June 2013

posted 3 Jun 2013, 02:02 by Bob Brace
‘Poor little things’, exclaims Mr O G, coming into the kitchen with his hands carefully cupped. I peer to see whether he has found a baby bird or a hedgehog, but no, the poor little things are a pair of cucumber plants which have succumbed to the cold. They are flopped over the edge of the pots into which Mr O G has hastily stuffed them after finding them collapsed into the earth in the greenhouse.

‘They have had it’ I remark helpfully. However Mr O G does not give in that easily. He rushes into the dining room and builds a roaring fire in front of which he arranges the flopped cucumbers on the hearthrug. And astonishingly, within a couple of hours they are starting to recover and spread out their leaves. We can hardly believe our eyes. By the end of the day they are looking just as healthy as they did when they were planted out. We are truly amazed, even Mr O G who is ever the optimist has never seen anything like it. The night time temperatures are still extraordinarily low for the time of year and cucumbers are among the most vulnerable. The other plants which are really suffering are the sweetcorn. They are still standing in the garden, albeit surrounded by windbreaks and muffled in fleece, but they are yellow. There just isn’t enough sunshine for them, or the humid warmth they need. Don’t we all.

The bluebells have been the usual delight, but we have seldom seen them still flowering this late in the year. Runner beans and French beans are clinging on despite the howling gales although we have to keep tying them back in after they are blown off the sticks. ‘It will make them strong’, says Mr O G hopefully.

Repeated earthing up of potatoes, sowing of peas and lettuces, and weeding are the order of the month, interspersed with mowing the grass and running indoors to sit by the fire when the cold rains descend. At least, we hope the latter won’t really be necessary but the auspices are not good. Upon hearing the opinion of the TV weather forecasters Mr O G withdraws to the fire and stares into it, calculating how many more logs he must saw up to see us through summer as well as winter. Mr O G is not given to depression, but even he is becoming rather daunted by the cold.

On the plus side, the fruit garden is looking good. We went to a lecture at the National Growers Society and the guru told us that this would be an exceptionally good year for fruit. First indications certainly seem to show that he is right. Although there is many a slip twixt flower and freezer, the plants are bearing loads of blossom and embryo fruits. Strawberries are covered in flowers and looking healthy and green-leaved. Gooseberry bushes are laden with young fruit, as are the blackcurrants while the greengage trees are already showing baby fruit, and the apricots continue to grow. Doubtless the dreaded June drop will happen shortly, but it is a natural process and really should not engender the severe alarm which it always causes to Mr O G who hates to see it. Summer fruiting raspberries and loganberries are already laden with fruitlets, and I am spending a lot of time hanging up old discs around them to frighten the birds. Sometimes it works, just for a while, but the smaller birds, blue tits especially, soon become used to them and actually seem to use them as mirrors! The autumn fruiting raspberry canes are popping up all over the place and I am tying them in as fast as I can. This task is not strictly essential but if I don’t do it they will flop all over everything else – they will still produce the raspberries though. The rhubarb has already performed brilliantly, yielding vast quantities for the freezer and already trying to run to seed. You have to be alert and quick to remove any flower buds or the stems will be hollow. But if you can spare any bits to allow to flower they will reward you with enormous spikes, about 5 feet tall and covered in huge cream florets, the shape of giant lilacs, which look truly exotic. No-one can ever guess what they really are. So striking are they that I keep one rhubarb root specially for the purpose.

In the flower garden all is looking good because it is the time of the aquilegias, otherwise known as Granny’s bonnets. These are beautiful, hardy and tough and come in a wide variety of colours which change from year to year because they are very promiscuous. They are also very good at spreading everywhere and the reason they thrive is that they emit toxins which make them unattractive to rabbits and deer. Grow more aquilegias! Actually we don’t need to do anything because they do it themselves very efficiently – all you have to do is weed up the ones you don’t want. The giant poppies are doing well, it is a pity they are so short-lived, but the few days when they do flower can be quite breathtaking. Delphinium plants are growing strongly so we can hope for some beautiful spikes later in the year. Bedding plants are struggling of course, because of the you know what, but they haven’t actually died, so that is a result. Polemoniums (Jacob’s ladder) are showy and easy – they spread readily anywhere you will let them and produce pale pink flowers freely. They also can produce blue flowers and I have tried to grow blue ones, but they always come out pink – I think it may be that they are like hydrangeas and will colour according to the amount of iron in the soil. All my hydrangeas are pink as well.

I am very pleased with the lewisias I grew from seed, they are flowering well – the only way I can get them to thrive is to keep them in an alpine house – they can’t stand the wet – enough said. The rhododendrons and azaleas are just coming into flower and look as if they will be magnificent. I really love them, and was very disappointed to find that they do not thrive in our alkaline soil, however Mr O G who refuses to be defeated has sunk our old bath into the ground and filled it with ericaceous compost which provides a very good home for them, however their overall size is somewhat limited. A fairly new introduction has been the Inkarho rhododendron series, which have been bred to tolerate alkaline soil, and they do. I have two of them and after a shaky start a couple of years ago they are now thriving. I think they are available at most nurseries nowadays, although we did have to trek to a nursery at Frensham in Surrey to get them in the first place.

Today the sun is shining and there is a modicum of warmth. Maybe at last I can cast my clout – and maybe, just maybe we are not doomed after all!