Sunday 18 February 2018

Going on holiday? Don’t forget about the garden

Hannah Stephenson

Don't let your garden become a mass of dried-up bedraggled plants and wilting flowers while you're away on your summer holidays. Hannah Stephenson offers some damage limitation tips

You may have packed your suitcases and sorted out your flight tickets in preparation for your two-week summer holiday - but what about the garden?

So many gardeners see all their work go to pot when they are away from home in the summer, as containers dry out, lawns go brown and many plants run to seed in their absence.

However, there are ways to minimise the suffering your plants endure if you are away during a prolonged spell of warm, dry weather, so that you can return home to a garden which doesn't look like it's been in a full-scale drought.

Your first port of call is your neighbours and family. Ask if they can water your plants while you're away and harvest crops such as tomatoes and green beans before they go over, keeping what they want for themselves.

Cluster your patio pots together in a sheltered, shady place that is open to the rain, feeding and watering them thoroughly just before leaving. Having them close together will make watering easier, if you have someone to do it for you, and will help conserve moisture if you don't.

If you don't have anyone to water your containers, take down hanging baskets and sit them directly into a depression in the soil surface in a cool, shady spot and drench them with water so the soil underneath is also wet.

If you don't have an automatic watering system, use an upturned bottle full of water set into the container, which should release the water as the soil dries.

Alternatively, invest in some strips of capillary matting tucked into the compost at one end and a bucket of water at the other, which should provide enough moisture for the fortnight you're away.

Before you go, remove all the blooms from your containers, not just the faded ones. This should conserve the plants' energy and hopefully will mean that new blooms will have emerged by the time you return home.

Don't worry about your lawn. You can choose to leave it long, to conserve moisture and protect the roots. Don't feed it to encourage it to grow fast while you're away. If it has gone the colour of straw on your return, don't worry because it will pick up again in autumn when the rain comes.

Well-established plants in borders shouldn't suffer too much, as their roots will be deep enough to find some moisture in the soil.

Fruit shouldn't suffer if you're away in August, as soft fruit will have been picked before you go and apples and pears won't be ready for harvesting until autumn.

Give veg a really good soaking before you go, pick as much as you can just before you leave, blanching and freezing what you can't use, or give it to a kindly neighbour who may return the favour with a bit of watering in your absence.

If you do rely on your friends and neighbours to do the watering for you while you're away, make sure you bring them back a present and always offer to return the favour.

BEST OF THE BUNCH - Glory Lily (Gloriosa superba)

The glory lily, with its fabulously exotic flowers with reflexed petals of red and yellow and long stamens dangling below, may not be the easiest climber to grow, but it is one of the most rewarding.

The variety G. superba 'Rothschildiana' was introduced from Africa in 1904 and is widely available here, but you'll need to put it in a sunny, sheltered spot in loam-based compost mixed with grit for any chance of success and many end up growing it in a conservatory or greenhouse.

Tubers are available in spring and should be set 10cm (4in) deep in a pot at least 20cm (8in) across, watered in well and placed where the temperature doesn't drop below 10C (50F).

When the plant comes into growth it should be watered again and given some kind of support to climb up. Give it a liquid feed every couple of weeks once it's in growth (it can grow up to 2m) and the flowers should appear in July and August.

Once it's finished flowering, allow it to die back naturally and take it in over the winter. If you have children or pets, be warned that gloriosa is poisonous if any of its part, particularly tubers, are eaten.

GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT - Perk up your strawberry patch

Your strawberries may be over but to ensure a good crop next year, don't leave the strawberry patch to fend for itself. Give the whole bed a good haircut with some shears, trimming the plants down about 5cm (2in) from the ground.

Gather up the straw placed around the plants and put it on the compost heap and rake up any other debris, so reducing the chance of disease or unwanted pests such as slugs and snails hiding underneath decomposing matter. Raking will also remove runners before they've been able to root.

Lastly, give the patch a boost by sprinkling a handful or tomato fertiliser over each square metre and wash it in with a hose, giving the whole area a thoroughly good soaking. It may look really forlorn when you've done all this but within a short period you'll see new growth appearing.

THREE WAYS TO... Use ornaments effectively

1. Pinpoint the area of your garden which is crying out for more interest. It may be at the end of a path or on a corner and then place an ornament there to bring it to life.

2. Don't always go for small - small knick-knacks can give a cluttered appearance. Sometimes one big sculpture or pot can be much more effective.

3. If you're not sure about which ornament to choose, go for the one with a simple form, especially if you are mixing styles and ages of ornament.


Continue to harvest fruit and veg as well as herbs to freeze or dry for winter use.

Deadhead regularly to encourage more flowers unless you want seeds to form.

Pinch out the growing tips of wallflowers to encourage the plants to bush out.

Remove the growing tips from greenhouse tomatoes to encourage the fruit to develop more rapidly.

Take the last crop of cuttings this year from pinks.

Pinch out the growing tips of fuchsias to increase the number of shoots available for cuttings.

Sow Japanese onions to overwinter.

Feed trees and shrubs that are performing badly with a high nitrogen liquid fertiliser.

Feed tomato plants regularly.

Make sure leafy veg such as lettuces and spinach, fruiting crops such as tomatoes and marrows and peas and beans get sufficient water.

Gather aromatic leaves and flowers to dry for potpourri.

Lift garlic bulbs, bunch loosely and hang in an airy place to dry.

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