THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN JUNE
Our spring weather continues to cause concern over low rainfall levels April rainfall was 17mm (60mm average) and temperatures were from -2 to plus 25C, a huge range! So far (mid-month) rainfall in May is 40mm (58mm average) with one 12 hour period getting 17mm (over half an inch!) and temperatures ranged from 2C to 17C. In May we saw river and reservoir levels start to fall and our chalk aquifers (a key supply source for us) along the North Downs continue to be in deficit. Unless we start to have above average rainfall over the next couple of months we are looking at a summer of water deficit – again!
I was asked recently why we should remove old flower heads from plants and whether this was an old gardeners’ rule that made little difference to the health of the plant. Plants that produce seed heads after flowering use up a great deal of energy that could be better used to make new growth. It is true that some plants have sterile flowers that do not produce seed, so dead heading these is not necessary.
Dead heading bush roses is important, and when all the flush of flower is over then cut the old flower stem back to a bud – removing up to 12” of growth – this will stimulate new shoots that will rapidly produce more flower buds and give a good continuity of flower.
A couple of years ago we noticed that a group of Daffodils on the West side of the pond were not flowering, we call this ‘going blind’; the team scattered superphosphate amongst the green foliage to give the plants a boost and make bigger bulbs for next year. It worked and we had a much improved number of blooms this year. If your Daffs are tired give them a boost!
I was surprised to see that a couple of large hedges have had a severe haircut recently – right in the middle of bird nesting! It is disappointing to see this despite lots of information asking that hedges be left until July. Please respect our bird population, this is a critical time of the year for them!
This spring has seen an increase in the numbers of the dreaded Lily Beetle, a small bright shiny red slow moving beetle that lays eggs in the foliage that hatch out into small slimy slug like grubs (larvae), both adult and larvae have big appetites and munch their way through the stems and foliage of Lilies and Fritillaries – spraying is difficult and can harm other beneficial insects in the garden – pick them off and stamp on them – very satisfying!
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN MAY
Where has all the rain gone? In March we had well over a month’s rainfall in just a few days at the beginning of the month and then nothing! April rainfall is looking to be short of the long term average of 60mm – so far we have only had 11mm with no significant rain in the forecast. The climate change scientists forecasted a gradual drop in our rainfall with an increasing trend that any rainfall will happen in heavy bursts. Capturing this precious resource for our gardens is becoming more and more important so have a look around you house and see if there is room to connect a water butt to your downpipes.
Growing plants from plugs supplied by the many growers is great fun but remember you will need to ‘pot them on’ into larger containers and grow them on in cool conditions with a good source of light; you can put them outside during the day but be very careful to bring them in at night if the forecast is for temperatures to be below 5C. Avoid putting them in large size containers, a 9cm pot (round or square) is good enough to produce a good sized plant by the end of the month.
I have been looking at what is available in garden centres to help grow on your tiny plug plants and I am surprised to see that there are pots and multicelled trays available that are not made of recycled plastic; the good news is that if you look carefully you will be able to buy recycled pots and trays, even better these are also suitable for using again and again provided they are washed with hot water and disinfectant.
If you prefer to buy your summer bedding plants ready to plant then don’t forget the Horticultural Society’s Plant Sale in the village centre on Saturday 11th May at 09.45am; if you have some plants that you would like to donate to our fundraising sale please contact Jon Allbutt on 577100. Do you have a gap in your hedge and are looking for a large conifer to fill it? We have some very large pot grown conifers generously donated by a local resident for sale at bargain prices – don’t be late, these plants will sell very quickly!
Keen vegetable growers might be tempted to plant out their beans and peas that they have sown in pots and trays to get an early crop – beware low night temperatures and cold winds this month! If you are tempted take my tip and place one or two bean seeds next to each plant just to be sure to be sure!
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN APRIL
Primroses and Snowdrops are in flower and the sun has some warmth even in a chilly breeze heralding the beginning of Spring, a wonderful time of the year. The weather in February was a complete contrast with this time last year with warm days (up to 18C) and hardly any frost and rainfall about average at 61mm (the long term average for February is 59.5mm). The beginning of March is mild so far but more wind than average with some damage around the village; very sad to see the Lime fallen on Westmore Green; the rainfall for the first half of March is already over the long term average at 83mm – the long term average is only 67.9mm!!
Over the winter period I have been enjoying watching bumble bees out and about on mild sunny days, this is because we have had plenty of flower from November right through to March and still going strong I make no apologies for repeating the list of plants that keep our precious bees going – Daphne, Hamamelis, Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima, Sweet Box (Sarcococca), Christmas Rose (Helleborus), Violas, Pansies, Tree Ivy (Hedera) – to mention just a few!
Those of us lucky enough to have a garden, however large or small, have our own ideas about how we want to enjoy it. Some are mad for bright green grass mowed carefully in lovely lines, others want that mix of plants that give us pleasure all year round, others too want a space for the children to play. One thing is certain, your garden evolves over time and so do your ideas so don’t be shy or hesitant, get out there and make it yours, there is plenty of advice from our own Horticultural Society, TV programmes and of course the web. When making changes to your garden please make sure to try and include features that support our wildlife – plant a hedge rather than put up a fence, create a small pond and always try to have flowers that attract our pollinating insects.
Our lovely Tatsfield clay has been very wet and not in a condition to be dug over; as the temperatures rise this month you will notice a big change in the condition of the soil so be vigilant and ready to get ready for sowing and planting because who knows, by the end of the month it could be hard and dry on the surface, or wet and soggy again! Gardening on clay is about being patient and ready to act when conditions improve.
You will have noticed how lovely the shrub borders around the car park are looking after the pruning, weeding and mulching thanks to our Tatsfield Community Volunteers. Why do we finish the job by mulching? First of all, it shows off the borders really well; secondly it acts as a blanket and holds in moisture and keeps down the weeds, and finally over time it breaks down and provides organic matter to improve the soil and feeds the plants. At Easter our band of composters will have bins full of their awesome Black Gold for sale, why not pop up to the allotment site and meet the team – oh yes and also meet a member of the Horticultural Society ‘on duty’ for free advice.
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN MARCH
January was typical of our winter weather these days with temperatures as high as 10C and as low as -5C. Some sharp-eyed readers have commented to me that their thermometers register lower readings than my reports; this will always happen especially in the frost pockets i.e. low areas where the cool air gathers. My outside thermometer is housed in a meteorological screen fixed at one metre above the ground, this avoids extremes due to sun or wind chill. Rainfall in January was well below average at just 33m (just over an inch in old money), the long-term average is around 80mm. February however is already heading for above average rainfall with 60mm (around two inches) already recorded before halfway through the month – the long-term average for February is 60mm; in one twelve hour period on the 8th we had 19mm along with the high winds.
This year is the centenary of the Forestry Act that led to the formation of the Forestry Commission and the planting of commercial forests but also the planting and management of our great woods to replace huge losses of mature trees to feed industry and two World Wars. I am very concerned about the loss of mature trees in Tatsfield, losses due to old age, development (remember the row of big trees in the back garden of the Old Ship?) and gardeners wanting more light. Please think carefully before removing trees in your garden, imagine how Tatsfield would look without our great trees and read the thought-provoking poem below, reproduced by kind permission of Jim Crumley.
LAMENT FOR A WOODLAND THAT WAS NOT
SCENT THE DISTILLED WHISKEY OF THE LAND.
SCAN THE SHEEP-SHORN GLEN.
TOAST THE WOODLAND THAT WAS NOT.
TO EVERY WILLOW
THAT NEVER WEPT WITH THE JOY OF BEING.
TO EVERY SILVER BIRCH
THAT NEVER FOUND ITS CROCK OF GOLD
AT SUMMER’S RAINBOW’S END.
TO EVERY ROWAN
THAT NEVER RAISED A GREEN BANNER OVER THE EAGLE’S THRONE
AND TO EVERY EAGLE EYRIE NEVER BUILT
AND EVERY EAGLET
THAT NEVER FLEDGED AND NEVER
FLEW FROM A ROWAN-BRIGHT NURSERY.
TO EVERY HAZEL, OAK AND ALDER
THAT NEVER SHADOWED THE BURN
AND EVERY TROUT AND SALMON
THAT NEVER LINGERED IN POOLS NEVER SHADED
TO EVERY SONGBIRD
THAT NEVER PIERCED EACH SILENT MAY DAY DAWN
AND NEVER LIVED TO DIE IN THE FAST CLUTCH
OF EVERY SPARROWHAWK
NEVER WEANED IN NESTS THAT NEVER LEANED
BY TALL PINE TRUNKS THAT NEVER GREW
IN THE WOODLAND THAT WAS NOT.
TO EVERY TREE-CREEPING, WOOD-PECKERING, OWLHOOTERING THING
THAT NEVER CLAWED BARK THAT NEVER WRAPPED
ALL THE UNGROWN WOOD,
AND EVERY ROE AND STOAT
BADGER AND BAT,
SQUIRREL AND WILDCAT,
FOUR-LEGGED THIS AND THAT,
THAT NEVER STEPPED INTO CLEARINGS
ALL ACROSS THE WHOLE UNWOODED GLEN.
TO EVERY WOODLAND MOTH
AND MITE AND MOSS AND TREE-THIRLED LICHEN,
A HEALTH TO YOU WHEREVER YOU PROSPERED.
IT WAS NOT HERE
IN THE GLEN GROWN BARREN AS A HOLLOW TREE.
FROM “THE GREAT WOOD: THE ANCIENT FORESTS OF CALED” BY JIM CRUMLEY
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN JANUARY AND FEBRUARY
They say it never rains till it pours and so it was in November when Tatsfield had 141mm (the long term average is 88mm); the minimum temperature was -2, and the maximum was 13,5; Dec rainfall was 97mm (the long term average is 84mm); the minimum temperature was -3 and the maximum was 12.5. The mild conditions have resulted in some winter flowering shrubs starting earlier than usual; on the 1st of January I counted half a dozen small bumble bees feeding hungrily on my winter flowering Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) and my Sweet Box (Sarcococca humilis) – fill your garden with winter scent and help our wildlife to survive!
Have you noticed that there is one plant guaranteed to do well over the winter period and that is moss; why is that and what is moss anyway – is it really a plant?
Moss is a plant but a very primitive one, it does not produce flowers nor does it have proper roots, it also does not have the internal ‘plumbing’ system of tiny tubes that transport fluids and nutrients around stems, shoots and leaves.
The reason why it thrives on our lawns and borders at this time of the year is that it loves cool, dull, damp conditions; when the weather warms up and daylength increases it produces spores and largely dies off ready to burst back into growth when conditions are just right again. In dark damp shady places you will notice that it can survive all the year round.
Tidy gardeners and lovers of fine flawless lawns consider it to be the enemy and must be destroyed by using moss killers, rakes and lots of energy! Before you charge off to the garden centre to prepare for war, pause a moment; the various forms of moss are beautiful to look at close up, they are an important part of your garden ecosystem not only because they are an important part of a birds nest but much more than that. If you are a grass-nut then consider that the moss is in fact telling you that your lawn drainage and aeration is very poor, and maybe in shade, using chemicals will not change these situations. Use a garden fork and fill the lawn with holes by pushing the fork vertically into the ground giving it a generous wriggle on the way down and back up. This takes a lot of time but is very good exercise and is much more effective than the spikers for hire – they only penetrate a few inches. In late February and into March give the lawn a good raking (scarifying) to take out moss and other dead plant material (the professionals call it thatch). Putting a couple of handfuls of moss in a net and hanging it from your bird table will get you a big thank you from your birds and provide much entertainment! If you are still feeling energetic after that then apply a dressing of sharp sand and brush it into the holes; but if all this activity is making you feel faint, then learn to love your moss!
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN DECEMBER 2018
At last the long period of dry weather has broken but as I write I can confirm that the soil in my garden is dry as a bone just 6” deep! October rainfall was only 49mm (average is 98mm); so far in November we have had 88mm (average is 89mm); on the 10th November we had 20mm in just 24 hours! - in ‘old money’ an inch of rain is approximately equal to 25mm. We had more ground frosts in October but only one air frost (when the temperature reaches zero); November so far is mild but we are expecting drier conditions and colder weather in the second half of the month. As for December, forecasters are, as usual very cautious, but we can surely expect some cold spells, especially if the high pressure remains to the North and East of us.
What do you buy that person who is a keen gardener who has a shed full of tools and gadgets, and boasts a good knowledge of plants? A great idea would be to buy them membership of the Royal Horticultural Society (www.rhs.org.uk ) a monthly magazine full of information, access to the RHS advisory services, early notice and special members deals on shows all over the country, free entry to gardens on members days – great value!
It is hard to resist those pots of lovely fresh herbs on offer in garden centres and the shops; nothing like fresh Parsley, Coriander, Chives, Sage, Mint, Thyme, Basil and many others for real flavour but how do we keep them from going yellow and drooping over the edge of the pot? In nature they want to be cool with good light, so why not keep them outdoors in mild weather and bring them in when needed – even a day outside will make all the difference - great idea as a present for the keen cook.
Planting Violas and Pansies for winter and spring colour is a great idea especially if they are in a fairly sheltered sunny spot and free of a risk of waterlogging. They will try to make a lot of seed pods that will drain energy from the plant and that in turn will reduce the amount of flower; have a look at them each week and nip off all old flowers and remember to avoid any feeding until late March to give them that early boost to make a big spring show.
It has been a superb autumn, our local hedgerows and garden plants have provided an abundance of berries for our birds, but have you noticed that many of them are moving into our gardens now that they have eaten their fill? Please do not forget them over the next three months or so especially if the weather is cold. Why not buy a new bird table and feeders as a present; children love to watch the birds busy on window feeders or squabbling over peanuts and fat balls.
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN OCTOBER 2018
Tatsfield has done it again; a Gold Medal in the South and South East in Bloom competition! Congratulations to all our wonderful Tatsfield Community Volunteers for making keeping our village right up to the Gold Standard throughout the year – this is no mean task as the other competing villages get better every year. The Tatsfield in Bloom Group are always looking for more volunteers – many hands make light work – if you would like to have a chat about how you can get involved in keeping Tatsfield looking great why not contact Jill Hancock on email@example.com or ring her on 577622. The In Bloom Group will be meeting this month to discuss our plans for next year – every year we have a new theme – if you have an idea of something special happening in the village next year get in touch and let us know!
Our weather continues to be very dry overall but I am expecting that we will begin to see rainfall at more normal levels this month at long last. August turned out to be just above the long-term average with 85mm of rain that was really useful, it made a big difference to hedgerow fruit that was looking very poor in July. September is looking like being very dry with only 4.4 mm by the 15th.
Many of our trees have lost their leaves very early this year but this does not mean that they have died. It is not unusual for Limes, Birch, Chestnut and Cherries and some others to lose their leaf canopy early after a very hot spell; if our rainfall levels return to the averages expected then these trees should recover and present a full canopy next year. If you have a lot of early leaf fall on your lawn make sure to sweep them up as soon as possible at this layer can prevent the grass from recovering after such a long dry spell.
If you want a good show of winter and spring colour make sure to plant your Primulas, Polyanthus, Pansies, Violas, Bellis (Daisies), Wallflowers, Forget me Nots and spring flowering bulbs as soon as they are available, usually at the end of the month. This gives them time to make some stem and root growth before the cooler weather sets in. It is very important to make sure to give them a good drink of water if the dry weather continues.
With our winters tending to start much later there is still time to fill in those gaps in the vegetable garden with some quick growing crops. Sow winter lettuce, salad leaves, spring onions, radishes, stump rooted carrots – go on give it a try!
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN JUNE 2018
There are many inaccurate stories around about the Hornet, especially the ‘invasion’ of the Asian Hornet. There is no invasion of the Asian Hornet, its sting is not fatal unless you are highly susceptible to insect stings. It is true that the Asian Hornet is known to prey on honey bees but not exclusively so. Hornets do not attack humans in swarms – unless of course you decide to use their huge nests as a football! Hornets are large wasps and live their life cycles fairly peacefully and do not prey on humans.
Why am I mentioning this? Well in early May I spotted my first Hornet (a Queen) in Tatsfield; it was looking for a nesting site around my wood store and in my garage. It was a common European Hornet that looks like a large noisy wasp. It sounds a bit like a noisy Bumble Bee and flies much slower than the common wasp. Just in case you should see one and think it is the Asian Hornet just remember this chap is much darker than the typical yellow and wasp stripes and it has yellow ‘socks’ on its legs – they common European Hornet has dark coloured legs.
Hornets are difficult to kill so if you have a large grey football shaped nest you should get in touch with a professional pest controller who has the right stuff but it may not work in one single treatment, better still why not leave it alone. However we are being encouraged to report sightings of Asian Hornets so if you think you have an Asian Hornet nest you should report it to firstname.lastname@example.org
My weather station recorded nearly 80mm of rain (including wet snow) in April which is towards the top end of the long-term average and May is already looking to be average or below. There were a few frosty mornings but they soon dispersed; however many plants are now showing the effects of the earlier very cold weather.
Please remember that hedges must not be cut until after the end of the month at the very earliest as there are many bird species still nesting, many with second broods. If you must have your hedge cut please make sure that you have – very carefully - examined it to be sure there are no active nests.
I have been hearing tales of woe from gardeners with failed germinations with beans, peas and other vegetables. Seeds will not germinate in cold wet ground! After record winter rainfalls our Tatsfield clay is holding a large amount of water and clay is a soil that is slow to drain and warm up so be patient! Work the soil as soon as it starts to dry, add a little sharp sand to help it along and make a tilth ready for sowing.
I enjoy the debate about whether the Ash is before the Oak (there will be a soak e.g. lots of rain this summer) to form a full leaf canopy; I am happy to report that the Oak is well before the Ash so according to country folklore it will only be a ‘splash’ – we will see!
With more than a twist of humour I was asked the other day when we would receive warnings of hosepipe bans now the dry warm weather has finally arrived! With record levels of rainfall over the winter and early spring, our chalk aquifers regained their long term deficit and we should have plenty of water for our needs. But that does not mean we can splash it around with gay abandon! Our clay soil will hold on to huge quantities of water and not that far down either, so please be careful and check before you water! Use a stick or cane and push it a few inches into the soil and you should see a damp mark indicating there is plenty of moisture down there. With good preparation your summer flowers and vegetable roots should grow down to the moisture; this will also ensure that in very dry and hot conditions they will be better able to resist drying out.
I know it doesn’t look very pretty but if you take a large plastic drinks bottle and make some slits – not holes – at the top, fill it with water, screw the top on tight and push it into the soil upside down near your plants it will be a reservoir and release the water slowly as the plant needs it. If it is too slow, increase the number and length of the slits; you can also connect these large bottles to a seep hose and run it along a row of plants, or vegetables. Use rainwater wherever you can; it is much better for the plants – tap water contains chemicals to keep it ‘pure’, rainwater contains Nitrogen, a vital element for plant growth!
Should we ban slug pellets? Yes, this is one of the topics under discussion at the ‘other’ Parliament in Brussels! It is true that we are using far too many slug pellets; it is being detected in our drinking water and has to be removed chemically before entering the mains water system. Early opinion was that it was the farmers who were the culprits but now that we have very sophisticated water detection systems we know that gardeners are also responsible for putting significant amounts of slug killer chemicals such as metaldehyde in our water systems. If the levels of these chemicals in our drinking water are not brought down – by reducing use - then it is inevitable that approval for these chemicals will be withdrawn. There are alternatives to using slug killing chemicals, and they are unnecessary in dry weather; I think slugs get the blame for damage by other means! Be sure to check for the tell-tale slime trail and please use them sparingly or not at all!
Take a tip from our hard working volunteers and remove old flower heads, nip off the tips of those fast growing basket plants for good growth and continuous flowering throughout the summer.