A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.
As summer takes hold, I am grateful that I have dramatically reduced the number of plants I grow in containers. I am not particularly reliable at hand watering and there is nothing worse than feature plants in pots, troughs or containers that stand out because they are gasping for water, drooping and defoliating badly. It is also very difficult to get water into potting mixes which have dried out completely because the water just flows straight through. A squirt of detergent can act as a surfactant and help water absorption. Because I only grow bulbs, the odd large bonsai or choice shrubs in pots, I never add water retention crystals. With our high rainfall, these products keep the potting mix too wet, rotting out the roots and the bulbs. This is particularly so in winter when plants don’t want to live with their roots sogging in cold, wet conditions. The only time I have used water retention crystals was in my hanging basket phase (it passed quickly) and when I tried seasonal pots of annuals – which also passed quickly. We went on holiday leaving lovely big pots of blooming pink petunias and blue ageratum and came back to pots of withered, dead plants. The water retention crystals were not enough. I decided then and there that I preferred a more permanent and sustainable style of gardening.
In issue 323 of the Weekend Gardener, I wrote about plunging pots to reduce watering requirements while still keeping individual plants featured. It only works if the pots are porous (I keep to terracotta) and they still need the occasional water but they are much easier to maintain over summer. I have found I need to keep an eye out for slug infestations around the plunged pots. They like the damp, dark conditions and can take up residence on the outside surfaces of the pots. I found an entire slug convention on one pot recently but at least it encourages them into one area for easy eradication.
1) Weeding is never ending. At this time of year, some of it can be done quickly by push hoe. If any weeds get away on us and set seed heads, we try and remove them from the area but the aim is always to get them before that stage so they can be left to wither and die in the summer sun.
2) The autumn bulbs will be starting to move very soon, putting out fresh roots. I need to thin the Cyclamen hederafolium, Colchicum autumnale (the autumn crocus) and check over the clumps of nerines (mostly sarniensis hybrids) before they are growing.
3) When I feel the need to do something quiet and mindless, I head out with the lawn tool to dig out flat weeds in the grassy areas of our park. It is a bit like King Canute holding back the sea but it makes me feel more virtuous than spraying and it is a soothing summer occupation.