather too. The days begin to shorten towards the end of the month.
There is already a suggestion of autumn in the garden, for Michaelmas daisies are beginning to flower in the border. Dahlias, too, make a fine display, with Korean and other early-flowering varieties of chrysanthemum. The strong colours of the zinnias vie with red hot pokers, polygonums, marigolds, and late gentians. Plenty of heleniums are available for cutting, and golden rod, ligularia, and delicate mauve and blue salvias are also in flower now. Hollyhocks tower over the hedge, and near-by, perhaps, there is a brilliant display of verbena.
The delicate flower spikes of the hostas contrast well with their bold leaves, and autumn-flowering cyclamen such as Cyclamen europaeum are blooming.
The yellowof evening primrose have an ethereal appearance as they open at twilight, and in the rock garden there are further splashes of yellow, for the hypericums are in bloom.
The rose garden is still colourful. Wichuraiana, rambler and miniature varieties are all in flower.
Perhaps the most interesting wild flowers to be seen in August are those that grow by the sea. Many plants can be found on the shingle, such as curled and golden docks, creeping thistle, ragwort, dandelion, yellow-horned poppy and sea campion. Orache and sea thistle grow on the more fertile parts of sandy beaches, as well as saltwort, sea, viper’s bugloss, knapweed, centaury and sea beet. Wall barley and sea sandwort are found at the edge of the dunes among a variety of grasses. Where the dunes are well established, lady’s bedstraw, sea bindweed, cat’s ear, scarlet pimpernel, and grasses begin to merge with inland flora. Cord grass thrives on the sea marshes, interspersed with sea aster and sea lavender. Sea thrift grows here too, and on the beaches, but looks its best on cliffs with the yellow-flowered shrub, samphire.
Among the garden shrubs, spiraeas are still scattered with pink or white blossom, and both honeysuckle andare in flower. The great lush trees of Magnolia grandiflora are a magnificent sight.
Swallows on their journey south will be seen on most days, often pausing for rest on telephone wires, while house martins gather on the sunny side of roofs. Both these species and the sand martins will be seen for several weeks. Swifts do not stay as long, and by the middle of the month will have left their breeding sites. Robins, which have been quiet while they moult, now come out, each singing an autumn song to assert possession of his own chosen portion of the garden. In the fields, as the harvest advances, flocks of pewits, starlings, woodpigeons and finches gather to feed on the stubble.
Waders, which began to leave their breeding grounds in July, now frequent estuaries and the edge of lakes, where the water is shallow enough for them to wade in search of food.
During the warmest days of early August there are more species of butterfly on the wing than at any other time. All those seen in July are still present, and are joined by the second broods of the common blue and small heath. But about the middle of the month the evenings become colder, and as summer turns to autumn the number of butterflies decreases.
Many dragonflies are hunting over the lakes and even stray some distance over-land. Both the brown aeshna and the smaller red common sympetrum will remain right into the autumn. There are also a few damsel-flies still to be seen.
The garden ant takes wing on its marriage flight during hot weather at the beginning of the month.
August is the month of ripe corn, and in the fields the tiny harvest mouse can be seen, swinging like an acrobat on the ears of corn. Voles multiply at a phenomenal rate at this season, and were it not for attacks by stoats and weasels, they would soon devour all green stuff in the garden. Badgers also perform a useful service by digging out wasps’ nests.
Many young lizards and snakes can be seen now, including the grass snake, which hunts in the water, eating insects and small rodents.