In parts of the country, the drought continues — with only sporadic drenchings of rain. Where I am, the weather has been dramatic: Caribbean sunshine, thunderstorms... and then drought. Irish Water tells us that the hosepipe ban will continue through to September, so how do we cope in the garden? If your lawn suffers from a lack of rain, and your fruit and veg plead for more and more moisture, what should you do? Well, you have to develop a strategy to manage your water resources in the garden.
First thing is: enjoy the garden. Get out and use your space, relax and start seeing the potential for the future. Maybe now is when you should start planning for your paved areas, pavilions and barbecues. During lockdown, we’ve all begun to make garden improvement plans.
Secondly, don’t worry about the garden. It will survive. Everything in it is much more in tune with the topic that drives Irish people mad — the weather! Plants have many ways of coping with extremes.
In the midst of winter, as I see frozen stems on foliage, I can only imagine that their veins must be infused with antifreeze. And at times like this, it must be that they have their own cooling mechanisms or revitalisation plans that we can know nothing of.
Here are some handy tips to keep in mind…
When it comes to caring for your lawn, simply let the grass shoots grow a little bit longer than usual and raise the blades on the mower: allowing the extra growth will in turn enable the shading of what’s underneath and the conservation of moisture. Once the rains come — and they will — lawns will miraculously green up rather instantly.
If you can, move tubs and pots full of flowers out of the baking sun into a shady place to allow them to revitalise. It’s equivalent to us putting some ice cubes in a glass of water or juice. They will need a lot of watering but the holiday away from the sun should help.
Save the main watering for the fruit and veg gardens. Anything that swells in the soil (potatoes, onions, shallots, carrots) or above ground (tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, melons) will need plenty of water. Hopefully you’ll have installed water butts — and felt slightly ridiculous doing so as the rains teemed down — but this resource will now allow for a bountiful summer/late autumn crop. The other long-term job that is really paying dividends at the moment is mulching. Good mulch — homemade from composted organic materials or garden centre-bought, such as forest bark — will cut down on weeding for much of the year but, most importantly, will now conserve moisture around the roots of the plants and shade those same roots from the heat of the sun when it’s needed.
So if you are applying mulch now, put two to three inches of good organic matter around the base of the plants that are most precious to you, after a good watering. This will keep everything cool and moist. Finally, you don’t need any unwanted visitors making great use of whatever moisture there is available so be sure to do as good a job as possible on weeding. Water is a scarce resource in the soil at the moment and you want to direct it where it works best. All that said, this stage of the year is as much about enjoyment of the outdoor space as actively gardening. Trees are coming into their own — they can look really beautiful and provide wonderful shade and, because you are outside, you observe the garden much more closely as well as the wildlife that surrounds you.
We have swallows nesting in the roof of our verandah. Mum and dad are doing a great job sourcing insect food for the five little chicks, who are a joyful bunch. Their chirping is a delight, bringing some wonderful life and song into the space.
Spending time in the garden, despite some trying conditions, is just blissful right now!
Remember that your lawn will rejuvenate by itself after the hot, dry conditions have passed. So don’t waste too much time (or sanity) watering or feeding it.