This week has turned out very nicely, weather wise. Although if you mention it to us gardeners, turns out we are not particularly happy. First we had late, hard frosts, then winds of billowing gusts and now a distinct lack of rain.”It’s a wonder anything’s growing” we complain bitterly whilst queuing up at the newly reopened local garden centre to peruse yet more plants. For if you have plantaholic tendencies, come storms or drought there is nothing to compare with filling your trolley at Gordon Riggs (other garden centres are available). There is, however, even more satisfaction to be found in growing your own flowers, veg and fruit from seeds, or successfully taking cuttings and divisions with your existing plants. These can be proudly shared with other gardeners, or found a home in one of our Civic Pride gardens.
Because of the lockdown, we’ve had many more hours to spend sowing, planting, pruning and tidying. And now, a tentative easing of restrictions has begun to take back the time we’ve become accustomed to. The seeds sown back in March are wavering seedlings ready to be potted on, the dahlia tubers have woken up demanding richer soil, and the daffodils have long since gone back to bed casting off their yellowed leaves. After work, my busman’s holiday evenings are spent catching up with everything I started when time was elastic and I honestly thought I could deal with an excessive sowing frenzy ten weeks hence. Oh, and watering…….
It’s all in the soil. If you mulch regularly to improve the fertility and texture of soil then you’ll find it holds moisture so much better than the hard, Rossendale clay we all start gardening with. Clay dries out until it becomes solid, dusty lumps of undiggable rubble; no place for young plants to establish their roots. To improve this, every time you dig add in compost. Mulch around established plants and let the worms do the digging in for you. When you renew compost in pots and containers, then empty the old material onto the beds. Even if the nutritional value has leached away, the texture of spent compost will improve your ground soil.
Leaf mulch is a very welcome addition to any soil and it’s really simple to make. Set aside a designated leaf compost bin or area ready to save next Autumn’s leaves. Only leaf material can be added in, and it takes a huge amount to make the best mulch you can get. Let the leaves rot down to form a beautiful, crumbly black rich compost, which smells like woodland floors. The resulting micronutrients and increased numbers of worms and insects are an essential part of your garden’s environment.
Water is precious, so use sparingly by targeting containers plus anything newly planted. Your lawn may start to look brown, but pay no attention and don’t waste water on it as the grass will make a full recovery in time. Established shrubs and plants have deep, complex root systems and are generally able to survive a short drought. If you do have to water, then choose the cooler early mornings or late evenings when the sun isn’t as fierce. Try not to let hanging baskets or containers completely dry out as the plants will become stressed. Some speciality composts now contain water retaining gel which can be really helpful.
This being the Northwest of England, rain will inevitably catch up with us. It’s just about dealing with all weathers. To keep on gardening knowing full well that although it’s a job we’ll never finish, finding ourselves in the garden is the best place to be.
P.S. Bob Flowerdew on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time was once asked when was the best time to take a cutting from a beautifully flowering shrub in the gardens of a stately home……..”When no-one’s looking” he replied, sagely.