In the Garden July 3, 2009

• As you read this, we should be high in the air flying back from a few weeks looking at early summer gardens in southern England. Alas July is the most miserable month at home but at least we have a short winter in Taranaki compared to large parts of the world. It is already countdown to spring and within a few weeks the day lengths will be noticeably longer and temperatures significantly milder.
• We will be home to prune pretty much everything but those who heed our advice will be well ahead of us on the winter prune. Because we live in a mild coastal area, we prune hydrangeas at the same time as everything else. Those in cold, inland areas may wish to hold off on the hydrangeas until August. As with wisterias, do not cut off your hydrangeas at ground level and then wonder why they fail to flower. They flower on last year’s growth so you are taking out all spindly growths, anything too woody and ugly and then reducing the very long growths to the fat flower buds. If you look, you will see small buds and fat buds. The small ones produce leaves, the fat ones flowers. So cut back to the lowest fat buds you can find.
• As you work your way around the garden, get a good layer of mulch onto garden beds. This does wonders for your soils, encourages worm activity (as long as you use organic matter as opposed to inorganic weed mat, black plastic, gravel, stones or, horrors, tumbled glass), suppresses weeds and makes your garden look a great deal more loved and cared for. If you are in a summer drought area, you need to follow this up with another layer of mulch in spring to keep moisture levels up. Our preferred mulch is compost. Leaf litter is good. Pine needles work, especially around acid loving plants such as rhododendrons. Bark chip looks good and can be locally sourced. Calf shed shavings are good if you have a local source. Pea straw is a classic quality mulch but because we don’t grow peas commercially in our area, it is expensive and represents quite a hefty carbon footprint moving it here for you to buy when you can find local alternatives.
• Get your locally sourced New Zealand garlic planted soon, if you have yet to do it. It is a bit cold to be planting much else in the vegetable garden though sowing broad beans is fine.
• If you are getting cabin fever and you lack a glasshouse, cloches are worth investigating. Mark bought a Rolls Royce cloche last year. It takes a bit of putting up and down but greatly extends the planting opportunities. A cloche is relocatable and somewhat like a mini mobile poly house – support hoops that you move around and cover with clear plastic. As temperatures rise and the crop grows, the cloche is dismantled. A cloche will lift the internal temperature by several degrees, protect from frost and stop the worst excesses of rain from flattening tender young plants. The classic glass bell jar is Ye Olde English version of the protective covering for individual plants and you can buy modern repro bell jars. Cut off pet bottles are not as large and certainly lack any style, but will work to cover individual plants.
• If you are trying to make a hot compost mix, make sure you remember to turn your compost (it is what the garden fork is for, though to be honest we do it with the front bucket on the tractor here). You need to keep it aerated and ideally keep the cold rain off it. We cover ours with a heavy sheet of plastic.