Many of us living in Biddenham during the period of Lockdown are lucky enough to have a garden and what a boon that has been! Two months of lovely sunny dry weather was an added bonus and a garden and good weather, plus more time than usual, have kept us busy and active and given us a lot of pleasure. You probably had to spend quite a bit of the available time on watering the garden but rain has now come to our rescue and my garden has probably never looked better. A spectacular display of roses is just beginning to fade ..
It is now three months since restrictions were imposed and as I enjoyed sowing seeds in March I never thought that I would still be living in isolation when I harvested the results. That it is how it has turned out and we are now overcoming some of the shopping restrictions with lettuce, radishes, watercress, broad beans and spinach. As I write towards the end of June we have had two or three helpings of raspberries and our first taste of new potatoes.
There have also been problems in the vegetable garden. My onion sets and some of the cabbages have been growing in a strangely twisted sort of way, blackfly and whitefly are getting rather too busy and I had yellow spots that I didn’t recognise on some of the raspberry leaves. At least the dry weather in April and May meant that slugs and snails weren’t a problem. RHS members will know that the Society offers an advice service and during coronavirus the identification of problem samples sent in the post has been replaced by an on-line facility where you can ask questions and attach photos to illustrate the problem. I used the service and received a very detailed reply. Sprays against aphids are available to amateur gardeners but it is important to follow manufacturers’ instructions for each vegetable concerned and many of us are not happy about using chemicals on foodstuffs, if at all. The best treatment for black fly and greenfly is early removal by hand (washing off is easier than just rubbing off) or spraying with soapy water. I asked if the twisted growth might be due to using compost which included grass treated with weed killer and they thought this unlikely while stressing the importance of not using treated grass from the first cut after treatment and to check manufacturers’ instructions for the weed killer used. The spots on the raspberries are caused by a fungal infection probably due to a lack of air amongst overcrowded canes. I cut off all the infected leaves shortly after I noticed them and this seems to have dealt with the problem. I have been feeding the onions generously with Miracle-gro and most of them are recovering. If you are not an RHS member you can get a lot of help from the Q & A section on their website.
The main activity in the garden in July will be maintenance. That means keeping the grass cut (high and not often in dry weather) and edges trimmed, dead heading flowered plants regularly, weeding and trimming back excessive or untidy growth on shrubs. Depending on whether or not soft fruit are in abundance and the amount of bird damage, you can net the bushes. Strawberries must be netted. I have netted our blueberry bush and immature cherry tree but not the raspberries so far.
You can take cutting of softwood shrubs either to increase plant numbers or as insurance against winter losses. The dahlia cuttings I took in May are doing well. And I shall take cuttings from the perennial wallflower, Erysimum ’Bowles mauve’, which is not hardy in severe frost. Take cuttings three or four inches long from healthy and not flowering shoots and cut just below a leaf joint. Remove the lower leaves and reduce the amount or size of upper leaves. Dip the bottom end of the cutting rooting powder (Monty Don didn’t think this necessary in a recent programme). Insert the cutting in multi-purpose compost in a plastic pot or other container-either singly in a small pot or several around the edge of a larger one (say a three or four inch pot). Water and cover with an inverted plastic bag. I put a thin stick a little taller than the cutting in the middle of the pot to keep the sides of the bag off the cuttings. Keep out of hot sunshine and shake moisture off the inside of the bag every day or so. I then turn the bag inside out so the dry side is next to the cutting. Watch for signs of new growth on the cuttings and then remove the bag and repot plants as necessary.