Chiff Chaffs, Peacock butterflies, June-like sunny summer days, still no rain, hoverflies hunting on the wing, many daffs already past their best, the government telling people to go out and panic buy and hoard fuel, what a strange and unusual March it was. The warm dry weather has meant that the work has progressed well and the garden is ready for the public to view.
Magnolias in Cornish Gardens.
With all this sunshine and good weather about I felt like visiting someone else’s garden rather than my own. The flower of the moment for me is the magnolia. Because of the nationwide good weather, many are out early and the usual advantages many gardens in the sheltered southwest have in terms of timing have been eroded. Nevertheless, it was to the southwest that I went for a few days this past week. Many of the most established collections, including the National Collection of Magnolias, are there and it is always an education to see plants that are fully mature. This is possible because of the maritime climate with high rainfall and humidity and more light means that growth can be accelerated and sustained over a longer period.
The first garden visited was Caerhays which holds the National Collection of Magnolias and has bred some famous hybrids such as M. ‘Caerhays Surprise’ and ‘Caerhays Belle’ to name but two.
The garden formally extends over some 60 acres, although finding room for more than 200 magnolias takes up a lot of space so the plantings extend over 200 acres. The magnolias were interspersed with deciduous woodland that provided shelter and gave the whole place a natural feel. It should be said that, although Caerhays is famous for its magnolias, it is also host to a wonderful range of rare trees and shrubs. Nevertheless it is principally a spring garden.
There were some superb tree magnolias out. The most impressive were Magnolia x veitchii ‘Peter Veitch’ which were comparable in size to mature beech or oak trees. Also impressive were a number of Campbellii forms and hybrids.
The afternoon brought little improvement in the weather but, undaunted, Trewithen was next on the list. A much smaller private garden, it was extremely well kept. The planting here was more formal in style and it was much less steep than Caerhays! There were a number of excellent camellias here although the blooms of many C. Japonica cultivars were beginning to brown on the bushes, an unfortunate habit of these plants. I was especially impressed by a Magnolia ‘Merrill’; the fragrance was noticeable even on a wet day.
The next day of our trip took us to two National Trust gardens, firstly Trelissick, which had splendid panoramic views and was most memorable for an excellent Magnolia denudata. Luckily we enjoyed warm unbroken sunshine although I think the next garden would have stood out even in a thunderstorm. Glendurgan was a revelation! Conceived by a Quaker family and planted around three valleys, the resulting shelter offered a home to some wonderfully exotic planting. Bananas were just beginning to unfurl large leaves and mature Tree Ferns abounded. The whole garden had an intimacy and delicacy about it which is rarely achieved in gardens. As an extra treat the gardens led down to a sheltered cove bathed in sunshine. An indulgent week ended all too soon!
In the Kitchen Garden.
Several people that I have spoken to recently, who normally grow their own veg are reticent to do so this year as a hose pipe ban now looks inevitable. This I think is perfectly understandable. With this in mind, I thought it might be worth talking about drought tolerant vegetables and other ways of growing veg that uses water more efficiently.
A basic horticultural practice that enables soil to retain water is the addition of bulky organic matter to it. Organic matter is what holds water in the soil in a way that makes it easy for plants to access. Well rotted compost, leaf-mould or farmyard manure are examples of organic matter that will help retain water in the soil. This can be dug in or applied as a mulch. It is usually added in the winter, so this is something you could think about for next year if you have missed out this season.
Growing veg in bags concentrates water around the roots of plants and evaporation is reduced. Thirsty plants such as potatoes and saled crops can easily be grown in this way. Some vegetables don’t need as much water as others. Amaranth, cow beans, sweetcorn, spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, chard are some examples.
The other thing to do, as I mentioned at the beginning of March, is to grow your crops before the summer heat starts. Do the majority of your planting in spring with short season vegetables. Plant lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, beets, onions, and broccoli, all which thrive in the cooler spring weather. Keep your summer plantings to a minimum and then when the autumn arrives you can replant the same things you did in Spring. Other things you can do include watering in the evening, mulching and planting crops closer together (which reduces evaporation directly from the soil surface). Anyway, best of luck.
Conditions have been and remain just right for preparing the soil for seed sowing. I have kicked off the sowing season with varieties of lettuce, broad bean, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, mini turnip, radish, spinach, beetroot and Brussel sprouts. I have also planted shallots and onion sets. In the glasshouse, tomatoes, courgettes and cucumber are all pushing their way through the compost.
Slugs and snails are now becoming more active, so be prepared.
Please note: images have been removed from this pages because some of them may have been used without permission.