With delicious irony the start of the hosepipe ban coincided with the wettest period we have had for months. We can’t count on the rain continuing throughout the summer, and it won’t be much of a summer if it does, but at least the water butts will start full and the lawns and borders will have had a new lease of life. I don’t know why it is but even a good supply of tap water never does the job as well as rain.
On the assumption that we shall need to do some watering by hand I am thinking of making a list of the areas or particular plants that I will concentrate on so that I can make a rota and keep a record of when I water what. A good soak now and again on a few plants does more good than a widespread sprinkling and most established plants don’t need watering more than once a week. Plants in containers do need more frequent watering and it is worth puting water retaining gel in the compost.. If you have got any lime hating plants keep rain water from a butt for these and use tap water for the others. There is no ban on tap water administered by watering can.
In the vegetable garden you will probably have made your first sowings in March or April, either in seed trays or in the open ground, but it’s not too late to start many vegetables in May and, where you have room, try to keep up a succession of sowing particularly for salad crops; a very small sowing of lettuce every two weeks is a challenging but worthwhile discipline. We have had some quite sharp frosts in April and frost right up to the last week of May is always a possibility. Runner and french beans, sweet corn, courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes can all be ruined by frost so it is better to be patient and delay planting outdoors until the end of the month. I once had a work colleague whose one piece of gardening lore was to sow runner beans in the open ground on 12th May. You don’t have to be as exact as that but it’s about right for avoiding frost damage.
May is the time when the garden centres do a roaring trade in bedding plants but do note that the frost warning also applies to most bedding plants and fuchsias. Perennial plants will be making good growth now and the taller ones may need support. It is always better to get supports in early to allow plants to grow through them rather than trying to control them when they have got out of hand. Purpose made, interlocking, plastic covered, metal stakes are good and last for years but there is a whole range of home-made devices that are equally good. For tall plants hazel ‘pea’sticks , for delphinium a bamboo framework with twine criss-crossed between the stakes, for medium size plants large mesh netting stretched between uprights, are a few ideas. When you visit gardens keep your eyes open and make a sketch of anything you think you could copy..
Visiting other people’s gardens is one of the great delights of gardening. In each of these articles during the summer months I am planning to feature a garden which you might like to visit. I start with fairly local gardens open under the National Gardens Scheme. On Sunday 20 May Flaxbourne Farm, Salford Road, Aspley Guise is open and it is also open by appointment 01908 585329. This is a three acre garden which is both beautiful and fun. There are water features, follies and a Japanese garden and, for children, a crows nest, crocodiles and a zip wire.
Jeremy Arthern [Extract, Biddenham Bulletin, May 2012]