Now there’s more time in the day…
It’s incredibly dry in my garden, so I’m thankful for the extra time I have in lockdown to spend watering. I’m conscious that water is a precious resource, so I’ve been saving it wherever I can and using ‘grey’ water to soak newly planted shrubs and perennials, as well as – of course – the vegetable garden. And my veg patch has never looked better. It tends to be neglected when work schedules are full on, but mornings without commutes or school runs mean I have the chance to pop out with a watering can or two – and it’s had a huge impact on the whole garden.
As well as keeping on top of the watering, there are a few other horti tasks I’ll be enjoying more of this summer. This June I'll be:
1. Deadheading roses
This Bathsheba rose is a repeat-flowering climber, so deadheading is key for encouraging more flowers
My garden’s small by most people’s standards: a classic long, narrow Victorian terraced plot. Nonetheless I still have a lot of roses. They love our London clay and thrive with very little maintenance. What makes a massive difference to how they look and how much they flower is deadheading, so I’ll be doing a lot of it this month. I have a couple of climbing roses that are at their best right now, and snipping off the spent flowers, complete with the amount of stem you’d remove if you were cutting them for a vase, doubles up as a good summer prune – as well as encouraging them to carry on flowering. The bush roses I deadhead less drastically, by snipping back to the next five-leaflet leaf.
2. Dealing with blackfly
This will be the year that artichokes and climbing beans are NOT covered in blackfly
I’ve always had trouble with this on the soft new shoots of climbing beans and artichokes. This summer I’m determined not to let them get the upper hand. I’ve been squishing them with a gloved hand, whilst waiting in the wings I have a spray container full of soapy washing-up-liquid water if things start looking bad. I’m loathe to use it though, as I’m pretty sure it’s harmful to ladybirds, but it’s there as my last line of defence!
3. A bit of tomato maintenance
A lack of basic tomato maintenance last year left these needing support from an upturned pot
Outdoor tomatoes have the best flavour, hands down. I planted mine out in mid-May, once that little cold snap was over. If you’ve haven’t got yours out yet, early June is fine, too. They’ll still have plenty of opportunity to grow and fruit. Put them in your sunniest spot and water regularly – which means not masses one day and nothing for a week – or the tomatoes will split and suffer from Blossom End Rot. Strong plants shrug off infection, so as well as regular watering, a fortnightly dose of liquid tomato feed once the fruits start to set is a good strategy. Cordon types need staking and tying in, too. It’s surprising how quickly they can bush out, so keep pinching out the little ‘underarm’ side shoots that develop between the main stem and the leaves, as well as removing any competing main stems.
4. Feeding my plants in pots
A little feeding makes all the difference to annuals in pots
The three main nutrients plants need to flourish are nitrogen (N) for shoots, phosphorus (P) for roots, and potassium (K) for fruits and flowers. Which is the order of the numbers on the fertiliser pack: 7:7:7 for instance is a feed with equal amounts of N, P and K; 2:4:12 means it’s high in potassium. Annuals, especially, are quick to run out of steam in pots, so I’ll be on it this year, treating them to a weekly dose of high-potassium feed. I’m already seeing the results. In fact I have pelargoniums and lobelia overwintered outside from last year that have already sprung joyfully back to life.
5. Sowing lettuce little and often
I’m growing lettuce either side of my rows of climbing beans, filling the space available while the beans fill out – first sowing at the side of the raised bed, second in between the two rows of beans
This is another job I rarely get around to in a ‘normal’ summer. Yes, March sees me sowing leaves in that first flush of spring excitement. But although I know it’s the best way to keep fresh leaves coming all summer, I rarely manage to sow another row or two later in the season, so home-grown lettuce is off the menu by mid-July. This year I have my second sowing well underway, the seedlings coming along brilliantly, while the first lot is being eaten. Let’s see if I can carry on sowing every six weeks or so until the end of the summer…
Francesca Clarke, Journalist and Garden Designer