October 9, 2008 In the Garden

  • We had a cold snap around the same time last year although we do not recall it being quite as cold as last Sunday and Monday. But this is why you don’t rush out to plant tender vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines, capsicums, kumara and the like for another two weeks or so.
  • On a freezing cold jaunt around a few garden centres last Sunday morning, we noticed deciduous azaleas (azalea mollis) in stock. These are not always easy to find so if you have been wanting some, don’t delay – get out and buy them while they are available. Deciduous azaleas are more tolerant of poorer soil conditions than their aristocratic rhododendron cousins (they will even take quite wet conditions in heavy soils) and will smother themselves in flowers before any sign of leaves. Some, but not all, are the most outrageous colours in shades of burnt orange, cerise, saffron yellow and tangerine. Others are more demure but have wonderful fragrance.
  • If you have formal hedges, now is the time to get out and give them a light prune to keep sharp lines. The hedge clipping expert here (which is neither of us) uses a string line to keep even short lengths of hedges straight. He has also just clipped our one surviving yew tree. Yew are the classic clipping plant in England but, like flowering cherries, they find our rainfall levels too high and develop root problems which are nearly always terminal. If you are after the longevity and class of the English yew tree in this area, plant our native totara or miro instead.
  • Deadhead hellebores to stop aphids from setting up camp in the spent blooms. Sometimes even whitefly will join the gatherings and because the flowers face downwards, you may not notice the assembling hordes until you have a real problem. Removing the host is a pre-emptive move. If you are saving hellebore seed, sow it straight away. It doesn’t last long before it gets considerably more difficult to germinate.
  • Sow seeds of basil in pots or a tray for planting out in a few weeks but keep them somewhere warm and sheltered. If you want to grow melons of the rock, water or cantaloupe types, it pays to start these in pots as early as possible. They need a long, hot growing season and you want to make the most of every day if you want a good crop in our marginal conditions.
  • Most people will need to spray potatoes with copper from time to time, starting now. Taties are vulnerable to blight (the cause of the Irish potato famine) and if you get a bad case of it, the whole crop will succumb. Some modern varieties are a great deal more resistant and do not believe the myth that heirloom or heritage potatoes are by definition healthier and more resistance. This does not apply to potatoes (ask the Irish). We have a touch of blight showing here on the Jersey Bennes but Liseta is looking clean.
  • Plant Florence fennel, climbing and dwarf beans, carrots, peas, cauli, broc, beetroot, spinach and salad veg. These can all go directly into the garden as seeds or plants. If you want to hurry them along, use a cloche.