Here Comes Summer!

The title of of this post is tongue-in-cheek given I’m sat at my desk with rain pattering on the skylight and a brisk draught whipping around my ankles. Three weeks of ‘too-good-to-be-true’ weather ended, here in the South East of England at least, with an almighty thunder storm last Wednesday. More storms on Thursday were sufficient to knock out our broadband and melt the inside of the router. A Friday totally offline turned out to be one of the most productive in the last eighteen months. The weekend brought more rain, followed by wind, which wreaked havoc on the allotment, toppling sunflowers and sweetcorn. (I should have heeded my own, sage advice to stake early and stake well.) The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere felt distinctly autumnal and last night’s Strawberry Moon was completely hidden from view.

A cool, rainy spell after a long period of fine, dry weather is welcomed by gardeners, plants and molluscs in equal measure. It’s now a question of which party comes out on top.

Although I am no fair-weather gardener, I certainly lack adequate wet-weather gear for a summer deluge; it’s not attire I often require here in the driest part of England. By the end of Saturday every pair of gardening shoes I own was soaked through. On the bright side, we have not needed to water anything other than the greenhouse for seven days, and that’s felt like a holiday. Planting out has been a pleasure, the earth soaked right through, plump, fecund and ready to support new life. It is rare that we experience such conditions at any time of year, let alone in summer. I even managed to get into our raised beds, which are typically bone-dry for ten months of the year, to refresh the planting with a scattering of ricinus (castor oil plant), brugmansia (angels’ trumpets) and a new generation of Geranium maderense (giant herb Robert). They will be kept moist, when necessary, using a seeper hose.

The greenhouse is my haven on the wettest days.

In the garden and on the allotment, growth has accelerated like a Formula 1 car racing out of the pits. There is some science behind this phenomenon. Nitrogen, as we all know, is a powerful plant-growth stimulant. The air around us is full of nitrogen, but plants cannot access it in this form. As luck would have it, lightning converts atmospheric nitrogen into nitric acid, which then falls to the ground, heavily diluted, in the form of rain, hail or even snow. So, when a storm breaks the heavens are, literally, treating our gardens to a free liquid feed. (This informative post by Kathy Finigan of My Productive Backyard gives you a lot more information.) On our daily walks to the allotment I have been astounded by the pace at which our vegetables have grown, particularly tomatoes, broccoli, sweetcorn and cucumbers. Nitrogen-rich precipitation, warm air and long days have created the perfect storm for us gardeners ….. but then there’s the small matter of weeds, which are equally boosted by a little nighttime nitric acid! We have good weeds and bad on the plot, all doing very well indeed, so this weekend will be spent doing some judicious removal.

Sweetcorn interspersed with heritage lettuce ‘Forellenschluss’, nasturtiums and blue morning glories.

Molluscs, by which I mean slugs and snails, did not trouble us much last year. Summer started and ended early, so everything was big and strong before rain invited them to glide into our garden on their magical mucus carpets. Thus we experienced very little discernible munching. This year has been the exact opposite: rain just after the hosta leaves unfurled, and again when the last dahlias had been planted out, has caused havoc. I know I am not alone in my annoyance at their noctural feasting. As someone who likes their garden to look ‘just so’, I find snail and slug damage very hard to accept. It’s quite likely I won’t be able to bring myself to look at my hostas again until next spring. If there’s one consolation, it’s that the majority of the slugs I find in the garden are leopard slugs, which tend to satisfy themselves with decaying matter, rather than growing leaves and stems. They’re also said to dine on other, more troublesome relatives. Not something I really wish to witness first hand.

Although the grass paths still look brown, they’ve been thoroughly soaked over the last 10 days.

Despite what I hope will be no more than a brief hiatus in a run of fine weather, the garden and allotment are slowly coming together for summer. We’ve worked non-stop every weekend since returning from Cornwall, and on as many evenings as we have the energy for. Pots have been planted up, arranged and rearranged, whilst in the workshop an equal number of containers wait to be emptied of their spring bulbs before redeployment. It’s a never-ending cycle. The allotment is officially full, indeed it’s probably overplanted since we can’t help ourselves. There are already flowers on the tomatoes and courgettes, and we have our first dahlia in bloom – discounting the species, which have been flowering for a while – and that’s ‘Bishop of York’. (Whilst lax in many other horticultural disciplines, I have been fastidious about pinching out our dahlias this season, hence we have very few in bud yet.) By the end of this weekend we really need to have everything in place so that it’s settled before our garden opening on July 31st and August 1st. We hope you’ll join us for that, either physically or virtually: more details to follow soon. Until then, stay dry and enjoy your gardens. TFG.

The Jungle Garden from above

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8 thoughts on “Here Comes Summer!

  1. The molluscs are a nightmare aren’t they? I have tried to follow organic principles by nurturing a pond teeming with frogs in order to keep down the slug population. Isn’t that the idea? Instead today I moved a flowerpot to find a large frog and a slug apparently sitting peacefully together on the friendliest of terms😊

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  2. Have you ever seen anything comparable to a banana slug? I believe that there is something similar in the Continental part of Europe. (I mean the part of Europe that is not on islands like Britain.) Guests here are amazed by them. Guests often ask about the sort of damage such a huge slug can cause. I inform them that they consume only decaying detritus. However, the brown snail from France, which is significantly smaller, is the sort that is extremely damaging. It that what lives there?

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    1. Gosh! Banana slugs are quite something to look at. We don’t have anything comparable here, although occasionally they can be an orangey-brown colour. We have lots of snails in all shapes, sizes and colours (not sure of any of them are French) and they are significantly more destructive than slugs. Being surrounded by walls, fences and foliage they have too many places to hide from us!

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      1. There is quite a bit of lore that goes along with banana slugs. Kids at camp get a badge for kissing a banana slug. There is a myth that licking the underside of a banana slug provides 100% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C (although banana slugs are difficult to find for much of the year). A banana slug is the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Banana slugs don’t fly fast, but they fly low. Anyway, I can not even imagine how appealing all those pots and foliage are to snails and slugs. I know how much of a problem they are with just a few pots.

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  3. I will never look at that “carpet” of slime around the garden the same way again after reading this. Ha… I think of you guys every time I drive by my neighbors HUGE yellow dahlia that is blooming now. Have no idea what kind it is but it definitely gets my attention.

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