Every week I stay over with friends who have just moved to a house that has a 10 acre garden. Not all the garden is cultivated, but the section that was most recently agricultural, has been kept mowed as a giant lawn for perhaps 10 years. The main reason for the move was 3 young boys needing safe outdoor space. Coming from a small hard surfaced back yard in which to ride their bikes, they now have use of a giant trampoline, a cricket net on wheels, football pitch, some golf flag poles and a tennis ball throwing machine. In their first summer, last year they slept out under the stars and had giant bonfires. This is all in the first year and there is still sooooo much more garden.
But at this time of year there is little outdoor activity for the boys. For me the pleasure of being there every week is that I see so vividly the first of everything as it emerges and fleshes out the vast open space.
Usually one of the few benefits of a cold, snowy winter is that it helps to kill off pesky slugs and snails. Unfortunately, this year we have had such a mild winter that the little pests have thrived, hit by nothing more than the odd day of rain and very occasional light frost.
As most gardeners know, slugs and snails can be utterly detrimental to your plants and flowers and must be dealt with. An easy method is simply to keep your plants out of the slugs’ reach. You can do this by using hanging baskets or keeping indoor plants. However, this is not always practical or desirable.
There are several methods of dealing with slugs. Covering your plants with netting will help to prevent slugs and snails as well as birds from attacking them. It is important to keep checking them however, in case any slugs have managed to slip through and to make sure that the plants do not get caught up in the netting.
Salt is extremely effective at killing them; however, sprinkling a barrier of salt around your plants may prevent slugs from attacking them, but if it seeps into the soil and is taken up by the plants and flowers themselves, salt can damage those too.
A tested and safe repellent or slug killer may be a better solution and these are readily available. They are often in pellet form and should be scattered around the plants. The slugs will consume them and perish while your plants remain healthy and safe. Such products are very carefully controlled to be safe for use when children are present or nearby, but it is always best to check if they are suitable for use around edible plants, should you wish to use them near any crops.
An alternative method to pellet-based slug bait and killers is the slug trap. These are fitted into the ground near the plants or anywhere where you frequently see slugs and snails, and the base is filled with beer or yeast. The slugs are attracted by this and fall into the trap, keeping your plants protected.
The winter may seem an unlikely time for gardening, but provided you can withstand the cold for a short while, there are many plants that are best started in the colder months in preparation for spring. Tulips and crocuses are great ones to start off with. If you’re more into fruit and veg than flowers, why not try growing your own rhubarb? And since the ground may be quite solid, it never hurts to have a spare planter or grow bed lying around.
If the thought of labouring outside in the cold does not appeal to you, you can still continue to enjoy gardening within the comfort of your home. Window boxes and trough planters are slim lined and fit neatly on any window ledge, allowing you to continue to propagate your bulbs and seeds indoors, rather than relying on whatever the local florist can provide. Herbs in particular are great for indoor gardening and you can often find handy and affordable herb growing kits which will also sit on your window sill and are ideal for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
At this time of year, protecting your more fragile plants and flowers from the frost and cold is a big priority. If you are anxious about leaving them open to the weather outside, it’s best to store them inside a greenhouse. However, if indoor space is an issue, do not despair! Fleecy plant covers are just the ticket to keep your garden plants protected from frost. Cheap, effective and easy to use, they just slip over the plant and keep it safe from the harsh winter weather while still allowing moisture and light to penetrate through to the plant
August is a busy month for gardeners – the majority of the time in my garden has been spent watering! In most areas of the UK we’ve actually had a fair bit of sunshine this summer, which is marvellous for sunbathing but hard work for gardeners!
On the plus side, tomato blight seems to be thankfully absent this year – the warm dry weather is to thank for that. However we have had some short, intense periods of rain which have been fantastic for the plants, and also for the weeds!
If you are finding you are running out of space to compost the spoils of your weeding escapades, it may be time to invest in a compost bin! If you already have a bin, a compost rotation system involving two or more compost bins can be a very valuable addition to a well functioning and efficient garden. This system works by filling up one bin whilst the other gets busy composting. You can then empty one whilst the other is composting – fantastic!
Those of you who have been growing your own potatoes, broad beans and other veg will find that you have a constant supply of peelings and shells finding their way to the compost from the kitchen – we’ve found some fantastic compost caddies which can store uncooked kitchen food waste – especially useful when winter approaches and we all feel less inclined to visit the garden!