31 July 2019
I am in awe of all you clever and resilient growers of vegetables. So much of my efforts to grow something good to eat turns into rabbit food, or just doesn’t thrive. So a recent go at growing new potatoes in a different way has cheered me up no end. In spring I bought 3 tubers of a seed potato ‘Orla’. A large tub was selected, cleaned up and Orla x 3 duly planted. I watered regularly and ‘earthed them up’, meaning topping up with soil as the green leaves emerged. And yesterday – hooray – we upturned the tub and were delighted to find a gorgeous pile of blemish free baby Orlas weighing in at almost 2 kilos. They are delicious too. Potatoes planted in our solid, sticky clay really don’t do well: they come out like mush and full of slugs. So now I know that’s the way to do it! The runner beans are well up the poles and in flower, tomatoes are looking reasonably good and yellow courgettes are taking over the plot. So I’m getting better!
Our meadow has looked good this year too. Growing wildflowers, especially native varieties, has been identified as one of the best and loveliest ways of doing our bit for biodiversity. The problem is that if you want really good, long lasting results, you can’t just stop mowing. It’s better than doing nothing, but the big grasses will probably take over and prevent wild flowers from thriving. Yellow rattle is usually cited as the solution. It is a parasitic plant, weakening the grass and so giving space to other plants. You can sow seed or buy plugs: the wildflower farm at Langar has a good selection. We planted some extras in the Spring, ox eye daisies, ladies’ bedstraw, wild sweet pea, hardy geranium, purple loosestrife and, more recently cornflowers and ragged robin. All are growing reasonably well after several years alongside the original inhabitants including cow parsley and buttercups. I have also planted some species roses and a hydrangea for a bit more interest. The result is a bit messy, no bad thing that, and a lovely mixture of grasses and flowers much loved by bees, butterflies, moths and other insects. We have a resident grass snake, toads, newts and a regular foxy visitor. In spring there are lent lilies (our native daffodil), bluebells, fritillaries and a small but steadily spreading clump of wood anenomes. It’s been fun making it happen, but patience is the watchword, it doesn’t happen overnight.
From the native and wild to the cultivated and highly ornamental, our dahlias are doing brilliantly this year. They do need a fair bit of mollycoddling, regular deadheading, staking, feeding and watering, to stay flowering and looking well. If you do all that though, they will reward you magnificently, producing their gorgeous blooms right up until the frosts. They aren’t reliably hardy but the last couple of years I have left some in the ground under a good mulch and they have survived well. I also dug up some clumps to be on the safe side. Do it after the frost has blackened the top growth, dry them out a little and store them in a cool greenhouse, porch or somewhere frost free. Keep an eye on the over the winter to make sure they don’t either dry right out or go mouldy and pop them in a pot of new soil early April. Plant out once the danger of frost has gone and they will soon get going.
Keep deadheading your perennials and annuals to keep them going as long as possible or they tend to think their work is done and stop producing flowers. But don’t forget to enjoy your garden over the summer. If you are an obsessive plants person like me I know it can be hard to just sit and relax in your outside space. But give yourself a treat, make a cuppa or pour a glass and take time to appreciate all your hard work!