Seasonal advice and gardening events
Ruth Goudy has some top advice on wise watering and drought tolerant plants
IT IS FIVE O’CLOCK in the morning and I have woken to the soothing sound of rain. For the first time in ages the temperature brushes coolly on my skin and I feel like I can breathe again.
My dog follows me as I tiptoe downstairs. We cuddle up together in the conservatory and listen to the steady pitter patter, and the birds joyfully welcoming the rain with their dawn chorus. Mock me if you will, but I can smell the rain. It is a rich musky smell, like fresh lawn clippings and newly dug earth.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am a lover of sunshine and heat in summer. Our family spends as much time as we can at Felixstowe and Lowestoft beaches. I enjoy basking, reading my book in the sun, and swimming in the sea. But this spring has been incredibly dry. Our water butts were empty by mid April and our garden felt as if it were made of concrete.
Suffolk is renowned for missing out on rain that the rest of the country receives. So often those rainclouds from the west are empty by the time they reach us. Many of us gardeners have devised ways of making the best use of our water in times of drought. Here are some of our suggestions.
TIMING IS CRITICAL
Watering in the evening gives the plants have a chance to absorb the moisture overnight. This is the time that temperatures are at their lowest so that the water does not evaporate before it has sunk in. Watering during the day may harm your plants. The sunlight reflecting on the foliage can cause the leaves to scorch.
WATER THE BASE OF THE PLANTS
When you water make sure that you water the soil that they are growing in rather than the plants themselves. It is particularly important to water well every few days rather than lightly every day. Simply put, if you water lightly you will only be damping down the top layer of earth and not the roots of your plants. You may find that the roots eventually rise to the surface to seek water. If the ground has had a good soaking it will soften and the roots will be encouraged down.
Hanging baskets are slightly different. It is important not to let the basket dry out. Water every day to keep the compost moist, and make sure the water is not just running over the top leaving the roots dry.
USE WATER WISELY
Rainwater is best. It might be summer now but it is the perfect time to set up a water butt. Then it will be in place to catch any available water and become a store over the winter ready for next year. Remember, it can still be dry during autumn in Suffolk. Your plants prefer rainwater that does not have all the chemicals included in tap water. This is especially the case for plants that live in lime-free (ericaceous) soil such as camellias, rhododendrons, magnolias, acers and pieris. We, like most people, have a water metre so we also recycle our water in a small way. We use the water that we have peeled the vegetables in to put on our plants (minus peelings!), and we use a ‘friendly’ washing up liquid so we can pour the water at the end of the washing up onto the lawn and pots. Every little helps and our small garden seems grateful.
How easy this is to say. Beth Chatto’s garden is one of our favourites. She is famous for adapting the garden to the conditions within it and we all need to take a leaf out of her book. Don’t be afraid to ask at your local nursery about which plants are more drought tolerant. You will be told that all plants need water, and they do, but some need less than others. Many of the alpines such as sedums and armeria thrive in poor, dry soil, lavenders enjoy it, cistus, cytissus and lychnis manage well, to name but a few.
So, here’s wishing you a hot, sunny and fun-filled summer, and your gardens some refreshing rain. Would it be too much to ask for sun during the day and rain at night? Paul and Ruth Goudy run Kiln Farm Nursery, Kesgrave. www.kilnfarm.com
Paul watering the garden. Photo James Fletcher