Those of us who are old enough will always remember 1976 as the year of the long, hot summer. Similarly, we will no doubt remember 2013 as the summer that never was. The temperature in our garden this morning (Midsummer’s Day) is a mere 16°C, well below the average, but we must at least be thankful for the fact that yesterday’s icy, howling gale has died down, so it feels more comfortable, even though the thermometer today is more or less the same as yesterday.
These low, early summer temperatures have put many of us in a quandary. Summer hanging baskets and bedding are ready to replace the winter and spring ones, and yet the early pansies and violas are still flowering their socks off, so it seems a shame to discard them. My solution is to keep the really healthy ones going as long as they will, by dead-heading thoroughly and spraying with a fungicide and insecticide to eliminate the bugs and blights that would otherwise finish them off, and feeding regularly with a soluble fertiliser. Those slightly less perfect I wring every last ounce of colour from by standing them on upside down plant pots to make miniature pedestals; they are then added to the front of borders or amongst container collections to finish their performance – you don’t notice slightly tatty flowers nearer the ground.
It’s a sobering thought that we will soon be putting in our spring bulb orders again, but looking through the catalogues does give a glimmer of hope during these dull, chilly days. I shall certainly plant more alliums of every variety as, despite the weather, they have performed well, and as they can be squeezed into just about every gap in the beds and borders, they are ideal for gardens with limited space. Normally, my lilies would be starting to flower by now, but they are still in tight bud; however they do give something still to look forward to, and, like alliums, you can pop them in almost anywhere that receives a decent amount of sun. Some of my most successful containers last year contained a mixture of lilies and gladioli; get your planting dates right and the glads should take over when the lilies have faded.
In addition to growing my own potatoes this year, I had an urge to grow sweet potatoes when it came to sending in plant orders. I bought from two well-known seed companies; one sends out unrooted ‘slips’ and the other plug plants and I was curious to see if there was any difference in performance between the two. The slips took a long time to stop wilting when planted according to the instructions (before they had produced proper roots); the plugs grew away quite enthusiastically as soon as potted up, which would seem to indicate that plugs are a better bet than slips. However, several weeks on, with both kinds ready for potting on again, there seems to be very little difference between the two sorts, although the slips tend to be more straggly. Both kinds are still very small, even though they have been grown on in the greenhouse rather than in a sheltered spot outdoors, as recommended, and I am beginning to wonder whether we will see a crop at all. Another year I shall stick to tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, which never let me down.
There is a tendency to become bored with a small garden that is more than thirty years old, unless you are prepared to redesign areas of it – to me that is too drastic a remedy for boredom when there is little wrong with any of it. This year, looking through the National Trust mail order catalogue, I spotted an attractive outdoor mirror – this would surely give the garden a different atmosphere, I thought. However, when it arrived, there didn’t seem to be anywhere to hang it to create the intended effect. I held it up in all sorts of different places, but none seemed suitable – until I tried it on a wall in what I call my ‘secret garden’. This was originally an access to the side of the garage, hidden by an unruly privet hedge. When the hedge was removed, it created more space, and when this was divided from the rest of the garden by an ornamental wall, it provided a warm, sunny, private spot for morning coffee. The wall at the end of this was just the place for my mirror; it’s now worth visiting this hidden gem just to admire the effect – although you do jump out of your skin when you catch sight of what seems to be a stranger with you, until the penny drops. My goodness, do I really look that bad in fuchsia?