So how’s it all going for you?! In this year of peculiar weather, many of us will have been in unknown territory – how have our plants fared through a bitter late winter, a sopping spring, and now a roasting summer? Strange botanical goings-on, worthy of The X-Files (cue the spooky music) but regardless, a gardener’s work is never done….
August is a great time to walk slowly round your garden with a notebook and pen and look critically at everything. Make a note of plant-combinations that look fabulous even if they were inadvertent (mine very often are!), as well as things that could be tweaked to make your garden even better next year. Is a strong plant muscling in and overwhelming a little treasure? Did you plant a shade-lover in the sun and have to watch it struggle? Or do you feel that a certain patch needs a little injection of colour from something, but you’re not sure what? Take a tip from Vita Sackville-West of Sissinghurst fame, who advised snipping off a stem of the plant you are thinking of dividing/moving, and trying it in a jam jar in its new position. Looks good? Make a note to move some of that plant there in the autumn or spring. Looks wrong? Well, at least you haven’t wasted a load of time and effort digging and re-planting things to no good effect.
CARING FOR CAMELLIAS
Yes, yes, I know watering is a big issue this summer,
especially deciding what’s going to get a helping hand and what will have to go it alone. We ourselves have rigged up a natty little system for re-using bath and washing-up water, but it still has to be strictly rationed round here. However, if you DO have some water to spare, please consider giving it to the Camellias and Rhododendrons, which are forming next year’s flowers right now. Some moisture in the soil would really help to swell the buds, and thereby ensure a wonderful display of blossom next spring.
HARVESTING THE SPUDS
When your maincrop potato plants are starting to go yellow and fall over, it’s time to harvest the potatoes beneath them. Do this carefully – I know to my cost how agonizing it is to find that you have put your spade or fork straight through the middle of a big one! When you have lifted them, store them somewhere cool, dry and dark. Light will turn them green (Laura, with her science-hat on, will tell you that this is the presence of Solanine) and render them dangerous to eat. I grow a weird variety called Pink Fir Apple, which is a long knobby maincrop variety with rosy pink skin and cream-coloured waxy flesh. It looks whacky, I grant you, but dug from the garden, boiled, sliced and served with olive oil or butter in a summer salad…..as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says of them, ‘pure potato heaven!’
* You’re hardly going to believe this, but you can still sow a late crop of French Dwarf Beans. These will even cope with dry soil better than most veg. Push the seeds into the ground about 6″ (15cms) apart, water them, and pick the pods when they are about 4″ (10cms) lgong. What an autumn treat!
* Cut through the main stems of your tomato plants when they have formed 6 trusses of fruit, so that they can concentrate on ripening what is already there. Also take off the lower leaves below the bottom truss of tomatoes which will help air to circulate around them. Keep feeding the plants once a week, but watch out for any stem-blackening – it is probably blight, and the plant will need to be removed quickly if the disease is not to spread to your whole crop.
* Trim off all the flowered stems of your lavender now that they have faded, but don’t cut into the dark woody bits at the base of the plant because these won’t regenerate next year – make sure you leave a little bit of green stem there, ALTHOUGH if you look right into the centre of the plant and see tiny green shoots on the old wood, then chop them back at will – and you will get lovely new shoots from the base.