It seems that many parts of the country have had a wet summer but we certainly haven’t. It has been one of the driest years I can remember and I have spent a lot of time with the hose. It will be a little while before I know what it has cost me. Because of the persistent drought, and as the garden wasn’t open this year, I have once again changed my mind and let the lawn stay dry. I have just used the hose to water directly the flowers and vegetables that needed it most …Using a sprinkler is a very hit and miss affair. The fates continued to conspire against me and on the three occasions when we have arranged or gone for a garden meal with a group it has poured with rain; welcome but badly timed. The slugs and snails enjoyed the rain too and came out in vast numbers, completely destroying some nearly full grown lettuces. The dahlias have fared badly too. I don’t like using slug pellets. They do work but what have they done to the hedgehogs? I must have a proper trial of garlic spray next year.
This is the main time of year for bulb planting. There are plenty of bulbs for other times but spring is clearly the big show. I noticed this year that the daffodils in my ‘wild’ area are thinning out so I have ordered quite a few more for naturalising (planting at random in grass where they can multiply year on year). It looks as if dry soil may continue to be a problem so it will be worth watering grass or soil well before attempting any planting. It saves a lot of work. Daffodils and crocuses are the obvious bulbs but chionodixa, scilla, anemone and grape hyacinth (choose one without too much foliage) all add variety. If you want tulips for naturalising or perennial use check that it is suitable. Many tulips are at their best only for one year. As I have mentioned before, tulips are best left until November for planting.
Dahlias should be at their best now although I have had a poor year with them. Some didn’t survive the winter, whether left in the ground or lifted, and a lot of slug or earwig damage left the young growth heavily defoliated. I resorted in the end to digging up a couple of plants, separating the tubers and growing them on in pots in the safer environment of a cold frame. I am still wondering if they will flower this year. Michaelmas daisies are another good plant for colour in September and October. They are not as fashionable as they used to be, probably because of a tendency to get mildewed, but there are varieties which are reasonably resistant. Keep them watered and spraying can help with real problems. Mine are looking good at the moment.
Although there is plenty of this year left you can get some earlier crops for next year by sowing in the autumn from September onwards while the soil is still warm. Quite a few annual flowers which are normally sown in March or April can be sown now. The packet will give details. Sweet peas can be sown in October, January or March but many growers favour October. It’s a good idea to soak sweet pea seeds over night before sowing but there’s no need to follow the old advice to chip off a bit of the outer skin. You can sow spring cabbage now and broad beans in November. Some varieties of lettuce are bred to be overwintered but they do best under glass and even then my experience is that they don’t do as well as the conventionally sown ones. You may do better with salad leaves grown in a seed tray on the window sill or in a cold green house.
When you receive this edition of The Loop you will have a few days left to choose your best fruit, flowers and veg to enter in the Biddenham show. Don’t be shy and, if you haven’t entered before just take the plunge. The Show is not for specialists but for ordinary garden growers.