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.
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.