August 2018 – Midsummer Heat | Top Tips

August 2018 – Midsummer Heat | Top Tips

For as long as I can remember Kings Cross for me was just a place I went to get a train when travelling north, although I was always well aware that it was not generally considered to be the best of environments. For a while I worked in the City and I used to walk from near the Angel to London Bridge so as to take in London places I had not yet seen. I remember being surprised and delighted by the magnificent St Pancras station (or rather the building above it, now a hotel) and horrified to hear that its demolition was mooted for a while. Thankfully that never happened.

Pancras Square - an example of the greening of the city
Pancras Square – an example of the greening of the city

Today the area is totally altered and this month’s header picture is of the water lily pond in Pancras Square, a green space where surrounding workers can sit and relax and which is also a central focus for a number of eateries. The Kings Cross area has undergone a radical regeneration.

The project is almost completed and holds a full programme of community-type events, often free, such as musical evenings, markets, exhibitions, street food festivals etc. It is also really good to see effort going into catering for all types of people in the new development at least in terms of events. Free tours of the regenerated area – very enjoyable – are available and there is plenty of information at the Kings Cross Visitor Centre www.kingscross.co.uk.

We have had an amazingly prolonged heatwave. If you are reading this you are probably a keen gardener and you will know what the current level of dryness can do to a garden and the extra effort involved in daily watering that can’t be missed. On July 27th around 4.50pm a smile spread across my face as I heard the sound of rain for the first time in more than six weeks. The quite heavy downpour stopped and started accompanied by the rumble of thunder but whatever form it took it was so welcome for the gardens. The heatwave turned my usual lifestyle into that of a hot country.

Pancras Square
Pancras Square

Watering vegetables is a daily demand in a heatwave and myself and a few other allotment plotholders were morning waterers, arriving at around seven a.m. to water before the sun got really powerful. If also you needed to do any work on the plot again it was necessary to start early because the lack of shade on site means it can get searingly hot. At first I found the watering an irritation; having it be my first thought every morning was a nuisance but then gradually I got used to it and I know I shall miss it when the need finally stops altogether – seeing the other a.m. waterers that I seldom come across was pleasant and getting the vegetables catered for in green surroundings is really not a bad way to start the day.

One of the spires of St Pancras station
One of the spires of St Pancras station

Ants as pollinators

 

There is a lot of worrying talk about declining bee populations – well, some say the threat is overhyped, other see it as a serious issue. Since a ‘Protection of Pollinators’ bill is going for a second reading in the House of Commons in October I think we should be concerned.

Maybe it was against this background that a friend, a reader of this blog, asked me what I knew about ants as pollinators. She asked just before this blog was hacked. It took several weeks to put everything to rights by which time I had forgotten her question until now. When studying horticulture we were told that there are several other pollinators as well as bees but we didn’t go into this overly much as presumably the major pollinator in our environment is the bee.

An ant is not a great pollinator because it doesn’t fly so it doesn’t go far. Some scientists have found that ants secrete a natural substance that acts as an antibiotic. This protects ants from bacterial and fungal infections but it kills pollen grains so an ant visiting a flower (already it would be for the damaging purpose of stealing nectar which they love) is not too useful. They are not hairy so can’t collect pollen on their bodies plus, apparently they are frequently cleaning themselves.

Something of use an ant can do for some flowering plants is to provide an “ant-guard”. The structure of many tropical plants is such that it is difficult for bees and other pollinators to access internal nectar making it tempting for them to simply pierce the flowers from the outside. These plants secrete nectar on the outside of the flower and on their leaves attracting ants to perform as guards and stop other insects from stealing nectar. These flowers also have a chemical deterrent to keep the ants from going into the inside of the flower while rewarding them with nectar for protecting the outside of the flower. This is an example of a mutually beneficial relationship that can exist between ants and flowers.

Also it seems that when there is an absence of other pollinators ants may take on a pollination role, usually in hot, dry countries. Ants, then, help out with pollination in unusual circumstances.

My favourite roses

 

Rosa blue for You
Rosa Blue for You

Rosa Blue for You has pride of place in my garden and looks great when in full blue flower next to the bright-yellow-leaved Jasmine trained on the fence.

 

Rosa Rhapsody in Blue is similarly gorgeous, a really deep shade of purple that fades to a slate colour.

Rosa Rhapsody in Blue
Rosa Rhapsody in Blue

Rosa Hot Chocolate is another favourite of mine with that wonderful terra cotta/tomato soup colour. But beware. I teamed it with my orange roses and this combination certainly did not work. Would probably work best with yellow or blue roses?

 

Periodically I volunteer to keep my garden knowledge up to date. I was doing a stint in a famous London garden a couple of years ago and the practice there was never to include anything to do with roses in the compost heap. This was to try to avoid the spread of black spot. I have since followed the same practice since I don’t think I have ever seen a rose without some black spot.

Rosa Hot Chocolate
Rosa Hot Chocolate

Waste not

 

Often on Sunday mornings one of my not-so-guilty pleasures is to grab a cup of tea and lie in bed listening to the radio for an hour or so. Very pleasant after a week of hectic activity. On one such occasion recently a Radio 4 listener, an amateur gardener, rang in to urge people not to discard their failing plants too easily and to keep an eye out for plants in skips where builders apparently discard unwanted garden plants when renovating houses. He didn’t go into detail about reviving failing plants but I applaud his spirit.

The plants in skips have all escaped me but some years ago a friend and I were walking in one of the big London parks and we passed the park gardeners clearing the beds of plants. They were happy to give them away as they were destined for disposal and we were just as keen to take as many as we could.

I like the approach of one of my clients who set up what he called the “intensive care bed” (one of the family members is a nurse). Any plant that looked unwell and not earning its keep was dug up and put into this special part-shade bed and given extra TLC. All plants inevitably got better, started to look exuberant and resumed their health and beauty role. But as they stayed there the intensive care bed is no longer since it is now crammed full with happy and healthy plants that once were anything but. This does rather illustrate the point that plant problems are very often a problem with their situation. As well as throwing away as little as possible I also believe strongly in right plant, right place.

And Again Waste not

 

I did my fruit thinning of the Bramley’s Apple this year in late June. Maybe it was the heatwave that was causing everything to be so advanced for the time of year, maybe I was later than usual in thinning but I thought it seemed criminal to waste thinnings that were the same size as a small apple you might buy; the “ kids size” they sell in supermarkets. But what could I do with them? Internet research showed many people with the same question, usually in America where they seem to have maintained a general tradition of preserving much more than we have here, although this is now changing with preserving becoming popular again here. I was prompted to find some recipes for Chutney where you could use unripe apples i.e. thinnings. So work began peeling these very small apples (2 hours at least!) and making Apple, Date and Ginger Chutney. Having kept it for the required 2 to 3 weeks after making I can now say it was worth it. Very, very nice with cold meat.

Fuchsia gall mite

 

I had been watching with concern the growing distortions on a good-sized Fuchsia shrub last year in a garden I was caring for. Although I didn’t know what ailed it at the time (so unusual, Fuchsias are normally absolutely trouble free) once I was clear that it was disease of some sort I dug it up to avoid it spreading to the other Fuchsias and thought I would try later to find out what it was.

It transpires that what I had been dealing with was apparently Fuchsia gall mite. At the outset the RHS thought these attacks on Fuchsias were incurable but have now changed that position – certain constituents of commercial bug killer sprays apparently can deal with it especially if caught early.

Weekly inspection of Fuchsias is recommended. Apparently damage is first seen in late May and will increase in severity through to late September by which time all the leaves and flowers will be severely distorted. The mite itself is too tiny to be visible. Appearance wise the damage and distortions were not unlike the weedkiller damage on roses I reported in my previous post in July.

I have had several people ask me about the disposal of diseased plant material. Traditionally it is either burned or buried which is possibly difficult for urban gardeners. In any event adding it to the compost heap is best avoided because of the risk of spreading disease. If taking material to the local dump it is advisable to tell the people there that it is diseased plant material.

Lime flowers

 

There were Lime trees growing where I did my practical gardening training. The other gardeners told me I could collect the blossom flowers, dry them, and make a tea. But be careful, they said, it is very soporific. I made the tea. It was.

If you don’t have time to gather flowers and make it yourself you can buy linden blossom tea. Try it if maybe needing help with getting to sleep. Several other amazing claims are made for it, helping to lower blood pressure being just one.

Lime trees
Lime trees

The name Lime tree can cause confusion as most of us are aware that you can’t grow citrus fruit outside in this country. It is a manipulation of the old name Linden tree and nothing at all to do with the fruiting lime.

Top Tips

 

According to forecasts the heatwave is not over yet and so the watering continues. Give your back a break (not literally) and use two watering cans of identical weight rather than one big one.

Enjoy your gardening for the next month. Good bye until next time.

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