August IN THE VEGE GARDEN WITH JANE
• Enjoy the glowing colours as spring progresses.
• Get onto any emerging weeds while they are still small.
• Stockpile mulch for later in the season, including seaweed, lawn clippings and old hay. If you mulch heavily before the ground truly warms, it acts as a reverse insulating layer, trapping in the cool and slowing growth.
• Sort through the seed box, have a big clean-up and make lists of what you want to grow this spring and summer. Chat with fellow gardeners and consider buying bulk seeds and sharing.
• Clean seed trays and containers and fill them with seed mix, ready for sowing over the next weeks.
• ‘Working’ flowers such as calendula, phacelia, nasturtiums, and buckwheat can be sown around fruit trees and will help see off unwelcome insects and provide garden colour as well.
• As winter crops finish, chop in the last of the foliage, add manure, and cover with a light mulch to suppress the weeds but not too deep or you’ll inhibit the soil warming process. Or use black plastic.
• Chop down cover crops and treat as above.
• If you haven’t limed, do so now but not at the same time as using manures or fresh nitrogenous matter such as grass clippings - allow a few weeks inbetween.
• Clear excess growth from around fruit trees and apply fertiliser.
• Let spring fever give you a good time of energy and joy with all the new growth coming out of winter’s austerity.
I’m not always greeting the August garden in a state of serenity. Often the winter clean-up isn’t finished and the re-growth takes me by surprise. There’s also usually a big list of ‘to do’ plans or projects!
But it’s not worth worrying about when the daffs are flowering, the kowhai goes crazy, and the new green growth gets all bright and zingy.
Yellow, blue and green take centre stage in our August garden. I know, I know, green is a constant but my point is that now it starts to really ping. It’s all so bright and fresh and full of promise: spears and buds poking through the earth, new leaves forming on branches, shoots emerging from perennial clumps, and all beginning their headlong rush into growth. It’s nothing short of magical with their implicit promise of warmth, renewal and growth.
The daffodils, with all their bold yellowness, make wide impressionist splashes across the lawn, under trees and in random self-sown places. Daffodils are such a fleeting and symbolic cliché of spring, only the most jaded could not be charmed, while the practical among us are heaving sighs of relief at their ease of growth which equates to minimal work for maximum beauty.
The blue spring flowers are also emerging, including the violets, forgetme-nots and one that always takes me by surprise, Veronica Oxford Blue. This sprawling little plant grows fast, easily divides to create more plants, and it’s a true intense blue in colour that makes a great impact. Despite some catalogues claiming a summer-long flowering, here it does its brilliant blue thing in spring, then quietly contributes a little carpet of bronze and green for the rest of the year.
It’s the beginning of seeding time for both flowers and food so containers and pots can be filled, ready for sowing. I put poppies in an old baby bath last year and they grew prolifically. This year I’m putting in the seeds of deep red poppies from a
DURING SUMMER I keep on top of the weeds which makes the spring clean-up easier. It’s not too hard to gather all the brittle, spent growth and toss it as a good, light, seedless mulch around a fruit tree. I add some fertility to the soil such as old horse manure and a light covering of seagrass for weed suppression. In another six or eight weeks, we’ll be enjoying easy-to-grow and sublime spring vegetables from what is bare earth this month.
About this time of year I start dreaming of spring. Colourful seed catalogues feed my fantasies of Eden-like gardens lush with sumptuous fruit and not a bug in sight. Absence definitely makes the imagination selective.
In August, this far south at least, the ground is still cold, wet and decidedly dormant. But in the greenhouse I’ve grown a grid of microgreens, protected from the hail and southerlies.
My back-up plan worked too, so our windowsills are freshly decorated with containers of radish, beetroot, rocket, various brassicas, dill, chervil and fennel... or they were until the cook scalped them. He was initially sceptical, but is now cutting and munching fresh greens with gusto and looking for more.
With a little experimentation you will find your own favourite cool weather microgreens, many of which can be grown on to larger size if desired. Here are a few of our favourites to get you started.