GARDENING: Wall to wall sunshine brings out the best

Olivia Rose AustinOlivia Rose Austin
Olivia Rose Austin
The exceptional weather that supported our home-based activities of recent months, also had a positive effect on seasonal plants. In terms of growth and development some are way ahead their normal schedule.

The wall-to-wall sunshine placed extra demands in terms of watering, but with no external distractions, this gardener has found it a blessing not to have time on his hands. The lockdown has had a significant, positive effect on the garden.

Fruit, vegetable, and ornamental plants have never had such attention.

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When I assessed the progress of a group of soft fruits on the last day of Spring (May 31 st ), the gooseberry, black and redcurrant bushes were laden with berries. All they required was an increase in size and ripening. We also had to cover the strawberries because blackbirds were starting to show interest in the bigger, yet to ripen, fruits. It’s amazing the difference a dressing of fish, blood and bone fertiliser, organic mulch, and frequent supply of water can make.

We’ve been picking salad leaves and radishes since the beginning of last month, and they've remained mild to taste through regular watering. If this is missed during hot, dry weather they tend to become bitter. It’s also easy to take their constant presence for granted, thinking they'll last throughout summer. The solution is to sow short drills in mid-June to secure a fresh crop and continuity.

Two runner bean varieties, raised earlier in pots then transferred to the garden, have almost reached the top of their cane-built wigwams. When flowers appear during hot, dry conditions, the formation of embryo beans can be adversely affected. In such circumstances I use a hand spray filled with water because the fine mist aids fertilisation.

Positioning is central to securing a corn on the cob harvest. The plants are wind pollinated so it's important to set them out in a block rather than a row. There's also a better chance of large cobs if a cultivar suited to our shorter Northern season is chosen. `Sundance` fits the bill, and the seeds need an early start in pots. Mine went out last month and have romped away under the hot sun in conditions they crave.

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It's so cheerful to have an increasing number of ornamentals coming into flower. Long before our modern hybrids were introduced, gardeners spoke of the `June gap,` a period between spring and summer bedding displays. One had run out of steam, the other was not yet up to speed and there were few plants to fill the void. Now we are spoiled for choice.

A quick walk around this June garden reveals groups of chives and Nepeta `Six Hills Giant` in brilliant full bloom. Both are easily divided-up in autumn to increase the stock, so they`re worth the initial cost. There are herbaceous pyrethrums in pink and red, and groups of foxgloves attracting bees. Both were raised from seed sown outdoors initially. There are garden pink cultivars including `Doris` and `Mrs Sinkins` sharing their fragrances as we pass. They arrived with four other varieties in plug form barely three years ago, and last summer we rooted the first stem cuttings to increase stock. Three campanulas with large blue and white bells held on tall wiry stems, are dotted throughout the borders, and various herbaceous geraniums

are in full flow doing their thing, entertaining not only us but also the bees. A special mention for the cultivar `Rozanne` whose violet-blue flowers with white centre are captivating. Both campanula and geranium will be subject to dividing-up come autumn. Add the bulbous contribution from tall, stately alliums `Purple Sensation` and there's quite a show at present.

Let`s not forget the shrubby contribution to our June garden. The Californian lilac a.k.a. Ceanothus `Concha` simply refused to cease flowering.

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No doubt it realises that like this fellow it`s overdue a haircut sometime soon.

The white lilacs also remain in bloom and have been joined by the variegated Weigela Florida `Variegata` which is covered in pink blossom. My excuse for having this excellent shrub dotted around the garden, is that it`s too easily rooted from stem cuttings.

Some call Choisya ternata, the Mexican orange blossom shrub. That`s because of the sweetly scented, white flowers we`re enjoying. The plant is just moving into maturity six years on from introduction and stands at one metre.

We`ve had it`s cultivar `Sundance` some four years. Much smaller in growth, it has bright yellow leaves in full sun, but they would become pale green in shade. It has a reputation for rarely flowering and we bought it for the year-round foliage effect. However, it is currently in full bloom. As if to put icing on the cake, the highly fragrant English rose, `Olivia Rose Austin` burst into bloom two weeks ago. This is some June gap!