Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
WE have had one of the best spring seasons ever, as the weather has been consistently warm with moist rain coming just when it was needed but nature is in control and showed us what she could do to stop us becoming complacent.
Normally, around coastal counties we have the last possible frost around the first week of May, after which we can usually plant out our bedding and patio plants, including the more tender vegetables.
This year, it came a week later and was more severe as the preceding weeks had encouraged luscious growth and unfortunately many plants turned black and died. We also experienced a severe windy day which damaged the leaves of newly planted deciduous trees, shrubs and fruiting plants and some turned black which lead to some people believing it was a disease such as fireblight but all these plants will just recover and make new growth before too long.
Altogether the late frost and strong winds was a setback for many gardeners, including new people venturing into gardening for the first time and it was a lesson in not taking nature for granted. This is again one of the reasons why I have advocated and advised sowing and planting small batches of flowers and vegetables so there are some reserves along the way. If you are in a windy position you can also erect some 1m (3’) high windbreaks where needed for growing vegetables but flowers in patios are usually trouble free from now on and the close planting densities in pots means the plants give each other support.
With climate change creeping up on us we might be tempted to change to more Mediterranean plants and if travel becomes more difficult or troublesome we can create some exotic plantings in our own garden using species from hotter regions. Lavenders spring to mind immediately and that might include the French variety Lavandula stoechas which has “bumble-bee” like flowers and is very aromatic but we do not recommend it as it does not like our wetter conditions and is short lived. The English type Lavandula angustifolia on the other hand loves it here and is much tougher, as is the Dutch species Lavandula vera. Cultivated varieties of the English and Dutch lavenders are commonly available and all lavenders are best planted from the spring until the end of August to give them time to establish before the winter.
Nothing sets off the exotic or tropical look better than some palm trees and a number do quite well here given suitable conditions. The well known and fast growing “Cabbage Palm” Cordyline australis is the most common type seen almost everywhere and next in hardiness but much slower growing is the “Windmill Palm” called Trachycarpus fortunei, which can be seen in many gardens already and a dwarfer type would be the “European Fan Palm” Chamaerops humilis, which will suit most coastal county gardens.
For those adventurous enough and willing to take a slight risk the following palms might be considered and both these are hardy to around five degrees below freezing. They are the “Canary Island Date Palm” Phoenix canariensis, which can be seen in a few sheltered gardens and has large majestic leaves, and lastly the “Mexican Fan Palm” Washintonia robusta. “Tree Ferns” such as Dicksonia antarctica are also exotic looking but they are tricky to grow and often fail so we do not recommend them.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Conditions are good for diseases to show themselves, which includes blight on potatoes, mildew on fruiting plants and black spot on roses. A preventative spray on all these plants will give them protection for the next few weeks at this critical time. You can in most years avoid blight on early potatoes and if it appears just cut the foliage down to around ground level and leave the tubers safely in the ground and dig them as required for eating. Tomatoes can get blight even under tunnels but good ventilation will keep them free of diseases. Supplementary feeding to all patio and bedding plants, including vegetables, every two weeks with a liquid feed will build up disease resistance and also result in a huge surge of growth.