Toby Buckland: Garden cuttings
PUBLISHED: 16:55 15 August 2016 | UPDATED: 17:26 15 August 2016
Toby Buckland delivers some sound practical and seasonal advice
August is the month when all that effort sowing, planting and pruning earlier in the year pay off. At the moment my plot is producing more courgettes than I can count, never mind use, as well as bowlfuls of beans and a ton of tomatoes. I know that sounds like I’m bragging (and I am), but even if you’ve only just been tempted by the warm weather to take up your gardening trowel it’s not too late to grow a meaningful and flavour-packed harvest – if you grow herbs. Best of all with herbs you don’t have to wait for a harvest – they’re ready for picking as soon as they’re planted.
Water, water everywhere especially pots and vegetables that are coming into harvest but remember that a bucketful now and then is always better than teacup every day. Watering little and often only encourages shallow drought-prone roots.
Top-up ponds and if necessary tackle plants like Sweet Flag and waterlilies before they take over. You know a waterlily needs a trim when the leaves bunch on the water’s surface. Lift plants from the water and then chop away the old congested parts re-planting only fresh foliage and roots into baskets of low nutrient pond compost. The prunings often contain wildlife so leave by the water’s edge for 24 hours before composting so it can find its way back to the water. Collect seed of garden flowers for sowing next year. Orange calendula is always worth the bother as plants are rarely for sale, while seed from the spent umbels of dill, caraway and fennel are lovely for flavouring curries. I gather flowers and seed into large envelopes and hang in the shed.
After a few weeks, the seeds fall from the crispy seed cases and are easy to clean by ‘winnowing’, the pleasurable process of gently tossing the seed into the air from a bowl while blowing across it. The seed being heavy falls back into the bowl while the ‘chaff’ blows onto the wind. Store the seed in air-tight containers.
Deadhead flowers regularly and look over plants for pests at the same time. On the veg-plot cut back and remove all of the foliage from strawberries that have fruited to prevent the build-up of pests and disease and pot or re-plant runners in fresh soil. Sweetcorn is a summer highlight. Peel back the tassels from the cobs and pop a kernel with your thumb nail. If the juice runs milky the cob is ready for twisting off and cooking. Lift and store onions. If you’re lucky enough to have plenty, do as the French and plait by looping the tops around a stout string.
How to grow herbs
Mediterranean herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme all thrive in the same sunny conditions and also grow well and look good together in the close company of a pot. Spreading herbs like mint, marjoram, tarragon and oregano demand their own containers otherwise the roots mingle and outcompete their neighbours. French tarragon, chervil and parsley add zest and vitality to chicken and salads while oregano and marjoram can be blended with oil, paprika and crushed garlic for barbeque marinades.
Plant of the month
Poor rubbly soils of the kind left behind by builders or on sloping coastal sites needn’t be a problem if you plant the right plants, and cotton lavender (like salvia and Mediterranean herbs) is the perfect solution. With wiry silver evergreen leaves and yellow buttons for flowers, it blooms profusely in hot sunny spots, attracting buzzing bees and mounding into knee-high hummocks. Plant it repeatedly across sunny slopes with lavender, Californian poppies and Mexican fleabane daisy for evergreen cover and you’ll have flowers for much of the year. It also makes good low hedging to edge a path; just keep it trimmed annually in early spring to help it keep its shape.