January 31, 2009 In the Garden

*Summer is the rest time in the ornamental garden. There is not a whole lot you can do in current conditions beyond routine maintenance, weeding, deadheading and summer pruning roses and clematis. However, the harbingers of seasonal change are already starting to appear in the shops -spring bulbs which are sold dry at this time of the year. Anemones and ranunculus are being advertised and I am guessing that other spring bulbs will be appearing for sale soon. If you have clumps of spring bulbs in your own garden which you have been planning to lift and divide, you can do this at any time now. If you heeded our advice in this column last year, you will have marked their location so you will know where to dig.
* If your lawn is starting to look brown, don’t worry about it. It will green up again with the autumn rains. Grass is a resilient plant but we remind you again not to cut the lawn very short at this time of the year because that may cause it to cark out.
* Last call on sowing corn for coastal areas. It is too late now for cooler inland locations. Sown now, the plants will mature just before winter and will hold for several months for eating fresh through June and even into July. All areas can continue sowing beans now. These are a rewarding crop for the home gardener and give excellent yields for very little effort.
* Now is the important time to be starting work for the winter garden and this cropping is the most important one for saving money on grocery bills. If you missed sowing the summer garden but are thinking you would like to try growing some veg, get started now with brassicas from seed. Broccoli, cabbage and cauli can all be sown, as can spinach (winter or summer types), silver beet and beetroot. It is the very last opportunity for putting in brussel sprouts and you will have to do it from plants now, not seed.
* Keep sowing lettuce to keep a succession going.
* Maintain good water levels in the vegetable garden. If you can avoid it drying out, then a little water often is more effective.
* A quote this week from Charles Elliott, himself the editor of “The Quotable Gardener”: One thing that’s nice about vegetable gardening is that design does not come into it. I’m aware that there is a movement in favour of ornamental vegetable beds – potagers and all that – but I’m not tempted to get involved. There is something seriously perverse about forcing such an earnest and innocent plant as a stalk of sweet corn to take centre stage in a composition suited to the eye of a Renaissance Frenchman. And the box hedging! If life is too short to peel a grape, it is certainly too short to grow cabbages in the form of a quincunx.