There are many wonders to be had this summer: watching small boys climb cherry and plum trees and eating or throwing down the fruit; the joy of feeding many people with far too much food; children singing carols …
The joys of summer here hopefully don’t include digging, weeding, mulching, planting or too much watering, just enjoying the produce of the garden and watching the wombats and wallabies eat the grass, i.e. no mowing and the droppings enriching the lawn.
How to achieve this? Mulch, loads and loads of mulch, with a scatter of your favourite fertiliser on top, unless the mulch is compost that will feed the garden perfectly by itself. Our mulch is still from the stone pine trees cut down about five years ago, and so needs a good top up to help feed the garden and to encourage the mulch to decompose.
Over the past two weeks our veg have been safely tucked up for the summer – the fertiliser scattered and well watered in (if you fail to do this step then it may burn the roots if you get a drizzle of rain or the mulch may stop any of that drizzle getting down to the plant roots).
The mulch will stop the weeds – not entirely, but enough so that by the time the worst of summer heat arrives and the best of the summer holidays are over, then the garden will still be mostly veg and flowers, not weeds.
The next summer problem is fruit (unless it is a blessing). It is essential that every gardener knows they don’t have to deal with all the summer fruit. Throw it whole into the freezer, to be stewed sometime in winter for crumbles and pies or to stew with a little spiced wine, or give it away. Put out a sign saying ‘Saturday morning only: free pick your own apricots’ and hope the excess vanishes (I bet it will).
If you’re going to be away while the fruit ripens (and the fruit flies decide to take up residence in your garden) either organise the fruit harvesters in advance, or place tarpaulins or equivalent under the trees, so at least the mess can be easily gathered up and composted or, even better, placed in a hole with at least 60 centimetres of dirt on top of it to foil those fruit flies. Chooks are also an excellent fruit fly foiler – few, if any, survive the journey down a chook’s gullet.
The next labour-saving secret is shade. Fruit fly netting, shade cloth or shade sails above a mid-summer garden help keep it moist, inhibit lettuces heading to seed and keeps the celery tender, rather than becoming a challenge even to a rabbit.
Don't panic about parched grass. Grass recovers. Our grass turns brown here each summer (we don't have enough water to keep it green) but green shoots appear just a few hours after rain.
Don’t worry if your shrubs wilt (I wilt in summer too). If they stay wilted even in the cool of the night, or start to turn brown, give them a long cool soaking – then keep that moisture in the root zone with mulch. Don’t go on a shrub-planting binge just because you have time to plant on holidays. Those newly planted shrubs will need watering long after you’re back at work.
The secret of summer gardening is to do a lot in spring, and then as little as you can till at least mid-February, when another succession of veg will need planting. Put your feet up (just for a little while) each evening out in the garden; smell the warm earth and the flowers; water in the cool of dusk (with mozzie repellent applied as needed) and relax.
This week I am:
- Feeding the (secret) potatoes my grandson is going to triumphantly dig up (I hope).
- Feeding the parsley, so it keeps feeding us lavishly.
- Waiting for the currants to ripen, so I can grab them before the bower birds do.
- Eating ‘boomerang’ marmalade, our Seville oranges that have come back in a jar of perfect jam.
- Cheating, and looking for a giant cherry tomato that is already fruiting – ours are far too slow this year.
- Muttering at the Earliblaze apples, which are not nearly early enough this year – they are supposed to be ripe for the holidays.