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The Yorkshire Wolds Gardener (June)

There is a Chinese proverb: ‘If you have only two pennies in the world – with one buy bread, with the other buy a lily’.

This is reference to the fact that as well as physical nourishment, one also needs nourishment for the spirit. And isn’t this what gardening is all about? One part of gardening can be about growing food while the other is about the aesthetic enjoyment of beautiful plants. Above all this, is the contact with the outdoors and nature, which in itself can form a major focus for the garden. This column will touch on these different aspects of gardening – offering advice and hints and answering questions. There might even be a few of you who have no garden. You haven’t been forgotten, you too can have a green indoor environment with house plants.

During this period of lockdown, I have never been more thankful for my own garden and I’m sure many of you will feel the same about yours. Life goes on in the garden as normal which provides a pleasant link with reality in these bizarre times. Summer is now well underway in East Yorkshire, following a mild if rather wet and at times stormy winter. March wasn’t a bad month – a bit chilly but often quite sunny. Spring turned out to be extraordinarily dry and sunny though some of you may have suffered the worst May frost in years, mid-month. Now, well into June, we have finally had quite a lot of rain. “Dripping June brings all into tune”, as the saying goes.

One question asked is: what vegetables can be grown now?  You can still sow cops like beetroot, lettuce, carrots and turnips. There is just about time to sow runner and French beans before the end of the month, though July will be a bit too late. There is a lot you can plant as long as the soil if friable, though you will have to buy plants ready grown from a garden centre or nursery, as it will be too late to start your own from seed now. These might include sprouts (immediate planting), cabbage for winter, kale, sprouting broccoli and leeks. Other crops you can sow now include spring cabbage, spinach beet and kale but they will not be ready for harvest until winter or next spring.

Now garden centres are open you should be able to get hold of most things easily, unlike a few weeks ago. If you have no beds in your garden ready to use, quite a lot of the plants mentioned can be grown in large pots or raised beds. But fill them with decent compost, not just garden soil unless yours is very good.

Much of your work in the garden will now revolve around watering, feeding and checking for problems like pests or extreme weather events. Vegetables in particular flourish best with plenty of nutrients and moisture, so don’t allow them to stress if you want decent yields. Liquid feeding is particularly useful for doing both at once. Needless to say, weeds will need constant attention, particularly if it is wet.

If you have a glasshouse you might already have tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and so forth on the go. It is getting a bit late now for these if you haven’t already started unless you can acquire already well grown plants from somewhere. Anything under glass needs particularly close attention to watering and feeding as well as temperature control at this time of year. Pests can also spread like wildfire in a greenhouse so keep a careful watch. Ventilate your greenhouse well even if the weather is poor.

Generally it is getting a bit late now to start your garden from scratch for this season. But you might like to think about next year. It is a good time to prepare entirely new beds and spending the summer getting rid of the weeds in preparation for planting in autumn. Plan your garden for the coming season. Take a look at it. Is the space well utilised? If you want to grow more next year – do you need so much lawn? Could the paved areas be reduced? Where are the warmest or sunniest spots? Do you have empty pots or a greenhouse full of junk that could be revitalised?

It is too late to divide and multiply ornamental herbaceous plants, or move shrubs to better places by this time of year, unless you are prepared to put them under a regime of intensive care. Hopefully you will already have set in place support for the former where needed. Water herbaceous things if necessary and you can still add bedding plants to spaces that are vacant, although choice might be reduced in garden centres by now. The extra time will give you an eye for detail and more intense interaction with your garden. You may be able to make the garden tidier. But a very tidy garden can lose its soul, not to mention its wildlife. So enjoy the natural flow of things. The garden’s wild inhabitants are part of its joys.

If you dig a new bed out of the lawn, using the buried turf as organic matter will help. Otherwise try to include plenty of organic matter like compost or manure to enrich the soil a bit. Nitrogen fixing crops like peas/beans are better placed than most to succeed on worn out soil but if you start preparations now the soil should be good for most things by autumn.  Meanwhile start a compost heap for next year. Beware of using things like sawdust or woodchips, though – either on the soil or in the compost heap. These will make matters worse by consuming the vital nitrogen. 

For ornamental plants, poor soil is usually less of a problem. Some even like it. Whatever already grows in your garden should continue to flourish. Think about propagating or using these plants more creatively.

Although a bit late by now for pruning early spring flowering shrubs, those that bloomed later in May or June can be done. But do it soon after flowering and don’t put it off too long.

If you have any particular garden questions, please submit them and I will do my best to answer.

To finish with another Chinese proverb: ‘If you want to be happy for a day – get drunk; for a year – get married; for life – become a gardener’.

John Killingbeck June 2020 

Any gardening queries can be sent to John via woldgardener@yorkshirewoldsheritage.org.uk