The 'Potager' in June
June is the best time of year in our garden. The weather is really beginning to warm up, the roses are out, lots of trees and shrubs are in flower. The heat and drought of summer hasn’t quite come round, and we are getting lots of delicious crops from the polytunnel: cauliflowers, calabrese, cabbage, kohl rabi, mangetout peas, Chinese greens, and the beginnings of broad and French beans.
I don’t know what we would do without the polytunnel. Winters here are very cold, and spring can be late in coming, but with the tunnel there will always be early crops which we can clear in time for putting in melons, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. It’s also a wonderful place to raise all the plants which will be planted out for the main summer season.
This year we have given up (though not totally) on the deep mulch system of no-tilling, as we found persistent weeds like couch grass survived under the mulch and came back even stronger at the end of the season. Instead we are using a modified form of the square foot system. I’ve made each bed four metres by one metre wide, and each square is cultivated carefully adding four handfuls of rich garden compost, four of vermiculite (which helps drainage but also holds moisture), and three of weathered wood ashes. You add new compost and ashes each time you replant the square. Vermiculite can work out quite expensive, so we add it when thought necessary. It is already improving our heavy clay soil a lot though.
Outside the back door of the house, we are lucky to have a spring and a small stream which we have dammed to make a little pond, with the bridge shown. Here we can grow all kinds of bog plants, like the arums, gunnera, water iris, yellow flag and the blue type. This is the time of year we can enjoy it at its best. Every evening we are deafened by the noise of the frogs (the green ‘edible’ type) which give an almost tropical atmosphere. Damsel flies and dragon flies circle over the pond. Our main problem is that the water is so rich in minerals the pond gets clogged with pond weed preventing water lilies from flourishing. But you can’t have everything!
As usual, I find I have oversown and potted on far too many aubergines, peppers and tomatoes. So far I’ve planted out thirty of each, far too many, and we know we will have the usual glut. Sun drying the tomatoes in the little metal greenhouse worked last year, but maybe we will try to do the same with peppers and aubergines this year.
Here are more of the 4 metre by 1 metre beds we have created. I hope the timber will last long enough to make it worthwhile. Why is it that the dogs never keep to the paths between the beds but always walk along them crushing the newly planted vegetable plants? I think they know exactly what they are doing, and Bertie, the almost-spaniel, has a big grin on his face when he does this.
Watering is the key to good crops on dry clay soil like ours. Adding the compost and organic fertiliser has also made a big difference. We have had several huge heads of calabrese from the tunnel, and the plants outside in this photo are growing really well too. We are looking forward to some good crops over the next month or two. The watering system is using ‘Gardena’ spray nozzles screwed into standard pvc pipe which is sealed at one end with the ‘inspection’ cover. Into the other end a standard ‘plug on’ hose connector is fitted, and the whole tube is supported on some metal posts over the bed. It takes a lot of labour out of the watering.
We built our conservatory out of a ruined building full of brambles and trees. There were three walls buried in the soil of the hillside. Once tons of rubble had been dug out, we covered it with polycarbonate sheets and found some doors and windows at the local tip, which we have used for the front. Passion fruit are planted in a border and it serves as a frost free shelter for most of our tender plants during winter. Guava just make it through, but pawpaws don’t make it. There’s a little pond with a waterfall in the far corner with a large birdsnest fern behind it. Hibiscus sinensis grow well inside despite the shade but other climbers find it difficult.
We have never managed to crop a kiwi fruit successfully, so two years ago I bought a KIWAI, actinidia arguta crossed with something else, I’ve forgotten what. It is self-fertile, so they say and has small kiwi like fruit which you can eat skin and all. This has flowered for the first time recently, much later than kiwi which flower dangerously close to the last frosts and can therefore often lose their fruit. I’m waiting to see if any fruit are set this year and how long they take to ripen. Very exciting!
Another unusual fruit is the Persimmon or Khaki. The little tree is doing well after two or three years and for the first time has flower buds. Again, we don’t yet know if it will set fruit this year, but I’m always an optimist.
We love red cabbage as it is such a versatile crop. You can eat it raw, pickled, steamed or boiled and it has a distinctive flavour unlike any other cabbage. This year, with plenty of watering, the first plants are doing wonderfully well and we should have the first hearts by the end of the month. I always leave the main crop too long in the autumn and they easily succumb to frost or splitting when left to stand. This autumn we will harvest them and put them in a cool cellar where they will keep for weeks, we are told.
One of my favourite shrubs is Sambucus Black Lace, the black elder. Not only does it have a wonderful dark foliage, but these pink-white flowers in spring, followed by little red fruits which are edible in the autumn. It’s easy to propagate and we have three of them in the main, much neglected, flower garden.
Both salsify and scorzonera do well in our heavy clay soil. The salsify seeds everywhere and the purple flower heads make a good show in the mornings between the trees in our little plantation. Unfortunately the flowers close by the afternoon. The seedheads are already formed and soon they will be blowing everywhere on their little parachutes. Scorzonera, on the other hand, is a perennial, and the roots I have left in produce these large yellow flowers year after year. I must remember to harvest more of the root in the winter for a tasty winter vegetable.
Here is another view of our 4 metre beds with the polytunnel in the background
We visited the ‘Fete des Jardins’ at the Chateau of Le Lude yesterday, and one of the interesting exhibits was these geese made from woven willow. They were so realistic that Bertie, our dog, started barking at them. They must take a lot of patience and skill to create.
We bought two ferns and a hosta (Rain Forest) to go by the river and pond in our wild area.
Yesterday was boiling hot with 31 degrees in the shade. Overnight there has been a thunderstorm and now we are much cooler and damper, saving a lot of time on the watering. Unfortunately the snails also think it’s a good change, and I’ve been out on a snail hunt most of the day.
- 6 Jun, 2010
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