Every now and again I hope to give you some tips on what to do in your garden and allotment for that time of the year with design and gardening advice. I’ll also let you know about any projects I am working on; the ideas behind the design, how we will implement it and what the outcome was like.
If anyone would like to contribute their thoughts and comments I would be pleased to hear from you. I am always pleased to hear other people’s experiences especially since I have found that the more I learn about gardening the less I seem to know.
The darling buds of May
When I was training to be a garden designer we were told there should always be evergreens in the garden because they act as the back bone to any planting design, plus they provide colour and a presence during the winter months.
I still use evergreens in my planting plans for the above reasons, but lately with the fashion moving towards light, airy planting, evergreens can sometimes appear rather heavy and static in these schemes. I have therefore started to incorporate more deciduous or semi-evergreen flowering shrubs to do the same job as the evergreens. They still have a presence in winter, albeit a framework of branches with a few leaves, but I like that. And come the rest of the year these flowering shrubs add colour, scent and diversity to any garden.
May has its own selection of gorgeous flowering shrubs. If you have a shady spot in the garden, Viburnum x Burkwoodii is the perfect plant. It is actually a semi-evergreen shrub, so if you are in an exposed site it will lose some of its leaves over the winter, but these will be quickly replaced in spring. At this time of the year, end of April through to May, it is covered in highly fragrant pompoms that are made up of small white flowers which open from pink buds. Plant it close to a path so you can enjoy its perfume. But bear in mind that it has a height and spread of 2.5m. So although it is not a huge plant, do give it room to spread.
Its branches start quite low down to the ground so I prefer to underplant low creeping plants so they don’t get tangled up with the shrub. For a stylish look, use lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). Together these plants will give a highly scented, white and green combination which would add a real wow factor to any semi-shaded part of the garden.
If you prefer more colour in your garden, try underplanting with Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost. It has sprays of blue flowers, very reminiscent of for-get-me-not flowers, which appear from April to May. Once these flowers have passed the leaves, which look as if they have been dusted with frost, will help to keep the shaded area looking bright and light.
For a more sunny spot, plant a lilac tree. Syringa microphylla superba has fragrant pinkish flowers from April to May, which re-appear in summer and autumn. For a delicate spring arrangement underplant with a creeping phlox such as Phlox subulata ‘Bavaria’. This little plant grows to a height of 15cm with a spread of 50 cm, and has lovely purple eyed white flowers that complement the rose lilac flowers of the syringa. In the summer when the sun is stronger, and so has a tendency to bleach colours, try underplanting with Geranium psilostemon. This plant has strong magenta flowers which hold their own and accentuate the rose/lilac flowers of the syringa.
So if you are feeling that you would prefer a lighter more airy feel to your garden, think about using fragrant flowering shrubs. They will enhance the colour in your garden, add that extra sensory dimension of scent, and they are easy to maintain. What’s not to like? Enjoy.
Top tips for watering your garden
This bank holiday is apparently going to be hot, so the garden is going to suffer again. My garden is just recovering from the last drought we had in July. My water butts are only half full, so I know I am having to rely on grey water from baths and showers at some point. This is not too much of a problem. With all the chandlery shops in Lymington it was easy to buy a plastic, flat bottomed bailer which gets most of the water into a bucket quickly and efficiently without scratching the bath.
I am deliberately using a bucket as I want to get lots of water into my pots. It is better to give the soil a good, slow soaking just a few times a week, so all the soil is wetted, rather than dribbling a little water on the top of the soil every day.
By giving the pots a good watering the water will get down to the roots of the plants where it is needed. This will enable the root system of the plant to expand and take full advantage of any water present in the soil. A sprinkling of water on the top of the pots will evaporate very quickly and therefore won’t be any benefit to the plant.
Should your pots begin to smell because you are using grey water, just sprinkle some more soil over the top and this should deal with the problem.
I make sure I do the watering early in the morning or late in the evening. This not only helps to reduce the amount of evaporation, but it also ensures that the leaves don’t get scorched should any water splash onto them. In full sun the water droplets act like a magnifying glass which concentrates the sunlight. Hence the scorching.
Some other tricks I use to try and reduce water loss from pots is to;
Put saucers under the pots to catch any water that trickles through so it is not lost into the ground.
Mulch the top of the pots to reduce the amount of evaporation from the soil surface. I use white stones as I like the look, but you could use gravel, shells or whatever you like.
Group the pots together to create a more humid atmosphere around the plants. This will reduce water loss from the actual plants through transpiration.
Where possible I put the pots in the shade.
If you have hanging baskets, put pots underneath to catch any runoff
Try to choose plants that don’t need a lot of watering. I have chosen pelargoniums for my floral pot displays as they can survive on very little water.
When it comes to watering the garden I am prioritising which plants I water first.
Firstly I water my sweet peas otherwise they will suffer from bud drop and so won't flower.
After that I water the camellias as they are setting their flowers at the moment.
Then any new plants that have just been put in the garden because as yet these plants haven’t developed an extensive root system which would allow them to find water deeper in the soil. It is for this reason that I am holding off planting up clients’ gardens, as I am concerned the plants will just die in this heat and dry soil.
The rest of the garden has to really fend for itself, although I did give the soil a helping hand in spring when I mulched with manure and compost as this helps to hold the water in the soil.
On the allotment the problem is more severe as the only source of water is from wells or water butts, which again have dried up. I don’t drive to the allotment so any water I take across is limited to the amount I can carry. So again I have to prioritise which plants come first. Here is a list of which plants I target first.
Any young seedlings come first because of their shallow root system.
Any fruiting vegetables or fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes or cucumbers, to ensure you get healthy sweet fruit.
Any beans or peas that are flowering as the water ensures the pods set and swell.
Leafy plants such as spinach or lettuce otherwise they will think they are about to die. This causes them to bolt and taste bitter.
Potatoes, especially when they are in flower.
Any plants grown in pots, for example strawberries, herbs, blueberries. There are often good reasons for having pots on the allotment. Blueberries require a more acidic soil than the soil on site, whereas strawberries and herbs don’t get attacked as much by slugs if they are grown in pots, plus it keeps the fruit clean if they are up off the soil. But as we know this does mean the pots have to be watered. I would suggest replacing the pots with raised beds for these plants as it is an easier and more effective way of growing vegetables in the allotment.
Any new trees that have been planted in the last year or two because again their root system is poorly established.
Hopefully these tips will help you water your garden quickly and efficiently so you will still have time to enjoy this wonderful weather relaxing in your garden.