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Drought conditions

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Bob Flowerdew Bob Flowerdew | 07:00 UK time, Thursday, 5 May 2011

May has come, and it’s still a drought. Wonderful weather, azure blue skies and bright sun make it glorious, but it’s so hard on the newly sown and freshly planted. The established perennials have their roots down and so are flourishing, but the new stuff is having difficulty and I’m forced to water the more important plants daily.

watering seedlings


Indeed I feel like I'm transporting more water than a small canal. With the inside plants, those hardening off or being grown on in pots and the recently planted fruit trees it's taking me over an hour every day just to water. On the other hand weed control and grass cutting is taking less time than most other years. And the crops are starting to roll in. I've plenty of fresh salads, more than sufficient asparagus for daily cuttings, new potatoes from tubs under cover to have three times a week (Rocket gives the bulk but Dunluce are much the tastier).

I've fresh strawberries daily from pots forced under cover and a succulent cucumber nearly every other day. The outdoor strawberries are in full flower and I have just strawed them. I watered well first, then laid lots of newspaper to keep down the weeds and dirt, thus the straw goes much further (without straw the berries will lie on the newspaper and if wet will rot, without either they will rest on the soil and so be dirty and rot).

There are more flowers out than I can even get round to appreciate - the white eastern comfrey, Symphytum orientale making a beautiful scene running along the base of a conifer hedge which sets them off a treat, they're always full of humble bees. Honey bees are still very scarce so I've hand pollinated the cherries and most of the strawberries with a soft brush.

Narcissus 'Pheasant's Eye'

Narcissus 'Pheasant's Eye'

The last of the daffodils are blooming; the poeticus or pheasant's eye narcissus now in full flood. I love these for their pristine appearance and sumptuous perfume. Indeed the garden is replete with wonderful scent with masses of Smilacina Racemosa, this has hosta like leaves with a taller more Solomon's seal form topped with foamy creamy white flowers scented of expensive soap. Lily of the valley is even sweeter still and Poncirus trifoiata is full of big white blooms with a faint but definite citrus perfume. This is hardiest of the citrus family and produces edible orange like fruits though these are barely worth having, however the flowers and architectural green 'plastic' stems are value enough in themselves.

One plant that is performing even more exceptionally well than usual is Berberis vulgaris or common barberry, with yellow flowers this has been trained up and over an arbour and cascades down in a multitude of trusses - much prettier than most garden berberis which are stiffer more shrubby bushes. But most wonderful of all - Xanthoceras sorbifolium, a rather rare Chinese tree, with edible foliage, flowers and nuts, is now totally covered in the most beautiful white orchid like blooms.

Bob Flowerdew is an organic gardener and panellist on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.


  • Comment number 1.

    The more fixated I become on gardening, the more of a weather geek I become; this is the first year that I have been so finely attuned to the frosts, the rain, and as you say the lack of it. Watering has taken up a huge amount of time, so I was happy as a puppy this afternoon when it poured down on the garden for about a half hour. You could just feel everything in the garden opening up to the rain -- wonderful. I'm going to be renovating our little courtyard and I'm starting to think I need to take the chance to talk to the builder about redirecting the gray water from the upstairs bathtub into a storage tank down here; this could be a very dry summer.

    I can honestly say I learn something every time I read or hear something from you, Bob -- hadn't heard of the newspapers and straw before; thanks for that.

    Sheila Averbuch -- Stopwatch Gardener

    PS loved to hear your mention the other week on the radio of zaluzianskya ovata -- an amazing plant, and takes so well from cuttings, even the tiniest snippet.

  • Comment number 2.

    After only a couple of days of heavy showers the garden has burst into life this weekend. Fresh asparagus for dinner - I love this time of year.

  • Comment number 3.

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