“It’s better to wear away than rust away.”
It’s that time of year in the garden when you don’t know whether you’re coming or going.
Weather-wise, May was a month of two contrasting halves. The beginning of the month was cold and wet with danger of frost on many of the nights. As a result, spring growth was around 10 days behind where it would normally be. Then, as if somebody flicked a switch, the rain stopped, temperatures increased, the sun shone and the birds began to sing. Night time temperatures haven’t dropped below around 12 ºC over the last two weeks of the month, a big contrast to the beginning.
One Sunday in early May saw an unusual sight, as 102 tractors from the Tern Valley Vintage Tractor Club passed through the garden.
The beginning of June will be very busy as the garden is playing host to a plant hunters’ fair.
Ephemeral Glory: The Umbelliferacea
Having passed up the opportunity of a more alliterative title, I cannot forego singing the praises of one of my favourite plant families. Furthermore, as I write, Anthriscus sylvestris, commonly known as ‘Cow Parsley’ is decorating the lanes and verges all around us, doing much of the hard work for me.
As May rolls into June the genus is coming into its own. All share common traits, usually very divided foliage, giving the plants a transparent air, and individual flowers born on short stalks, arranged umbrella fashion. Plants range from annuals and biennials to perennials and are amongst the most versatile of garden plants.
If you don’t fancy planting ‘Cow Parsley’ in your garden try Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, identical in every way except for dramatic purple foliage and stems. Although it is an annual it will self-seed freely and come true if kept isolated from other cow parslies.
Angelica is perhaps the most statuesque of umbelliferae for the border. A biennial, it will be familiar to cake decorators but makes a superb garden plant. Angelica gigas is well known and frequently encountered in garden centres. After spending its first year producing foliage, sturdy stems rise to 6 feet, bearing flowers of a dusky hue. Less well known is Angelica taiwaniana ‘Vicar’s Mead’ which can soar to as much as 10 feet in a good soil with stems of blackish purple and umbels up to five inches across.
Many people would not immediately associate the masterworts or Astrantia with the umbelliferacea (or Apiaceae as the taxonomists would have it). Yet these are amongst the most durable and easy to cultivate of garden plants. Look closely however and you will see the family resemblance; the inflorescence being a buttonlike umbel surrounded by showy bracts. Amongst those in cultivation Astrantia major is the major player in all its forms and for me the finest is A. major ‘Hadspen Blood’. Most members of the genus flower only once before setting seed and in many cases dying off. However the Astrantias have a long flowering period: first emerging in late May they will repeat flower all summer if dead headed and kept watered.
For borders in full sun with sharply draining soil, Chaerophyllum hirsutum ‘Roseum’ will flourish, producing misty pink flowers in April atop finely dissected foliage that emerges in late winter. Yet my favourite has to be Selinum tenuifolium from Nepal. It is a rarely encountered plant but worth searching out. It does best in rich soil where it displays the most finely dissected foliage topped with white flowers on 5ft stems in late spring. Although it has a reputation a s a short lived perennial it will last in a good soil under cultivation.
The plants discussed here represent only a fraction of those within this fascinating genus which offers few challenges to the gardener and plenty of rewards. Don’t be put off by the annual or biennial nature of some as the excitement and ease of growing a ten foot monster from seed will prove a delight.
In the Kitchen Garden
Slugs have been a big problem in the veg garden this Spring; the wet April seems to have spurred them on. At the moment they are causing a lot of damage. I am using ‘environmentally friendly’ slug pellets to try and control them. If I don’t they will strip everything bare.
The wet beginning to May ensured that the soil was moist for planting out young brassicas, lettuce plants and just about everything else that is going to be grown in the vegetable garden this year. Despite the slugs best efforts, most things have established, all be it a bit chewed. In June I will sow successional crops of carrot, lettuce, radish etc. The tomato and cucumbers will also be set out in their cropping positions in the glasshouse.
If you have not done so already, straw the strawberries soon. This keeps fruit clean (reducing disease) and also helps to keep slugs at bay.
It is surprising how dry the surface of the soil has already become, even after such a prolonged wet period between April and mid May. As gardeners we should all be concerned about the environment, as we depend entirely upon it. Part of being good stewards is to make sure that the water we use in the garden is done so wisely. Before watering;
- Check that it is necessary to water by digging to a depth of 15-20 cm, if the soil at this depth is dry then water.
- Water heavily occasionally rather than lightly every day or every other day. A good soak at 10 day intervals to about 20 cm is much more efficient, and better for the plants.
- Water in the evenings, this allows water to soak into the ground instead of evaporating.
- Mulching moist ground helps reduce evaporation.
- If rain is due, delay watering (keep an eye on the weather forcast).
Hopefully these measures will help save water and reduce the work load.
Last year produced a bumper crop of apples and pears in the garden. I delayed the fruit thinning operation that should have been done in late June after the natural fruit shedding that occurs in that month (known as the ‘June drop’). Unfortunately, this delay on my part led to damage to some of the trees due to the weight of fruit. At the moment it does not look like there is going to be a good year for top fruit. This could be due to the cold weather we had during the flowering period or to the very heavy crop the trees produced last year (there are other reasons why fruit trees may produce low yields but I have discounted these). With apples and pears, thin to 2 fruits per cluster, removing the weakest and keeping the best.
Please note: images have been removed from this pages because some of them may have been used without permission.