As I write this the ‘Chelsea Flower Show’ has finished for another year. For about two decades I never missed a single one; now I haven’t set foot in the place for the last three years—I don’t miss it! I can’t bear to watch it on TV, especially this year, but the odd snippet I’ve seen hasn’t revealed anything in the show gardens that’s much different from anything else that has been done dozens of times before.
If one plant sums up ‘Chelsea’ for me it’s the ornamental onion, Allium, which is ubiquitous in the displays because many varieties obligingly flower at the right time and, being a bulb, they are cheap to plant en masse. Raised in pots they are easily manipulated, to ensure flowering perfection at exactly the right moment, but this means planting up hundreds of bulbs in the autumn in order to get a few dozen to choose from when it comes to planting up your show garden. ‘Chelsea’ is nothing if not wasteful on a massive scale—not in the spirit of gardening as far as I’m concerned.
Returning to ‘Gardening for Real’ (the title of a programme proposal I once wrote and which later became Channel 4’s Real Gardens)… by now doubtfully tender plants, bedding and the like, should have completed their ‘hardening off’ and can be planted out. Use spare plants to fill gaps in the border which, otherwise, will fill with weeds instead. If you have no spare bedding plants then hardy annuals sown into the gaps perform the same job.
I tend to take cuttings from overwintered tender plants now, as they often need a bit of cutting back when first placed out. This is a bit more ‘hit and miss’ than taking them later in the summer, when, sun-ripened, they root more easily, but it’s always worth a try. Pelargoniums, salvias and fuchsias et al are so keen to root that I find that the strike rate is pretty good even if taken now.
Once in their pots and containers they will require diligent watering because, being divorced from the garden soil, they can dry out even if the weather isn’t scorching. Don’t forget about feeding too; any soluble fertiliser should do the job but it’s cheaper to buy it in powder form, mixing it up as you need it, than to buy ‘ready made’ versions. Regular feeding over the growing season, following the instructions on your chosen brand, leads to sturdier plants which are better able to deal with drought and attacks by pests or diseases.
Warm, wet, weather encourages pests and diseases which can get rapidly out of control if not spotted early and ‘nipped in the bud’. I’m old enough to remember the time when it was common practice to spray your roses, with an insecticide and a fungicide, at least every fortnight while in leaf. With many of the active ingredients in these preparations now banned, I doubt that any level of control could be achieved nowadays even if it was still acceptable to be so profligate with chemicals. Better disease resistance of modern roses and a more laissez faire attitude to creepy-crawlies has negated spraying for spraying’s sake.
If aphids get the upper hand, at the beginning of the season, before natural predators have had time to get on top of them, then blasting them off with a well aimed jet of water provides a degree of control and feels very satisfying as you do it. Nesting tits, with hungry chicks to feed, are very efficient at picking off aphids as the season progresses so, in future years, installing bird boxes in the winter months may prove more effective than zapping with chemicals.
The lawn will need regular cutting, now that it is actively growing. The comparatively warm start to the year and the abundance of water means that grass has been growing rapidly so keeping it in check is especially important. Just in case we do get a heatwave it’s always worth remembering that lawns should never be watered because it’s just a waste of this precious commodity. Even the most parched sward will recover once rain has returned—save watering for the things that really need it (newly planted areas and plants in containers are the prime candidates).
If you have a pond now is a good time to perform maintenance tasks such as thinning out water weed or marginal plants. It’s warm enough that the job isn’t too unpleasant for you, always an important consideration, plus any new plants that you add will get off to a good start. It’s also a good time to introduce new fish although I should point out that ornamental fish will reduce the amount of indigenous water life which your pond will support. Regular readers will know that I favour ‘White Cloud Mountain Minnows’ as a means of preventing mosquito larvae in small pools and container ponds; mine bred pretty successfully last year I’m pleased to report.
Manually removing blanket weed, by twiddling it around a stick, can control it in a small pond; submerged barley straw bales are usually recommended for larger ones. A net is often the only way to scoop off duckweed and this will have to be repeated as often as you can. Remember; the larger the volume of water the more stable its temperature, and chemical composition, which will help to prevent sudden ‘blooms’ of algae.
From ‘blooms of algae’ to my favourite blooms, I must get out and do some emergency peasticking of the delphiniums which I always forget about until they spire above everything else around them… whatever your favourite flower, June is bloomin’ marvellous!