• Kay

A dead heading binge


At last the weather is heading for a more normal state. We’ve had a fantastic amount of rain in the last few days, some of it very heavy and some impressive thunder and lightning. Today is my first day back in the garden but it is a bit ‘in out’ because it keeps raining, but I’m certainly not going to complain about that! Today I do not even water the polytunnel, when it was really hot, I was having to water it twice a day and give the central bed in particular an absolute drenching. This is because the central bed with its towering tomatoes, sunflowers and fennel entwined with cucumber, cuca-melon and ipomea looks like an Amazon rainforest. When I hose down the massive sunflower and cucumber leaves to ward off red spider mite and powdery mildew and the giant leaves then rain water down on my head, it feels like an Amazon Rainforest! Today is so much cooler, the soil in the tunnel is still damp and I do not want to over water it. The first thing I notice when coming through the kitchen garden gate in the morning, is that the Diosma ‘Sunset Gold’ at the back of the alpine beds is literally glowing with its fresh luminous lime green foliage. This is an unusual gold-leaved form of this New Zealand native with bright, heather like, evergreen foliage.

The colour of the succulents on the table beside the alpine beds is fresher and more vivid. It is incredible the effect of a few decent showers of rain.

Also, switching down the intensity of the sun brings out the colours of the garden which can become ‘bleached out’ on really hot days. Unfortunately, there are disadvantages to heavy rain for some plants, although again, I do not want to complain. In the fruit tree border, I have some very large, tall perennials, the monster achillea ‘Cloth of Gold’ –which is always causing trouble and my favourite, Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicfolia ‘Blue Spire’) recently featured as top ‘bee magnet’. The soft, felty flowers and foliage of this plant really soak up the rain and then it flops forward over everything in front of it, it has substantial supports but not as high as the achillea supports. As for the Achillea, it now looks as if a small bomb has gone off in each plant! Luckily, the Russian sage will improve as it dries out however you don’t want the weather to dry out too much! Gardening is a very finely tuned balancing act between too wet/too dry, too hot/too cold, too exposed/too shady.

The next thing I notice is that everything needs dead heading, mightily. The extreme hot weather brings out the flowers, but they finish more quickly in the heat and then absorb water like sponges in the rain. So, my time today is spent dead heading, all the dahlias then the roses. It is fantastic to be back outside in the fresh air and now the air does feel fresh. For dinner tonight I’m cooking spag-bol which is another way of using a few courgettes and I discover a courgette that has slipped under the radar and become a marrow…luckily it’s not too huge! I also collect copious amounts of rosemary that is very good in spag-bol, it is also supposed to be good for the memory…we’ll have to see about that!


Gardening resumes


Today was a proper day in the garden, it is still very humid but the temperature is bearable and the rain held off. Today has been quite eventful, lots of things going on. Unfortunately, grandad has been very unsettled and confused and has need to be escorted to the toilet repeatedly. I have carried on with my dead heading marathon and I have come to the conclusion that some things are far more pleasant to dead head than others. Dahlias are quite satisfying to dead head, as long as you know what to remove which are the pointed looking buds. Cosmos are also quite nice to dead head and there are not too many flowers to remove. Zinnias are the girls’ favourite because the flowers last for ages and then there is usually only one per plant to remove. Roses can be uncomfortable and it is important to remove just above a shoot or branch-let. This acts as mild pruning and will stimulate a second flush of flowers. I cut back the older antirrhinums at the base of the mount along with any gladioli that had finished. These are both OK to deal with. I then tackled the numerous marigolds in the brassica corner which are lovely but a bit fiddley. Then I started on my nemesis, the calendula! Calendula (Pot marigold) is beautiful in bloom, it is a useful plant that self-seeds prolifically and it has many beneficial medicinal properties and is a good companion planting plant…but, it’s dead flower heads look very unappealing, rather ‘spider like’ and they have a rather sticky texture and each plant produces numerous flowers and therefore has multiple dead heads to remove per plant, the girls hate them and they don’t much appeal to me either.

Another job done today was tethering the cardoons. The cardoons are about 8/10 feet high and their dead heads are lethal…heavy spikey, ‘tennis ball’ sized like a medieval weapon. If someone invaded the garden and threatened me I could whack them with a cardoon and that would probably finish them off! I should have tied up the cardoons months ago but somehow the job never got done. Now the torrential rain has pushed them down and you risk injury every time you walk past them. I have two strong metal poles knocked firmly into the ground in their bed and I have to tie the stems to them with rope. I then gathered up all the dead leaves from the ground. I did receive several blows to the head from the cardoons’ weighty thistle seed heads but they ended up looking much more respectable.

In the morning, Patrick, James and Aideen started digging at the front of the house again. Patrick has decided that the area has to be dug out considerably lower than the level already dug out by the digger. He thinks this is OK to do manually because the rain has softened up the ground. I’m not sure that Patrick and his team still thought that several hours later, slogging away in this humidity.

Meave and Diane were not available in the morning because Diane was due to play the last post on the green for 75th anniversary of VJ day. She only returned from Wales the previous evening and took her venerable bugle out this morning for the first time since Anzac day! Diane is not a trumpeter, she is a French horn player but does not practise either instrument. Her first blows of the morning resulted in little more than ‘air’ sounds and a strangled raspberry. She then went back to bed for an hour and then tried again. Brass players are not at their best first thing in the morning! The second attempt produced something more recognisable and she departed with Meave for the village green. (Meave acts as Diane’s music stand!). Apparently they social distanced, at great distance, under a tree and the Last Post went quite well. We are all baffled as to how Diane pulls this off with ‘nil practice’.

Meave and Diane then return and join the labouring team at the front of the house. When everyone gives up exhausted in the early evening Aideen decides to check out her pressed flowers. Satisfied that they are ready and excited by the arrival of her ‘deep set’ picture frames, she embarks on her first dried flower artistic creation. She produces a lovely original composition, using a tiny old green bottle that she dug up at the front of the house. It is lovely to see her experimenting with different things after living, breathing, sleeping ‘HARP’ for the last seven/eight years! Meave manages to use the courgette/marrow in her Thai fish curry for dinner which brings the day to a very satisfying conclusion.

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