My Grandad used to say that everything tastes better with a crust on it, and I think he had a point. I do love fruit pie with lashings of cream.
I guess the needs of your garden will be the last thing on your mind when planning a holiday and more often its a last minute chat with a friend or neighbour to ask if they would keep an eye on the plants in the greenhouse.
I always feel a little nervous a day or so before we are planning to be away as I suddenly realise that I have a particular way of doing things and fear that the person I entrust my plants to may not have the same obsessive approach to gardening that I have. In reality, I have no need to worry as my neighbour George who farms the land opposite understands, and as he passes through our garden on his inspection visits to check on his sheep, he always takes an interest in what we are growing.
In fairness most of the garden can stand being left as the critical thing really is watering. The lawn may be a little longer than you like when you return but that is easy to rectify. Beds and borders are fine too so really that only leaves containers, greenhouse and house plants. House plants will be fine for two to three weeks if you water them well before you go, smaller pots can be placed on a damp towel or capillary matting in a shallow tray with no holes in, fill the tray with enough water to just cover the mat or towel. For safety stand the tray in the bath (with the plug out) the cool temperature in the bathroom will also reduce the plant’s water requirements. The main concern will be your outdoor containers and if you have one, the greenhouse. There are a number of automatic watering systems on the market but unless you are away regularly it’s quite an investment and I find the tubes and pipework a little intrusive in the garden. There is no substitute for a good neighbour or relative who knows how you feel about your plants. Water everything well the day before you go and if possible do it with your neighbour or relative present, then they will see how you like to do it.
Most garden plants are quite happy with an annual dressing of general fertiliser in spring and providing it rains will perform year after year. It’s good practice to mulch the border soil at least every two to three years to help improve the soil structure and feed the soil organisms. It is however different for plants in container displays, fruit and vegetables. As plants continue to grow, flower and in some cases produce fruit, additional feeding is essential to ensure a good crop and continuous flowering. Particularly in warm weather the need for regular watering can also wash the limited nutrients in composts out of the drainage hole and additional liquid feeding or topdressing will correct this. During the summer months flowering and fruiting plants benefit from a feed that is high in potash which is a nutrient that helps plants flower and fruit to ripen so liquid feeds for tomatoes are good for containers too.
Rescuing plants from the bargain basement bench or trolley of your local nursery or garden centre can be a way of sourcing cheap plants, they will however require a little care and attention. Avoid those that are tall, spindly, pale and yellowing and definitely anything brown and crispy. The latter rarely recover even with the most proficient gardener. A quick assessment should include an inspection for pest damage or diseases, reject these too, the last thing you need is for the problem to be passed on to your own plants. Check the compost, often the main cause of plants being moved to the bargain basement is that they have had a period of dry, and subsequently flagged, or in some cases are just going out of season. Providing the plant is showing signs of some fresh growth, then there’s always hope. Keep an eye on them in the first two weeks after purchase, and it’s a good idea to give them a general liquid feed, half the recommended strength. This should help them grow away. Gently knock the plant out of the pot and check its roots, if they look congested then repot into a larger pot using fresh general purpose compost.
(Next month, summer pruning, fruit bushes, looking after lavender and taking cuttings of shrubby herbs)