Gardens Archive - JUNE / JULY 2005
Summer is fast approaching, the days are lengthening and so far we have had a few warm sunny days. The swallows have arrived back at Northcote, always a good sign and the fruit trees are beginning to blossom - hopefully we have seen the last of the night frosts until the autumn.
After a mild early March we had night time temperatures as low as -6 in early May, all we need now are some long sunny days to warm the soil. If you managed to rake out the moss from your lawns, and give them a weed and feed, they should be starting to look much improved. It does though seem to be a slow late start to the season. From my diary entries for last year many plants were more advanced than at the present time, this is probably due to the erratic nature of the weather we have still been getting; snow, hail and even a tornado!, and the gardeners worst enemy strong east winds. Bizarrely though we have a blackberry in flower many months earlier than expected, an early crop of blackberries is likely?
I have been adding to our stock of strawberries recently with a number of different varieties plus the addition of perpetual varieties, in the attempt of lengthening the availability of everyone's favorite summer fruit. Shop bought strawberries look nice but do not compare in flavor to home grown fresh picked ones. The trouble with strawberries is they are totally dependant on good weather at fruiting time. Also they are more susceptible to deficiencies in plant foods than many other fruits, particularly potash. If you grow strawberries now is the time to give them a generous feed of potash, you will be amazed at the difference it makes.
With the addition of our new greenhouse last year we have been able to keep a good supply of fresh salad leaves for the restaurant through the winter months, adding to the crops like American land cress, borecole and cavolo nero, Greek cress, wrinkle crinkle cress, lambs lettuce plus various mustards and kales, which happily provide us with interesting flavours through the winter. With a little protection from the wet continental varieties of lettuce like; radichetta and lingua di canario will continue to crop through most of the winter. Our aim at Northcote has been to put flavour, colour and texture back into salads, unlike the shop bought pre packed flavorless items. The new greenhouse has also been useful in keeping a fresh supply of Italian flat leafed parsley, mizuna and mint growing through the colder months. The Italian flat leaf parsley is much more suited to cutting back hard and re-growing than the curly varieties, and the flavour is better. The plants I am still harvesting from were sown this time last year, and have been picked from daily. Normally in a reliable spring we would already be harvesting various lettuces, many varieties of rocket, beetroot leaves in various colours, chard, mustards and other salad ingredients from the garden, but as germination this year has been poor and sporadic, they are only now starting to show their heads above the soil.
You can still prune back your perennials that are becoming too large or unshapely. Just cut back to where you see new growth buds are appearing, lavender in particular becomes woody and unproductive over time, but hates to be pruned until new buds are showing. Another example are penstemons, never cut them back in the autumn or winter however unsightly they look, leave them until they start to re-grow. Another tip with penstemons is the larger size the leaf the hardier the variety.
Particularly successful this year have been our spring bulbs, planted into a grassy area in the autumn. You can in fact have a continual flowering through nearly all the year, starting with the yellow of winter aconites in January, often peeping through snow, followed by snowdrops, crocus, daffodils and narcissi. The stunning blues of muscari and scillas, on to Dutch iris, alliums, tulips, bluebells in various colours. The white and pink varieties are particularly effective and my favourite snakes head fritillary, or chequered lily. The dazzling anemones, lilies, camassias and the larger fritillarys, gladioli, late iris, fox tail lilies nerines and autumn flowering crocus, commonly known as naked ladies, as they flower without any leaves.
Hopefully the unsettled weather will end soon and we look forward to a productive summer? Though as ever this is at the mercy of our British climate, which does limit what we can grow well? Crops like basil and coriander will grow in our British summers but as they are native to the Far East and Pacific they do need daytime and nighttime temperatures near 70f to flourish, so hopefully we will have a summer warm and sunny enough to produce a good harvest.
Good gardening and don't forget to leave time to enjoy it.
Head Gardener Northcote Manor