Sweets of sun and flower …

21Jun09

 

Noon, hiving sweets of sun and flower

Has fallen on dreams in wayside bower,

Where bees hold honeyed fellowship

With the ripe blossom of her lip;

All silent are her poppied vales

And all her long Arcadian dales,

Where idleness is gathered up

A magic draught in summer’s cup.

Come, let us give ourselves to dreams

By lisping margins of her streams.

(From “A Summer Day”, L M Montgomery)

 

 

Summer has stolen over my garden, and the straggly, underpopulated days of spring have given away to lush, flower-crammed borders and burgeoning crops.

 

Garden Chair by Nutmeg66 (Flick Creative Commons)

Garden Chair by Nutmeg66 (Flick Creative Commons)

For a gardener, it’s a difficult time of year, even more so than Spring’s mad rush to get everything planted.

In Spring, I’m rich with hope and the frantic need to get the planting done so that I can reap the benefits in the summer – the soil treatments and early bug treatments set the scene, and when those first shoots start coming, it’s pure heaven.

Sadly, that Spring euphoria fades and there are inevitable disappointments – something doesn’t germinate (none of my native umbelliferous experiments – angelica, caraway, anthriscus sylvestris, yarrow – amounted to much, and I only got two of the eight hyssop I planted to germinate), or else there are losses following potting on. These are particularly devastating, I think! I had a wonderful batch of 20 rudbeckia seedlings, and Bellaboo got hold of them and de-potted almost the whole lot, and I’m left with 3 now. Very demoralising, as is the realisation that the pace of work doesn’t ease up just because the weather is hotting up and the planting’s over – there’s still a huge amount of work to be done with watering, weeding, maintenance and pest control.

Come the summer, and just when everyone is coming over idle, the second wave of gardener’s enemies invade … weeds and pests come marching in, and the plentiful germination of spring gets decimated unless the gardener keeps a watchful eye out … and even then, there’s always casualties.

I try to take an organic, non-toxic approach to gardening – I use little in the way of pesticides and herbicides, preferring to rely on natural remedies and hard graft to keep everything healthy. I’m happier doing it that, in part because I grow a fair amount of my own veg and I don’t like the idea of ingesting nasty chemicals (it’s one of the reasons I grow my own), and in part because the children are in the garden almost all the time during the summer months, and I don’t want them eating slug pellets or other nasties by mistake. But it’s a labour intensive process and this weekend I’ve been sorely tempted to resort to chemical warfare.

We have a number of perennial pests – from slugs, snails and aphids to brambles, nettles and bindweed – that always threaten to rampage through the garden at this time of year, given half a chance. The slugs and snails I’ve been dealing with using nematodes, and the destruction of every single one of the nicotiana seedlings I planted out this week have pointed out that I urgently need to retreat. It’s also proved once and for all that the ‘Slug Stoppa’ granules I bought as backup this year are worse than useless, so I shan’t be bothering with them again. So far, I’ve been able to clear the aphid clusters on the roses and herbs using my gran’s old remedy of dissolved soap flakes in water and misting the infected plants … I’m wondering whether or not to order a job lot of ladybirds and see what they make of all the little critters. It’s strange that we haven’t seen nearly so many this year as we would normally. I’m a little worried about them.

Another reason I don’t use pesticides is the bees. I grow a fair old range of fragrant flowering plants, including sage, lavender, borage and rosemary, so we get a lot of our fuzzy friends in the garden. Despite the panic elsewhere about the declining number of bees, it’s been very busy with them in my garden – I just hope it carries on that way. Bees are on the list of things I ponder every year – alongside chickens – as to whether I can add them into the mix. This year, again, I concluded against, but I will, possibly when Bella starts school, see if I can spend a day or so with a local beekeeper just to see how I get on with it. It’s one of those things – alongside country wine making – that I long to be able to do.

It’s been good fun getting the two older children involved in the garden more this year: both on bee watch – which they’ve thoroughly enjoyed – and in clearing out the nasties. Honey, in particular, has developed a peculiar affinity with caterpillars, and has spent at least an hour every day in amongst the brassicas clearing all the cabbage white grubs into her caterpillar hotel – a move that I’m more than happy with! Rumpus has contented himself with the odd shield bug and a collection of ants in his bug gallery, but it’s a start, and they’re both getting good at spotting ‘good’ predator bugs and ‘bad’ munchers and taking action. I’m enormously proud of both myself and them that they’re much less squeamish about bugs than I am, and they’ve set up a protective watch over a mother-spider guarding her big bundle of eggs under the curved arch of a savoy leaf … they’re desperate to see the spiderlings hatch … I’m just hoping they don’t do what the ‘daddy long legs’ spiderlings do and eat their mother when they hatch out …

Of course, the real joy at this time of year is that we’re starting to pull in our first few harvests. The winter-sown Shenshyu onions and shallots came up last weekend and are drying on racks – I’m looking forward to plaiting them up and hanging them in the kitchen – and it was wonderful to see that my planning paid off and the peas and beans were just coming nicely in between the onion rows and ready to be staked: that bit of successional growing worked so well, I’m thrilled. The sweetcorn and squashes have gone out in those beds, and I’m just keeping a bit of an eye on their performance in case they need a feed. We’ve been getting young lettuce leaves for a while now – I’m so disappointed that the saved seeds from last year of cucumbers and peppers didn’t germinate – and we’re getting the first tomatoes, too, now – my taste buds are just tingling in anticipation, as there’s nothing as sweet as a home-grown tomato, even the organic ones don’t come close!

We’ve had a couple of early cabbage – Spring Hero – which worked so well I shall be putting them on the list for next year, and the first sowing of early peas – Feltham Firsts – is podding up nicely. I keep running an experimental hand over them but I think it will be at least another week before we can gorge ourselves on them!!

But the glory of this season is – and always will be – the strawberries. OH MY, the strawberries. We are in strawberry heaven, taking off a good punnet’s worth every day of the beauties, and most of them getting eaten before they make it to the kitchen … the crop this year is astonishing – such good size and wonderful flavour, and the quantities are just mindblowing. Bellaboo has eaten so many that she doesn’t want any more, but Honey and I adore strawberries and there’s no stopping us! But it is as much fun to wander around the garden with Bellaboo picking them – we have a little basket that she carries, and we pick them together and she carries them into the kitchen for washing – it’s such a precious little ritual we share because she’s so sweetly serious about it all – it’s her (first) very important job.

I’m over the moon that we’ve got little crops on both the blackcurrant and raspberry I planted this year – I really wasn’t expecting anything from them, so it’s lovely to see little cluster of black jewels on the currant, and the promise of a handful of raspberries on the canes. I shall be making sure I get to them before the blackbirds do!

It is gratifying that the hard work of the last couple of months is paying off, if rather daunting that there’s still a lot of hard work to be done when I’d like to be lying back and enjoying the sunshine – the front garden is a neglected, weed-ridden disgrace that I absolutely *must* attend to this week, so if the weather’s good the house may well have to tend to itself whilst I garden 🙂 – but there’s something so relaxing about pottering one’s way through a vegetable bed and checking out what new delights are on their way – the first of the calabrese are starting to head, for example – whilst grubbing out the little weedlets, that it doesn’t always feel like work.

And, of course, now the summer harvest is starting to set, it’s time to start planning for the next rotation, and the next set of planting …. time to go back and see what worked and what didn’t, and to start pawing through those seed catalogues for the late summer/autumn plantings and the next wave of veggie delights …

It’s true what they say: a gardener’s work is never done, but I don’t think I’d want it any other way.
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