This Month In The Garden – July & August 2018

When misfortune strikes we often say that life isn’t fair. One of my dahlias must be feeling like this at the moment …
Last year I ordered five new dahlia mini-plants and they arrived in April. I potted them up in the greenhouse where they grew well and I planted them outside in mid-May. (still with a risk of frost but the long-range weather forecast looked benign). One of these plants is already flowering strongly, three others are coming on well and one is a three inch high desiccated stump with a few tiny shreds of leaves.

Snails and slugs have struck again but only against that one plant. This is now back in the greenhouse in intensive care. The RHS has just announced a major research project on the effectiveness of various methods of slug and snail control and I can’t wait for the results.

Another wreaker of havoc in the garden is the wood pigeon. While other bird species continue their plunge towards extinction the wood pigeon goes from strength to strength and this is very much due to the bounty they have discovered in our gardens. I have heard several people bemoaning the loss of their gooseberry crop to wood pigeons and yesterday I found that a lot of my sweet corn plants have had their tips nipped , and I don’t think the slugs are to blame for this.  Cabbage crops are also very much at risk. Some people hang up old CDs to flutter in the sun and scare the birds away but netting is the most effective protection. You can buy ‘tunnels’ of fine mesh netting which protect brassicas from cabbage white butterflies as well as keeping the pigeons off. An alternative for brassicas, and I hope for sweet corn, is to put thin sticks around and within the bed and criss-cross black cotton between them six to eight inches above the ground. (I use apple and pear prunings for the sticks). The birds can’t see the cotton and it frightens them off when they meet an invisible impediment. If I put bird seed out for them as I do in winter will that just attract more pigeons or will it keep them away from the vegetables at the other end of the garden ?

Turning, now, to something more positive  June, as always, has been a lovely month for the ornamental garden, especially roses this year, and July and August offer the prospect of harvest from the fruit and vegetable garden. Vegetables were up to a month late with their early growth but they are catching up and, at least in August, we should be getting salad crops carrots, courgettes, peas, beans and potatoes. Sweet corn was ready last August but I guess it won’t be until September this year (assuming the pigeons leave me some). Two years ago I planted a new row of raspberries and they are promising a really good crop this year.  This time round they are not in a fruit cage and I am waiting to see if I can get away without netting them. Autumn fruiting raspberries seem to  crop well without netting but I don’t know about the summer crop.

With the high point passed for many flower gardens there may well be some cutting down to do. Shrubs which have flowered should be pruned by cutting back at least some of the stems which have had  flowers on them.  If you grow hardy geranium  they will probably have finished their main  flush of flowering now and may be looking quite straggly. Be ruthless and cut them back close to the ground. The foliage will regrow very quickly and you may well get another flowering in September. Hardy geranium are a different plant from the ones often called ‘geranium’ which are actually pelargonium. These will continue flowering all the summer and you don’t want to cut them down. Roses and bedding plants will continue to need dead-heading. Sweet peas flower most prolifically if you keep cutting them and make sure you cut out any stems that have begun to set seed.

If you have a pond, keep it topped up. Rain water is best for this but rain water is in short supply this year so far so it will probably have to be tap water. (Keep your rain water for acid loving plants.) Blanket weed can well be a problem and it is best to control it  by manually fishing it out with a fishing net or twisting it round a stick. Remove dying lily leaves and thin out any excess of oxygenating plants.

Enjoy your summer                                                                           Jeremy Arthern

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