May 22, 2009 In the Garden

· Having always fancied a moat (note to selves: first get a castle), the news that some British MP claimed expenses for moat maintenance (3000 pounds sterling) had us chuckling. A quick net search yielded up the information that other moat owners were a little surprised at the idea of maintenance on a regular basis. Apparently moats are static bodies of water on a clay base and aside from a major clean out once a century or so which would cost at least 10 times that price, they are left to the fish and swans to maintain a balance. Leeds Castle just out of London has a splendid moat which was simply magical when seen with white swans floating on mirror clear waters on a dead calm and misty winter’s day.

· Gardeners with more modest ornamental ponds here may wish to reduce the amount of leaf litter that can accumulate in them, especially at this time of the year. Allowing vegetation to rot down in the water can increase the nutrient levels, reduce the oxygen and kill the fish. It can also lead to a growth in algae as temperatures rise. A butterfly net (used to be available cheaply in toy stores when our children were younger) can be a handy tool for scooping small ponds. Loose netting over the top can be a temporary measure to reduce leaf litter.

· As feijoa harvests finish, get in and do a clean up and light prune. Rake back any rotting fruit to around the plant so that it can act as a compost. Take out dead wood, thin or spindly growth, keep it reasonably open and give a light hair cut all over. Feijoas are wonderfully obliging plants, never needing spraying and tolerant of complete neglect but they will reward such efforts with a better crop and larger fruit next year.

· If you still like to spray your lawns, despite our frequent questioning of the practice, autumn is a safer time to use hormone sprays than spring. There are special lawn sprays that target certain weeds or sulphate of ammonia can be used on broad leafs. An old carving knife can equally be used to cut off broad leafed weeds just below the surface. The reason we advocate autumn spraying is because even the slightest drift of hormone spray (and most lawn sprays are hormone sprays) can cause major damage to new growth on neighbouring deciduous plants in spring. Every year, somebody asks us why they have distorted leaves, particularly on magnolias and it is invariably hormone spray drift.

· The dreary late autumn weather we are enduring at this time does rather sap the motivation. If you have Sky, tune in to the Living Channel at 5.00pm on Saturdays to catch Small Town Gardens. This programme packs in a remarkable amount of information and the latest series is very good, even for those of us who don’t have small town gardens. We have seen some really heavy weight English designers talking us through the process.

· In between showers, get that autumn copper spray onto citrus trees and stay on top of the rash of autumn weed seeds which are germinating. Getting a mulch onto garden beds should suppress more weeds and will help to condition soils. If you are of a romantic disposition, you can think of it as laying a blanket around your plants.

· While anthropomorphising plants, this week’s quote comes from Victoria Glendinning: “Science, or para-science, tells us that geraniums bloom better if they are spoken to. But a kind word every now and then is really quite enough. Too much attention, like too much feeding, and weeding and hoeing, inhibits and embarrasses them.”