The British summer we’re having at the moment conveniently brings together several general pre-occupations of gardeners – rain, slugs and things not growing. At least the lifting of the last hosepipe ban means that the entire country can now return to its normal routine of putting the lawn sprinklers on every evening.
There’s not much we can do about the rain, I suppose, other than cover the entire garden with a big tent or build an Eden-style Biome. I often wonder why it is that, in the rain, grass and weeds grow like mad whilst the plants in the borders keel over. Just as my poppies burst into bloom in their usual unison, a heavy downpour started which washed the petals off the flower heads. These then proceeded to rot in the wet so I didn’t even get the joy of having the seed heads to look at (devoid of viable seed of course). Spires of foxgloves were treated to gales of sufficient strength to snap the bamboo canes to which they were secured. The cat’s taken to eating the miscanthus and then curling up on a neighbouring acanthus whose flower stalks now run along the ground for about a foot before turning up at right angles to support the flower spikes. So instead of a five-to-six feet tall specimen I have something around three feet.
But the weeds! Well, actually, mainly a single weed, if it can be called that, my new old friend Himalayan balsam. Not much more than a week ago, I had a pulling session and cleared the garden of it. The other day, in a break in the rain, I was pulling at plants nearly as tall as I. To grow over five feet in a little over a week is some achievement. This is perhaps because the balsam is simply a seed generator. There are few leaves up the stem, merely a large rosette at the top. Around now, pretty pink flowers are produced followed quickly by the seed heads. Just gently touch a ripe seed head and you’ll see it explode, showering a hundred or more tiny little seeds over several metres. And those seeds have a 125% germination rate!
Apart from balsam, there’s the odd bit of bindweed, best dealt with using the bamboo cane treatment and, once it’s grown nicely up the cane, glyphosate on a glove rubbed up and down the cane a few times will see it off. And I’ve found one dandelion, typically growing right in the middle of a lovely clump of heleniums. So that’ll be a case of continually removing the top growth until the autumn when I can lift the clump and extract the tap root.
The slugs have finally overwhelmed the slug-consuming population of hedgehogs, frogs and toads. The slow-worms are wary of leaving the security of the compost bin where they live and reproduce for fear of tail-amputation by resident cat. Why he has this fixation for slow-worm tails I don’t know. So my salty water bucket is getting used a lot more. Except for the big black slugs. These are a friend as their diet is rotting vegetation. So these go in the other compost bin (the one without the slow-worms) where they chomp happily away and accelerate my compost production.
But, of course, for every slug you find above ground, there will be two or three underground, nibbling away at the roots or at your tulip bulbs (which are a slug delicacy) and root veg. Enter the nematodes. This damp but warm weather is ideal for them. Water liberally onto your soil (not the plants!) and let them burrow down to find the subterranean marauders. Don’t forget to use a watering can rose that has big holes. Although you mix the nematodes in water to apply them, they don’t dissolve and will simply get caught by a fine rose or dribble bar. I use an old plastic rose on which I’ve drilled the holes to make them all 2mm in diameter.
So for now it’s a case of dodging the rain to get things done in the dry bits. Which means that working from home is damned handy as I can work in the study when it rains and nip outside when it stops. It also makes going to work in the rain a doddle.