I got up early this morning on one of the few really beautiful days we have had this summer so that I could start cutting the long grass in my wild area before it got too hot. After an hour’s work I sat down for a cup of tea and took in the beauty of the morning; the clear blue sky, the company of a young robin hunting in the area I had cleared and the low sun shining through the leaves of the fruit trees around me in backlit splendour. Gardening is not just about hard work …
But, to move on from the rhapsodic to the practical, this is Show time. If you haven’t done so already this is the time to decide what you have got to offer to challenge your neighbours and delight the visitors to the Show. You can find entry details on the Show website, www.biddenhamshow.org. Most of the fruit, flower and vegetable classes require at least three examples and the trick is to get them all looking the same and, ideally, without blemish. Keep an eye on the ones that you hope will be ready at the right time and, particularly with vegetables like tomatoes or beans, if some are ahead of the others you can gather them and put them in the fridge a couple of days before the Show. If you do, label them clearly. Two years ago I lost my best tomatoes to a hungry family.
In the Show world there are a lot of subtleties in presentation but we are doing this for fun and it’s more important to have a go and put something in rather than worry about whether it is presented in the right way. Generally speaking root vegetables should be clean and have most of the top growth removed, leaving not more than an inch or so of leaf. Onions need the outermost rough and untidy skins removed and a stub of dried leaves tied up neatly with raffia or twine. Tomatoes look good presented on a paper plate sitting on fine sand. With runner beans and cucumbers look for the straightest examples you can find.
Although we may still have hopes for some summer, now is the time to be buying bulbs for next spring. Daffodils and crocuses can be planted any time now but the balance of opinion is that Tulips should be left until November to reduce the likelihood of problems with blight. You can buy snowdrops as dry bulbs but they generally establish better if bought ‘in the green’ at the end of the snowdrop season. Widen your horizons and see what other bulbs are available. Allium are an increasingly popular choice for interest in May and June and, although predominantly purple, the smaller varieties in particular come in a wide range of colours. For some early blue try the dainty flowers of scilla and chionodoxa and, later, the much taller and bolder flowers of Camassia look good growing in grass.
Coming back to this time of year, dahlias are regaining popularity. You will get the best blooms by regularly nipping out the two tiny buds that form either side of the main bud on each stem. Most dahlias will need support by tying the stems back to a strong central stake. If you haven’t got dahlias at the moment try to see them growing to see what you are missing and make some choices for the future. Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge has a good display.