Here on Pig Row the rains are still with us, we tramp around the garden in wellies and waterproofs, in moments of madness we strip off to our jumpers. Each drop of rain results in a shrug of the shoulders, a sigh and as the heavens up, the shrug turns to a mad dash to the greenhouse clutching our little boy who giggles, his arms wind milling and his tongue pushed out catching fat rain drops. As we hide under the glass we note the one thing that we are missing in the garden, a place to brew up. If my wife has her way, first will come the kettle and then cake. Cake and gardening keeps us going nowadays but with a child under two no one can blame us. As we rush from the glasshouse, fuelled up on Bakewell tarts and Victoria sponge, we meet the needs of a wet garden head on in a dinghy. Water pools frivolously on the unfinished paths at Pig Row. A dinghy would be on my wish list.
There is plenty to do in a wet garden but there are a few don’ts, don’t walk on the wet soil, don’t dig it either. In both cases you’ll end up with mud, fun for the kids but not for the garden or the washing machine.
Rain is good for plants in the borders but the average British downpour won’t touch most of your pot plants. These still need water and they now more than ever they will be subject to drying out from the early summer winds, so keep them happy, keep them watered.
There is always the worry with new gardeners of when to water and how to water.
At Pig Row, we usually water first thing in the morning under the belief that when we wake at Pig Row we need a drink and therefore the plants must need a brew. If you’re not sure whether the plants in your borders need a drink, get down on your knees and plunge your fingers into the soil, finger deep. If the tips of your fingers are damp, don’t worry, if they come up dry and dusty, get watering. You don’t have to water your border plants everyday and I would advise against it. If you water your border everyday you are keeping your plants soft, they will not send down any deep roots and the first holiday you’ll go on they’ll wither away if the weather is hot. A good soaking with a watering can every few days at the base of the plant will work wonders as the water will get down deep and so will the roots. Here at Pig Row I do a good water of the border twice a week when hot and once a week when cool. I water all pot plants undercover everyday and out in the open every other day. You want your plants to find water and not be reliant on you twenty four seven.
Then there is the question of hoses, in most British summers, they’re banned and I think they are environmentally unfriendly in the wrong hands. We’ve all been guilty of standing outside on a balmy summer’s evening, spraying our garden plants indiscriminately, covering the foliage, the car, the kids, the washing drying on the line, next door’s cat, next door’s car as we move like a whirling dervish, creating the best environment to spread disease amongst the borders. I try to avoid using the hose as so much water is wasted and never makes it into the soil to any great depth. That aside, I know it feels good to have a hose in your hand chatting to a neighbour as you both waste water but you’re killing your plants with kindness. If your going to use a hose, get down to the base of the plant, if using them to water pots, run it until the water reaches the brim and move on to the next pot. Good watering, good use of water will give you strong plants.
In April of last year, we had the driest month on record and last March I ran a trial on Russell Mixed Lupins grown on from last year. I planted a bed of forty of them, half the bed was well watered in and mulched; never underestimate the worth of a couple of inches of compost around new plants. I planted the remained twenty and passed a watering can over them, a cursory glance, as many of us do with the garden hose. I added no mulch. By early May the mulched plants are flowering, bushy and monstrous in scale as they knit together to create a dense carpet of flowers. The remaining twenty are barely a third of their size, nerdy by comparison and wheezing to keep up, out of these twenty only one plant has sent up a flower compared to an staggering one hundred sixty flower heads budding on the mulched plants.
Use mulch, water well every few days and those plants won’t be so reliant on you and rather than finding yourself running around with dripping hose in hand you can sit down, turn on the radio, eat cake, drink tea and watch the flowers blossom.