Summertime, but get set for autumn

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Notes from an Avid Gardener

by Michelle Bolton

Despite it being the height of summer there is a hint of autumn in the air with fruit such as blackberries ripening two to three weeks early, some leaves turning and a number of trees shedding leaves. Maybe it’s because we had such a hot, dry spring.

This does mean you should regularly check top fruit, otherwise you could find the wasps are having a field day in the plums and all your apples have become windfalls.

This is not a problem I have because, if you remember from my previous articles, I don’t have any fruit.

I have always pruned and clipped many evergreen shrubs and hedges right up until October, but the latest advice from the RHS (based on the weather of recent winters) is to complete by the end of August so any new growth has the opportunity to harden before the winter.

Now is a good time to take cuttings of plants like dianthus (pinks) and lavender. I choose these plants because they are short-lived and can become scruffy, so it is an economical way of regularly replacing plants. The brilliant thing is that it is very easy with good results.

Cut strong, non-flowering shoots as low down as possible and place in a plastic bag to keep moist. Fill a two-litre pot with compost – multi-purpose is fine, firm well and dib six holes.

Using a sharp knife, I use the kitchen paring knife, trim each cutting just below a leaf joint, then strip off three-quarters of the leaves, cut the remaining leaves in half and pop into the dibbed hole and firm.

Water the pot and place a clear bag over the top and wait.

If you have different varieties don’t forget to label the pot up, as in the past I had to wait until they flowered in the following summer to find out what they were. There is no need to use hormone rooting compound for easy cuttings such as these.

Due to the cool nights, the sweetcorn is looking terrible, all short and yellow, I’ve fed it but this has had little effect, I’m not optimistic for a good crop!

On the other side of the coin, I already have a surplus of tomatoes, which is great, and have been using my new toy, a dehydrator (you could use a fan oven at low temperature overnight). I dry the tomatoes so they still have a little succulence and then store them in good-quality virgin olive oil. Very Continental!

The first of the French beans, borlotto, are ready. They are very pretty, mottled with maroon, and once we’ve had our fill the pods can be left to mature on the plant and the beans dried and stored for the winter.

One of the key things about making best use of home-grown produce is to make it go no further, so while I adore pies and soups etc, the problem is that there is always even more left over.

At the beginning of July I did my first show garden at the All about Gardening Show at the Lincolnshire Showground. It took a lot of organising and was very hard work. I couldn’t have possibly done it without the help of friends, family and some local companies.

Fortunately, the weather was superb and everyone’s response was very positive.

I don’t know if I would do it again, I’ll have to wait and see if it was all worth it.

The bees are back home, so we are trying to rear some new queens and set up a second hive. As a result the bees are a bit tetchy and there won’t be any more honey this year, but we’ve got plenty already.

l Leafy Spaces Garden and Border Design – practical advice and tuition, garden care, talks and presentations; tel: 01652 678658.