Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!


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Watering wisely?

It’s just over two weeks since I shared the Burnt Garden with you and we’ve actually had some rain – not a lot, but enough to refill both water butts – hoorah!

Is it me, or did it take a while for the gardening press and media to catch up with the fact that many of us gardeners are really struggling with heat and drought this summer?  And I know it’s not just been a London and South-East thing.  Friends in Scotland were bemoaning the lack of water back in the Spring, long before the high temperatures took hold here.  Finally, about a week ago, the emails starting arriving advising us to ‘water wisely’, but just what does that mean?

I mentioned that the recent rain had filled our two water butts.  We are now carefully rationing this new bounty to ensure that we can continue to use rainwater to water our blueberries, other acid-loving plants and, most importantly and unseasonably, our Christmas tree!

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Although in doing this, I am conscious that this year most of my promising blueberries have ended up feeding the local blackbirds!

We can also use the rainwater to top up the pond in due course.  We are now having a serious discussion as to where we can site further water butts because clearly, if our summers are going to continue like this, we need more than two!  However, I’m sure it doesn’t take me to tell you that water butts are large and usually ugly beasts but needs must!

We are also told not to water established plants and trees but, as I mentioned before, I am very worried about our birch tree and my fears were given credence by the tree consultant who I called in to give it an honest assessment.  When I said that I had drenched the root base weekly, he told me that it was no where near enough in order to prevent the tree being stressed further and possibly dying.  He pointed out that the roots probably run under most of the garden so, rather than just soaking the immediate area around the trunk, I should be watering every evening on a very wide scale and encouraging my neighbours to do the same.  So Operation Birch has begun, resulting in a very strange area of bright green grass nearest the tree whilst the rest of the lawn still currently looks like the Sahara!

I am convinced that everyone thinks I’m wasting my water trying to revive the lawn which, of course, is not the case!

Whilst most of the gardening advice is to focus water around the roots and to give a deep, focused soaking, this isn’t going to work for the tree, so I have developed a 15 minutes and then move on approach to using a sprinkler.  This is a real time saver.  Wherever I set my sprinkler, I know water will benefit the tree along with anything else planted nearby.  To avoid over-drenching any one area, I have been known to set the oven timer!  I can then nip out between other tasks and move it on.

Finally, I suppose it is worth reminding ourselves that some plants are really enjoying the heat.  My tomatoes, which were sown late due to the Beast from the East (oh, how that seems a lifetime ago!), are now ripening and it looks like being a good crop.

The watering can is constantly to hand to give them a dousing every evening.  Recently someone was advising reducing the leafy growth even before the end of summer and given the need to save water, this seems sensible, so I am snipping off bits of tomato when the mood takes me and when I can bear to step inside the greenhouse!  I think it would be fair to say that, with the heat we’ve had, I’m the one who comes out looking like a tomato!

 

 

 

 

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The burnt garden

Confession time – I didn’t believe the weather forecasters when they predicted this summer’s heatwave … to my cost.  We headed off for almost two weeks holiday just as the bright yellow, glowing sunshine symbol was starting to wink away on the BBC weather app.  I didn’t entirely ignore the warnings as I did leave watering instructions for my cat-sitter but, unfortunately, I was far too focused on whether it was going to be 8 degrees or 18 in Iceland – it turned out to be both!  More of which another time.  However, there I was on a grey, slightly damp day in the East Fjords when a text pinged through.  London temperatures had soared, plants were scorching and it was clear that troops needed to be mustered if we were to return to anything alive.  Thank heavens for the wonders of hotel wifi and neighbours who responded admirably to my email pleading for help!  However, it was still a shock when we returned home to sights such as this!

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This acuba started off life as a cutting from my mother’s garden.  Interestingly, in one previous hot summer, I remember her showing me the scorched leaves and us wondering if they really could just have been burnt by the sun.  This one is planted in full sun whilst its sibling is in a much shadier area and still has lovely shiny green leaves.  Neither wilt or show any other signs of stress, just these unsightly burnt areas on leaves that were in direct sun.

The bay tree in the front garden is another disaster area.

It’s in a large pot and, nestled up by the hedge, it is both sheltered but also easily forgotten if you don’t know it’s there.  The front garden faces west and consequently receives the full blast of the sun’s setting rays.  When the weather finally gets cool enough, clearly  we will need to give it a short back and sides.  Fortunately we have a second bay in a pot outside the back door which is in better shape should the need for bay arise, although curiously I do think of bay as being a winter herb when it comes to cooking.

There were also some scorched surprises.  I automatically think of dahlias as hot weather plants but it would seem that they too have their limits.  I fear that this Veronne’s Obsidian may not perform at its best this year.

My phlox was a brighter story but, look beneath the purple spray and, yes, there’s plenty of dead, drought ridden growth lurking there too.

But the plant that is worrying me most is our birch tree.  Regular readers will recall the sad tale of my flowering cherry tree, well the birch is right next door to it.  I have known it turn gold early and start dropping leaves when we’ve had previous dry summers but, as you can imagine, this time I am worried.  It has a number of dead branches on one side and the leaves were falling in their hundreds.  I’ve soaked a wide area where I believe its roots to be and I’ve mulched it over.  I’ve also called a tree specialist for advice – they are coming next week.  So please, all fingers crossed, I really can’t bear to loose another tree.