Monday, 23 July 2012

Water pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes......eyerything!.

Whats that bright ball in the sky?
One week it's monsoon season and you're using a gondola to get around the garden, then the next week it's bone dry and you're lugging watering cans and hoses around the place! Whatever the reason July has officially decided to behave as it ought bringing forth sunshine and warm overcast days. And now the problem of watering rears it's ugly head. Regular watering is essential for good crops particularly so for tomatoes, pumpkins, courgettes and cucumbers. But in general all crops fare better when they have a regular dependable water supply.

Irregular watering causes what Jack has nicknamed "smiling tomatoes", tomatoes whose skin cracks in the shape of a big smile inviting in moulds to rot the fruit in record time.

Don't forget to put a flat rock under the baby Pumpkin
Cucumbers are mostly made up of H2o, they need regular watering to get to a decent size and retain all the moist green-ness that we grow them for.

Pumpkins and courgettes which should be setting fruit now need copious amounts of water to fill out to the required sizes. If you are growing watery fleshed "Jack-o-lanterns" for Halloween carving or contest winning "Atlantic giants" you had better lorry the water into them. Even smaller varieties, gown for cooking and eating wont do well unless they get enough water at this crucial stage.

draining the water butt dry in record time
It goes without saying that rainwater is the best. Mind you even the largest water butts can run out at speed when the watering rush is on so try to gather more than you think you need for these dry times. Tap water is fine but added ingredients from treatment works won't agree with every plant,(my cat will look for rainwater outside rather than drink water from the tap-perhaps he has more sense than myself?) and if you have a naturally limy or hard water you can change the soil pH too far in a direction plants wont like. With all the talk of water metres and water charges we gardeners will have to come up with a long term water strategy for the garden. So prepare to sink a well or a rainwater collection tank with a pump in the next few years.

Just as the weather warmed up the last parsnip and beetroot seeds finally germinated. Probably with all the rain that came before the ground was just too cold for them to germinate. If you have seedlings just transplanted out or seedlings just germinating don't forget to keep them watered too.

The Dillon Garden

Oooh and awe in equal measure
If theres one thing that fills me with dread it's the thought of a coach trip up to Dublin with the purple rinse brigade. Luckily yesterday the oldies stayed home, minding their hips, arthritis and digestive ailments and the bus was packed instead with the able bodied who spent the 2.5 hours in good humour swapping stories and having a bit of craic as we sped our way up the motorway in a warm muggy day that by Ranelagh had broken into sunshine.

Exploring out back
Val and Helen Dillon live on Sandford Terrace in Dublin in a gorgeous old house that is full of beautiful antiques(both were antiques dealers) and some very small dogs. They have been gardening for over 40 years and are still as peppy and enthusiastic about it as if they started yesterday. Val in particular is quite funny and entertaining getting us all to laugh so much at his little opening talk that we went to the garden with aching jaws.I can quite imagine himself and Helen having great battles of wit all day long, neither winning but both scoring points in a very Bogart and Bacall kind of way.Mind you Helen is a force to be reckoned with, she was very warm and welcoming but I'd say she doesn't suffer fools gladly!

View from the drawing room window
From the drawing room window we had this amazing view out over the canal that forms the heart of their stunning back garden. I had seen lots of photos of course but being there and looking out at it from the house you are so struck by the whole glorious vista that it's quite breathtaking. So although I took this photo, and a few others, hand on heart they are a poor copy of the full glory of the garden in real life.

We descended down the steps from the tiny terrace at the back and dove into the garden. Somehow myself and Eileen got chatting to Helen right away about alstromerias (Peruvian Lillie's) which Eileen doesn't like at all! There were a few different types, all putting on huge displays in the borders surrounding the central canal. I love these guys because they are so tropical looking but yet so tough and very reliable, coming back year after year without any minding or fussing over. They make great long lasting cut flowers for the house too. Eileen associates them with cheap bouquets from petrol stations- no romance there then!

Dahlia perfection! it even matched my nail varnish!
On the ground floor, so to speak, a few things struck me. First there was nice room between the plants, no battles for space here as there are in my garden. Secondly f&*k me!! I have never seen such enormous Dahlias, she must be giving them plant steroids! The height of the plants, their incredible lushness and perfect blooms was just mind blowing. I think my Dahlias are great, and trust me they are midgets by comparison!

Check out part of the container army in bins and black pots
Helen has a lot of pots to mind. She deliberately plants up Dahlias in particular in pots to be moved to gaps in the border for instant filling and adding of colour. I do the same thing but I plant mine into the border and out of the pot. Helen leaves hers in pots and is supremely dedicated to their watering. You must be a very experienced gardener to really look after containers properly. It takes too much time and effort for most people to commit to or cope with.I usually try to banish all plants from pots to ground for the summer or use Charlies old trick of burying the plant in the pot in a bed to save on watering.

If one word could describe this garden it would be "lush". Great swathes of flowers, drifts of roses, fine groups of ornamental foliage, nothing looking thin, miserable or lonely for want of plant company. Although looking out from the back window did give the impression that the garden was visible in its entirety paths weaving down the sides and back of the borders hid other gems, with a glasshouse and lean-to adding to the nooks and crannies to be explored.

Stunning romneya(tree poppy) massive gangs of flowers
Val kindly make us all tea and coffee and served delicious biscuits as small groups drifted in in need of refreshment before going onward. One of the little dogs made friends with everyone in the hopes of a biscuit coming their way.

In the little courtyard to the side of the house Helen and Val's niece was in charge of plant sales. I bought three scarlet clove scented dianthus/carnations/pinks depending on your persuasion. Others took the plunge and bought huge potted Agapanthus, one of Helen's own favourite plants.Willy our bus driver was smirking from ear to ear as he saw us return laden down with bags overflowing with all sorts of flowers and foliage, I think he thought we were mad-how right he was!

We took our leave of the very hospitable Dillon's at lunch hour leaving them to prepare for yet more visitors in the afternoon. If you find yourself in Dublin this summer do go visit the garden. It's really well worth it.

Agapanthus, one of the stars of the show
Alstromerias and succulents bloom near the glasshouse

Helen gets Deborah a dahlia cutting-look at the height of the dahlia plant!
Giant agapanthus about to open near the canal
almost fell over when I saw how far along this pumpkin is!
Raised beds and vegetables too-big surprise
Well chosen trees set off the rest of the garden
Beautiful vistas from every angle
a perfect flush of white sweetly scented roses

The Dillon Garden is the website for the garden. Check out photo galleries (far better than my own), opening times, Helen's books and related articles.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Lettuce towers felled for salad crops and pumpkins

empire of towering lettuce
I always plant too much lettuce. There I've said it. I feel like an alcoholic at an AA Meeting. "I'm Marie and I sow too much lettuce seed! I have a problem!".

Mind you having too much lettuce is generally a good thing, the slugs and flea beetles appreciate the excess and you don't have a conniption when you discover a few plants have vanished overnight.Not an invitation rabbits, if ye are reading this.

Lettuce that goes unmolested ends up in towers, tall formidable plants with only one goal to flower and set seed as quickly as possible. Far be it for me to deny their biological destiny but lettuce towers are no good for eating, the leaves become quite bitter and a hell of a lot tougher than you would like.Besides the mid-summer squeeze is on for space, winter crops are now nice sized seedlings that need to get transplanted outdoors,so anything that has ceased being productive has got to go.

the white stuff
Pulling out the lettuce I was quite happy to see white wispy strands covering the roots. These are the all important microrhizza that interact between roots and soil, feeding the plant nutrients in return for shelter amongst it's roots. Once they hit the air these important fungi die so it's important not to disturb the soil with constant digging.A bit like beehives, the happiest bees are the least interfered with, so Jack tells me anyway!

One wheelbarrow later the bed was emptied of it's lettuce towers and the weeds pulled to clear the ground for the new arrivals. On the west side I'm putting in (yet another) pumpkin plant while on the east side, lying very much in shade after midday, I'm putting in mizuna and mibuna, members of the rocket family that make very tasty salad greens but bolt quickly in too hot conditions. Although the bed was originally well fed with a whole compost heap I did put some pelleted chicken manure down to keep them going while their roots establish themselves within the network of fungi and bacteria in the soil. You might have noticed this period yourself when you transplant out into the garden- plants just sit there for a few weeks before they start to really get going.

Broad beans tower over the bed

Casting all the shade over the bed are the Oldambaster broad beans which have now reached and pushed beyond the height of the lettuce wire supporting the peas and mange tout. Later planted varieties of broad beans are in no way so prolific and bountiful-the crop is just outstanding. Despite giving away a big pile to Dace last weekend we could feed half the parish with what remains. They are definitely one of the success stories of this veg year.

The poor french beans have not been so lucky. They did recover from the root chewing they got just as I transplanted them out and have now begun to slowly flower but they are small weak plants and I don't really expect much of a bounty from them at this stage.

In went the salad crops. Although I bought a bag of sluggone I decided not to use it on this bed. My poor slugs would be too confused, they are not used to no-go areas in the garden. I might arrive the next morning to find them all out protesting with plac cards! I'm saving the slug gone for more troublesome areas and smaller amounts of plants, after all I do have lots of salad crops, enough for all of us.

Oldambaster broad bean crop

Have your cherry and eat it

Yum yum yum
Last year  as we walked through the garden in winter Seamus and I stopped at a cherry tree that was the most miserable specimen in the garden. Lanky and fruitless it has been on a charity scholarship for far too long, Seamus wanted to take it out and replace it with a more productive variety, I pleaded for a final years clemency-if it didn't produce this summer it was all over. Just for good measure we told the tree directly-cough up a few cherrys or your'e out!

Much like the fruitless tree in the bible its amazing what direct threats can do. I'm not going to tell you it grew four feet in all directions but it did put on a fine healthy crop of leaves, a flourish of blossoms and finally 4 fruit. Yes 4! Four delicious fresh sweet cherries. I ate two, Seamus ate one and a bird got the final one.

Thats not the end of the cherries though. We have five other cherry trees one of which has a fine crop of morello cherries, these are the ones you cook rather than eat. I had a ripe one the other day and Jesus it was so bitter would give sloes a good run for their money.(Three of the five trees are newcomers since last winter and the other dropped all its fruit in the late frosts, the fecking weather has not been good for fruit this year.)

Morello cherries
Anyway the whole point of my meanderings is to explain one strange thing-we actually got to eat cherries for the first time and the bitter cherries, usually decimated by the birds are, as yet, untouched. Likewise over-ripe blackcurrants are bursting on the bushes and there has been no raid. Why? Is there an abundance of food in nature for them as some people have sugested? or did catching one unlucky blackbird a few weeks ago really put the others off their fruit?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Summer green manures

If you have begun clearing beds and you have no plans for follow on crops you can sow summer green manures that will rest the soil, keep the weeds off and depending on the variety you use fix nitrogen too, helping to restoring fertility. On Wednesday after the onions and garlic were taken up in the VEC garden we sowed in Mustard, a very fast growing bulky green manure. There are lots of other summer green manures that you can still sow at this time of the year;

Mustard green manure
Catch crop,attracts bees,weed suppressor

Crimson Clover
Quick growing,annual N-fixer, beautiful flowers, attracts bees

Fodder Radish
Weed suppressor, deep rooting, improves soil structure

Organic matter, strong roots, attracts bees. Lovely blue flowers.

Red Clover
High yield, forage, N fixer, fertility building, deep
rooting, improves soil structure

White Clover
N-fixer, large leaf, vigorous

Sowing green manure