Some seasonal thoughts on gardening from Erica...
SUMMER IS COMING...
June has so far been all that is expected of it, divine clear skies and balmy evenings and some rain and then some more wet rain. You don’t have to dig far down to see how little effect the rain has had. If the water runs straight through the pot, it is not because it is full but because it is so dry it cannot take it up. Saucers underneath are the answer and are where the watering should be done from anyway. These are usually discreet pot-coloured affairs but you can get fuchsia and lime coloured saucers which cheer up a dull concept. A bit like having a pinging yellow washing up bowl rather than a tasteful grey.
Our last garden club speaker talked about garden friends and foes. Some fascinating facts emerged. There are 500 plus species of aphids in the UK!! Happily, the UK also has over 250 species of hoverflies, 31 species of lacewings and 46 species of ladybirds and at various stages of their life cycles, they almost all eat aphids. Of those ladybirds, there are so many sizes and colour variants, including yellows and principally black ones, that sorting out the infamous harlequin is quite difficult. BUT harlequins have a (small!) white triangle on the front of their heads. Happily, the 22-spot yellow ladybird eats mildew! When the infestation of aphids or mildew gets ‘too much’ and the temptation arises to reach for the spray, bear in mind that predator populations follow that of prey so be patient. Also, if your spray includes ‘acetamiprid’, it’s a neonicotinoid. We still have 270 species of bee species and over 9000 species of wasps, only 7 of which are ‘picnic’ wasps. They all have their niche lifestyles and the fusspot inconvenience of ‘spoiled’ garden plants is not really excuse enough. A healthy plant will bounce back and one that doesn’t might not be worth the space.
Wishing you all a happy summer and contented gardening.
I thought that as I am feeling so extremely pleased with myself about the tulips I planted, that I would share my joy. Last autumn I rather shamefacedly confessed to having been extravagant when faced with a catalogue of tulip bulbs. I knew it would pay off and I cannot believe how wonderful El Nino is! It is really tall and elegant and no two are the same. They have fine striations ranging from yellow to deep coral-pink through orange! I’ve grown them before and given bulbs to friends but this year they seem to be so very, very good. Maybe a dry month is closest to their Turkish heritage. To tone down/pep things up I planted Curly Sue, a dark burgundy, goblet-shaped tulip with fringed petal tips. These are shorter so to give them a similar height flower I used Apricot Parrot. These frilly-mouthed flowers are just coming good. I do have a pot of more grown-up Sopporo, opens lemon and fades to white, lily-flowered tulip paired with more Curly Sue, but this is all a bit tasteful and monochrome. In the past I have tried to be too clever and underplanted three versions of orange/magenta tulips with electric blue Scilla siberica. However, the tulip leaves were so big and flappy that they hid this blue. I rescued the Scillas to the nearby flowerbeds and these little stings of cobalt are a joy.
Personally at this stage of the year I want ‘Fabulous’ in the same way that I like dahlias to do the same at the other end of the season. I will gather my courage and make that dahlia confession at a later date – but meanwhile, did I mention my love for tulips?
The wet of late autumn is well and truly here. The lanes are mired in sludge and the shredded hedges add that extra excitement of possible standing on a blackthorn fragment. I worry that some of the hedges are cut too early as the late blackberries and wayfaring tree fruits are still needed by the wildlife. The Old Man’s Beard, Clematis vitalba, is still covering the hedges with clouds of fluff. It looks gorgeous, especially backlit by the low winter light. But I am not in charge so I will fret and have to forget. And without the cutting, things do get out of control.
This is the tidying season; leaf raking, clearing weeds that have hidden under summer growth but this is a plea for not cutting back all of the herbaceous border. Not only do the dead stems add height and interest to a winter garden, especially when frosted, but that they are winter accommodation for small invertebrates. I went to Hauser and Wirth this January and the Oudolf Field looked its absolute best. None of it had been cut back, all that texture and every shade of brown, beautiful. But some things do need clearing such as the leaves of Hostas and Hemerocallis. Their flower stems give nice verticals but the leaves go all slimy and grim and are a haven for slugs.
Whilst indoors tidying up old copies of RHS magazines, I found an article on slugs! There are 40 UK species and only 9 of which are considered major pests. The big black slug (Arion ater) comes out in daytime and often gets blamed for the damage done by others! The major problem one is that little, sticky, grey one, the Netted Field slug (Deroceras reticulatum). It lives below ground and I have been advised that buried teabags deter them! Certainly worth a try. It would be interesting to find out if anyone finds this improves matters. Some eat other slugs and thankfully, others eat what the animals leave behind! So not all bad by any means.
Whatever you all end up doing, here’s to wishing you a Happy Christmas, Happy Gardening and a better 2021.
Time for autumn ramblings. It’s a strange season with all combinations of warm, cold, dry and wet. This makes it really hard for me to get organised, well, I like to imagine it’s the fault of the weather anyway.
This is the bulb planting season and my working week is spent planting bubs for others. The 500 that go in every year on a tennis court bank are never enough. The real secret to avoiding springtime disappointment is that you do have to let the leaves die down before you tidy. Getting them strimmed out and all tidy will inevitably lead to disappointment. I am never sure that strimming improves the tidiness if I am honest unless all the scrap is raked and swept. And yet somehow planting my own defeats me! All the bulbs that I KNEW I was going to plant on time are still sitting in their bags and nets gently growing verdigris. The trouble is that the borders and pots are still growing handsome enough plants and it seems brutal to clear them out. As a result, I tend to mush up the herbaceous plants as I squeeze in the bulbs. However, I do know that come April and May all those fabulous tulips will make me smile. It will frustrate me that I didn’t get them planted earlier as there are always ones that are not as gorgeous as they should be and its most likely they were the ones who went in furry! I will also question their spacing as its no longer obvious where the dahlia or aster or Agastache or whatever were that got in my way in October, OK, November! This year I am trying some wildly tarty parrot tulips, Estelle Rynveld and Apricot Parrot. Each autumn I promise myself that I won’t buy any more but those bulb catalogues are so seductive. In the grand scheme of things, it a pretty harmless addiction.
SOME GARDENING TIPS FROM LOCKDOWN
When mulling over what to write about for this month whilst watering plants today, and fighting recalcitrant hosepipes, I decided I would have a go at the topic itself. The wet winter with every weekend apparently having Storm Someone to spoil any gardening plans, it is odd to see water butts getting down to the soupy goop at the bottom already.
I decided that the first problem is the phrase itself – watering plants. You don’t water the plant but the soil around it. Then it’s the how often and how much that depends on what the plant is, when it was last watered, is it in a pot or the ground, what time of day … so as you see there really is no one size waters all. Then there is the hosepipe conundrum. A strong flow will apparently get the job done faster but damages delicate new plants, washes the soil away from the roots and in some cases out of the pots! Too feeble a flow and its easy to underwater as its too slow and folk want to get on with something else. If when watering a pot the water runs through almost immediately, its not because the compost is full its because the compost is so dry it cannot hold the water. Is it’s a liftable pot put it into a tray and fill that with water. Its better soaked up from the base. With too large to lift pots you have to do a little and often until the poor thing is actually wet. I usually put enough water in to sit on the surface without it flowing over an edge, let it seep in and repeat. Check it isn’t running along the walls of the pot by poking into the (usually dust-like) compost and form a hole away from the edge for water to trickle into. In the ground sink a generous sized flowerpot into the ground near the plant as you plant it. You can then fill this as you water knowing that you aren’t just watering the surface. If you own a showerhead type fitment for your hose select the gentle spray and this seems the least destructive option. A watering can has the same problems with over and under watering, usually the latter as its harder work, but it doesn’t tie itself in knots or kink spitefully to stop the flow and it’s a low grade weight lifting exercise. However mine does sometimes have a blocked up spout with snails and water butt grot! And then rain! You may think its been raining enough to have watered your pots but in high summer if you check you will find that most of it was shed off the leaves and the top centimetre is the only wet part. The rain will slow down the plants transpiration rate so it won’t dry itself out so fast but don’t rely on the rain to have saved you a job necessarily. This doesn’t usually apply to plants in the ground as there is enough soil to gather a bit more but it also needs checking.
So as you see its another Goldilocks system – not too much, not too little but just the right amount!! The plants will let you know which you choose…..