The great thing about writing these articles at the last minute is that it gives me the chance to be a little bit topical. I was at the ‘RHS Chelsea Flower Show’ yesterday and, apart from a surreal moment when I introduced myself to Will Young, the highlight was, as always, the nursery exhibits in the marquee.
You can keep your show gardens as they are merely expensive stage sets full of plants assembled like blooms in a humongous bouquet; great for a week on the mantelpiece but totally unsuited to surviving outside of their giant ‘vase’. They are fantastic feats of horticultural skulduggery, with a large dollop of landscaping bravado, but the real gardener needs to head into the intense tent to get a satisfying fix of his, or her, chosen chlorophyll imbued drug.
These nursery exhibits afford you the chance to see plants from specialist growers drawn from the entire United Kingdom and beyond. Not every plant you covet will be suitable for your garden but, by talking to the exhibitors, you’ll be able to get the real lowdown on how to treat whichever specimen has tickled your fancy.
I liked the look of Melittis melissophylum on ‘Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants’ but its need for woodland conditions would make it tricky for me to keep at home, until my nascent wood-fuel coppice has grown up a bit more.
It may be expensive to go to ‘Chelsea’ but if you make the most of your trip, by filling up with priceless gardening knowledge, then it begins to look like a cheap date. To get to see so many nurseries, by any other means, would require travelling the length and breadth of the UK, taking years to complete.
Television may be the new “opiate of the masses”, getting more poisonous by the day, but, even in the safe hands of Mr T, it’s no substitute for a direct horticultural shot in the arm.
Getting back to June, “at last” I hear you cry, you should by now have hardened off all your doubtfully tender plants, bedding and the like, and planted them out. Any spare plants can be used to fill gaps in the border which, otherwise, will fill with weeds instead. Tender specimens grown in pots, I’ve got a few old pelargoniums which have been going for more than ten years, need to be placed in the most favourable, warm and sunny, situations to give them the maximum chance of recovering from their winter confinement.
I tend to take cuttings from these tender things now, as they often need a bit of cutting back when first placed out, and again later in the summer when they root more easily due to having had a dose of sun (fingers crossed). Pelargoniums, salvias and fuchsias, amongst others, are so keen to root that I tend to end up with more than enough plants to keep me going and also to give away to visitors.
Pots and containers need to take priority when it comes to watering. If they are in a discreet area then investing in one of those ‘pod’ automatic watering systems makes a lot of sense, especially if you are very busy or tend to go away a lot over the summer. 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 stress and attacks by pests or diseases.
If there was one unifying feature in the gardens on show at ‘Chelsea’ it would be the inclusion of a water feature. In one notable exhibit the front garden consisted almost entirely of water traversed by stepping stones to the front door. The water also lapped around: artfully arranged boulders; a model sailing boat and containers of stripy Equisetum (‘Mare’s Tail’). The most often heard comment about this particular front garden design was; “I wouldn’t like to negotiate that after a night out in the pub”!
Having said that, water is great in gardens, at least those which don’t house unsupervised children, and June is a good time to do maintenance tasks. It’s warm enough to make the task more bearable and yet earlyenough in the season that you can sort things out before they get out of hand.
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 or ‘sheets’ of duckweed.
Ooh! Is that the time? I think I may have to continue with ponds next month as I’ve not even mentioned ‘WCMMs’ and, as regular readers will know, they are a particular favourite of mine! Toodle-pip.