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The Wheelbarrow Gardener - Summer Watering Holes

The Wheelbarrow Gardener - Summer Watering Holes

With the sun high in the sky, Trevor Bridge takes a break from enjoying his summer garden to consider the importance of water features for both us and our local wildlife…

 

 

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This is a wonderful time of year in the garden. The weather is still warm, averaging 24˚C in August and dropping just a couple of degrees to 22˚C in September. July, our driest month with an average rainfall of 47mm, has passed and rainfall rises to 49mm in August then 51mm in September. We can still get blue skies and lots of sunshine to help lengthen the ripening period of our crops, especially if we are fortunate enough to have an ‘Indian Summer’.

Hollyhocks, Michaelmas daisies, Buddleias, Delphiniums, Day lilies, Rudbeckias and Perovskia could still be providing colour and the jardin potager should be at its peak. It is time to harvest our main crops that have benefited from the long hot days and matured in the late summer sunshine.

In the heat of the summer the cooling effects of water in gardens are inestimable. Quiet pools calm the senses, reflections and shadows create atmosphere and whimsical fountains generate soothing sounds while their movement attracts the eye. Water supports an unsurpassed richness of lush, distinctive vegetation and attracts a huge range of wildlife such as birds, butterflies and mammals. Whether it be in the form of ponds, pools, fountains, cascades, water-falls or streams, water creates a focal point, adds ambience and is a welcome addition to any garden.

Ideally, every garden should have a water feature and the most effective is a simple pond. Ponds of course come in all shapes and sizes and range from classy formal affairs to more natural looking creations with soft flowing lines. Even the smallest gardens have room for a pond made from a half-barrel or a sink. Just a bird bath makes a huge difference to the numbers of creatures visiting your garden.

Preformed fibreglass or rigid plastic ponds, both formal and informal, are obtained from garden centres and, whilst fairly expensive and smallish, are an acceptable option and relatively easy to install. Flexible liners in PVC, polythene or butyl rubber come in all sizes so are suitable for the smallest or largest pond and their flexibility allows informal shapes to be formed.

For a more natural appearance, a pond is best sited in a low area with a secluded part where wildlife can be left undisturbed. Try to have a third of the pond’s surface in the shade because if the whole surface is exposed to direct sunlight, algae may become a problem or the pond could dry up. If possible, avoid overhanging trees as their leaves will drop into the water. You may want the pond visible from the house or it could be out-of-the-way, creating an element of surprise when encountered.

For a rich eco-system, a pond with a diameter of about 5m and around 80cm deep is ideal, but even a small pond holding just 3 cubic metres of water will attract a variety of wildlife. Lay a rope or hosepipe on the ground to determine the pond’s shape before excavating the sides avoiding complex shapes which could create difficulties with the liner. Keep sides sloping rather than vertical so wildlife can enter and leave easily, and ensure that about 50% is shallow. The edge of the pond should be level so that bare liner doesn’t show. Remove sharp stones and place an underlay over the excavated area. These can be purchased or do as we did at Le Fayard and use an old carpet. Lay the liner over the underlay and place stones around the edge to keep it in place during filling. Add water slowly whilst pulling and tucking the liner in place and leave for 24 hours. It is best to use rainwater collected from a roof, or just be patient and wait for it to fill naturally. Trim off any excess liner, leaving enough to anchor down with stones, paving or turf. Children’s play sand, which is inert, helps to make the pond appear more natural. We got our plants from local field ponds with the owners’ permission, but they can be easily bought from garden centres or specialist suppliers too. Avoid fish in wildlife ponds as they eat tadpoles and other creatures. Then, sit back and admire – the wildlife will soon appear.

Fountains provide captivating movement and sound and can be part of a pond or pool or a free-standing sculpture or feature. They can be simple jets of water, domes, cascades, tiered fountains and even remarkable spheres resembling dandelion seed heads. They range from tiny bubble fountains to fit the corner of a patio to grandiose sculp-ted designs for large formal gardens. In between are all types to suit modern or traditional gardens of all sizes.

 

 

 

WHAT TO DO IN AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER

 

VEGETABLES

• Maincrop potatoes can be lifted to enjoy them fresh from the soil when their taste is supreme. Improve yields by watering during dry spells.

• Pick beans, courgettes and cucumbers frequently to encourage further cropping.

• Lift celery as soon as it is of a worthwhile size and remember to dig them up before the first frosts.

• Harvest sweetcorn cobs when their tassels have withered and the corn is firm but exudes milk when squeezed.

• Ensure that any crops with fruits, pods or flowers are kept well watered.

• Continue to pinch out tomato side shoots regularly and tie leading shoots to their supports as they climb upwards. Pick unripe tomatoes by the end of September. Cut the whole truss and ripen them on the vine under a cloche or on a windowsill. Green tomatoes left can be used in chutney.

• There is still time to sow lettuce for a late crop and it is worth sowing winter varieties such as laitue ‘Valdor’, ‘Merveille d’Hiver’, ‘Grosse Blonde d'Hiver’ or ‘Brune d'Hiver’ for cropping next spring.

• Sow spring cabbages in August for planting out in September/October to overwinter for harvesting from late February to mid-June. In windy areas, earth up around their stems to combat root rock.

• For winter herbs, pot up basil, marjoram, mint and parsley to grow on the kitchen window sill.

 

 

FLOWERS

There is still time during August to sow seeds of Canterbury bells (Campanula media), known as campanule in French. A favourite cottage garden biennial 90cm high, it produces spires of blue blooms throughout the summer if deadheaded regularly. Its nectar rich blooms attract bees; it self-seeds easily and provides abundant cut flowers.

The forget-me-not myosotis is an easily grown low-spreading biennial with long sprays of free blooming, deep blue flowers in spring and early summer. It tolerates most soils, natur-alises easily and is sown from May to September.

A good hardy perennial for brightening up dry areas is Alyssum saxatile Alysse saxatile. It reaches 23cm high, grows on rocky areas or walls and provides cascades of golden-yellow spring flowers. Sow direct into the ground from May to August.

After summer bedding has been removed, plant spring flowering plants such as primrose and wallflower. The candelabra primrose primevère candelabra is a hardy perennial providing striking displays of tiered florets in a wide range of colours on upright stems up to 60cm tall. Flowering from late spring to mid-summer, they perform best in moist soil and dislike summer drought. Wallflowers are a popular cottage garden perennial with a superb fragrance. They are versatile, tough and grow in the poorest of soils. Reaching 30-45cm in height they flower in spring, providing magnificent splashes of colours including red, pink, purple, yellow and cream.

Regularly deadhead roses to encourage more blooms and reduce taller stems to deter movement from wind. Stem cuttings can be taken from mid-autumn until late winter. Select strong shoots that have grown this year and remove the soft tip just above a leaf joint. Cut into 30cm lengths, remove all except the top three leaves and insert the cuttings into the ground or a pot with two-thirds of the cutting below the surface. Leave in place until the following autumn, ensuring they don’t dry out.

 

 

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WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

PRIMULA, PRIMROSE AND POLYANTHUS

This often confuses. Primrose and polyanthus plants both belong to the genus Primula which contains many different species including wild primroses (Primula vulgaris) , wild cowslips (Primula veris), candelabra primulas and auricular primulas. The horticultural trade sells multicoloured polyanthas and primroses and often the names are interchangeable, hence the confusion.

Primroses (often sold as primulas) have their flowers low down amongst the leaves like the wild primrose.

Polyanthus are derived from crosses between Primula vulgaris, Primula veris and other species and their flowers are produced in large umbels on tall stems.

Candelabra primulas have tubular, flat-faced flowers borne in tiered whorls up the stem.

Auricula primulas have individually flat and smooth flowers carried in an umbel on a stem above the foliage.

 

 


Trevor is a landscape architect who ran a busy practice in the UK for 20 years. He and his wife Jocelyn moved to an ancient fermette in Poitou-Charentes in 2004 where they garden organically and keep bees and hens.

 

 

 


Trevor's tips

What to do in your garden now

• Keep plants well watered during dry periods. You may need to enlist friends or family if you are away from home.

• Keep ponds and water features topped up if there are no water restrictions.

• Collect and sow seeds from hardy annuals and herbaceous perennials.

• Divide herbaceous perennials and replant or pot up and overwinter in a frost-free place.

• Lift and pot up strawberry runners.

• Clean out cold frames and greenhouses ready for autumn use.

 

 

 

TOP TEN TIPS ON WATER CONSERVATION

~ Remove weeds; they compete for water with your plants.

~ Windbreaks shelter plants from drying winds. Shade seedlings in hot weather.

~ Avoid digging soil in dry hot weather as this increases water loss.

~ Increase the soil’s water-holding capacity by digging in organic matter such as compost or leaf mould.

~ Mulch the soil surface with leaf mould, grass clippings, sheets of newspaper, straw, or composted bark chippings to reduce moisture loss and suppress weeds. Apply when the soil is moist and warm and the plants are established.

~ Soak well when watering. Ensure water has penetrated down into the soil, not just the surface.

~ Water early morning and late afternoon to reduce water loss through evaporation.

~ Apply water directly to the soil; avoid scorching by not wetting the leaves.

~ Collect as much rainwater as possible by using water butts.

~ Recycle grey water and use rainwater wherever possible.

 

 

 

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GOOD, BETTER, BEST: BIRD BATHS

GOOD: PLATE

Birds are unconcerned about aesthetics so a large plate or pie dish will act as a bird bath provided that the water is clean and changed regularly. They will be welcomed by a range of birds to drink, bathe and cool-off. Ensure they are sited in an open area so birds can spot prowling cats.

 

BETTER: BOWL

Bowls of all shapes and sizes make good bird baths. They are formed from concrete, terra cotta, glass, plastic or metal and good garden centres stock a range to suit most types of garden and tastes. Some have chains to allow them to be hung above the ground to keep them away from predators. You can improvise by using a plant pot base.

 

BEST: BASIN & PEDESTAL

Basin and pedestal bird baths range from traditional designs decorated with ornate bas-relief to modern, clean, simple, geometric shapes. Some have automatic filling devices and some have a fountain and re-circulating pump, sometimes solar powered. Birds are attracted to running water so these are worth considering.