Moe's Summer Newsletter
“Summertime – and the living is easy”. George and Ira Gershwin 1933- 34
I have to admit – I did think twice about using the above heading for this newsletter. It’s not an obvious choice as things are tough for everyone at the moment, what with energy prices going through the roof (including petrol). However, bear with me…. look on the bright side, we won’t be using much of our heating and lighting now that the summer is with us because we gardeners will be outside enjoying lots of sunny days and balmy evenings (hopefully)! When we’re out and about it’s nice to stop and pass the time of day to chat with neighbours too. No matter how much I try to steer the conversation to current events or what’s on the tele, if the person knows I’m a keen gardener the ‘topic’ always seems to (pardon the pun) crop up! One question that always gets an airing is how I cope with weeds. I think the one thing that puts more people off gardening more than anything else, is the thought of WEEDING. I suppose the prevalent thinking is to say that a weed is a flower too and that we should tolerate more of them in the garden for the sake of the planet. A neighbour told me that the dandelions looked absolutely beautiful along the roadside as she drove along a country road the other day. An exclamation such as this just wouldn’t have been uttered a few years ago! She’d have been asking why the council hadn’t done the weeding! Attitudes have certainly changed towards those ‘plants that grow in the wrong place’! At one time in the advice section of the RHS magazine, it would have suggested that we pull out the dandelions from our lawns. Now, it’s recommending that we should enjoy the flowers and deadhead quickly! ‘Someone’ must have been listening in on my conversation with my neighbour, when I proudly told her that I didn’t get many weeds in the garden. Lo and behold, one day later a proverbial forest of them appeared in the virgin earth of the kitchen garden. So much for being smug! Seriously though, some weeds can be left to grow happily in the garden in THE RIGHT PLACES but certainly not in the kitchen garden. I am sure that the annual weeds that suddenly appeared in my soil were those that were not killed effectively enough in the compost I had to take out of the old New Zealand boxes that were being replaced with new recently. If I could have left the compost for another couple of months the temperature in it would have risen enough to kill them all, including any seed. Generally though, as an organic gardener the compost I put on the borders is well rotted as a mulch suppresses all the weeds. Hoeing, an essential task when growing food, will get rid of those that pop up from time to time. If this is done regularly, annual weeds are not a problem. You can of course, use other mulches on your kitchen garden. Manure, mushroom compost, straw, grass clippings and cocoa shells are all very good at suppressing annual weeds. Cocoa shells are fantastic for the job and probably the best but it is expensive. Straw is light and cheap but does attract slugs. What is certain, cooling the soil makes a huge difference to the way plants grow. Most plants prefer being cool at the roots. If it is perennial weeds that are present on your plot spend time removing all of them. If you are starting from scratch on a new plot check first to see what weeds are growing. Take heart if you see nettles, chickweed, forget- me not, groundsel or yarrow. These all indicate a rich fertile soil worth developing. Ground elder, dandelions, horsetail, couch grass, nettles and bindweed need to be eradicated from any space in which you intend to grow fruit and vegetables. Ground elder, bindweed and couch grass spread from a feisty network of underground roots that will invade a growing space quickly. After digging out kill all roots by drowning them in a bucket of water weighed down with something heavy. After about a month put the roots in the green recycle bins and use the liquid as a feed. Almost all weeds can be killed this way.
New Zealand Boxes
Calendula and mint (contained in a pot) in the kitchen garden
Of course, some weeds CAN be left to grow on the fringes of the larger kitchen garden to be of benefit to all our plants. Nettles are hugely beneficial. They cause herbs to give more and stronger aromatic oils, they aid composting and help fruit to ripen yet stop it going mouldy. As a liquid feed it is excellent combined with comfrey and are good for us if you fancy eating them!
Apart from growing fruit and vegetables in our gardens it’s useful to grow other ‘companion’ plants too such as marigolds (Calundula officinalis) and Tagetes. This makes sense because they deter pests as well as attracting beneficial insects. The annual poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii) attracts many of these beneficial insects as will alpine strawberries, Convolvulus tricolor and Phacelia tanacetifolia. Growing herbs adds to the visual impact of any plot, will be usual in cooking as well as adding to the battle against pests The biennial parsley makes a lovely edging plant and so does oregano. If you like mint keep it confined to a pot. Try chocolate, apple or pineapple mint as well as the more common spearmint. Chocolate mint really does smell like After Eight mints! Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) repel aphids and garlic (Allium sativum) will deter slugs and snails. Lemon verbena repels mosquitos. Basil is a favourite of mine and I grow different varieties in pots in the greenhouse. Sage and Rosemary are shrubs that need a bit of space. My favourite sage is the lovely yellow fringed Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’ Thyme though short lived is always worth growing.
Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’
Tagetes ‘Naughty Marietta’ in the greenhouse
Of course the companion plants need not be confined to the kitchen garden. They will look lovely in an ornamental border too. (I wouldn’t advocate growing any vegetables in a garden border!)
All the companion plants I’ve mentioned are very easy to grow from seed as are most of the herbs. No doubt Adam Alexander will have many (vegetable) seeds for sale at our July 19th meeting. The seed collector and entertaining speaker will be talking about his travels collecting seed from all over the world. This promises to be a very engaging talk not to be missed. If you are trying to save on petrol for travel this season, make sure that you price in the journeys to club during the next few months because we have another excellent speaker to educate and entertain in our summer programme. On June 21st, Steve Mees from Holehird Garden, Windermere, Cumbria, home of the Lakeland Horticultural Society will be talking about the garden and mentioning specific plants including ferns. Holehird is a wonderful garden that is well worth a visit. Amazingly, it is wholly run by volunteers. Our ever popular Gardeners’ Question Time evening will be held at our August meeting on the 16th when the committee will be judging the potato growing competition as well as giving the usual topical advice to members. It’s good to talk with like-minded people.
The trip to Arley Hall Garden Festival on June 25th will be a chance to purchase plants as well as seed.
Other jobs to be getting on with:
Get Dahlias that have been started in pots in the garden now.
Cut your hedges to ensure a neat appearance to the garden
Water the kitchen garden in dry periods giving priority to newly planted specimens. Pots will also need a good drink every day.
Keep a look out for pests and diseases and deal with them promptly
Deadhead flowers that have gone over to maintain a good display. Cut stems of Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and other colours down to the ground to keep them flowering all season
Towards the end of summer start collecting seed from early flowerers. Choose a warm dry sunny day and use brown paper bags to put seed into.
Top up the pond if you have one or the birdbath so that the birds can have a drink.
As well as keeping on top of the weeding and watering I will be planting out the annuals and perennials grown from seed earlier in the summer season. Ammi visnage ‘Green Mist’, Ammi major, Nicotiana ‘Starlight Dancer’ and ‘Lime Green’ will all go into the main borders in June. There were other perennials that I sowed but, as I write (in mid- May) they don’t seem to have put on enough growth to plant out. I was hoping to see the very dark red of the first year flowering perennial Achillea millifolium ‘Cassis’ adding its richness to the border and the pale yellow scabious Cephalaria Gigantia showing its flowers through the tall Campanula lactiflora that has a central position on the Gravel Walk. I think it will have to wait until next year. Whatever you are doing this summer, enjoy the garden and the sunshine. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain too much!!!