With the festive season behind us and the summer holidays almost over, life can now settle back to its habitual ebbs and flows. The holidays are a time when routines are put aside in favour of a mix of rush and relaxation. Although, it is the “most wonderful time of the year” as the song states, there comes a time when routine becomes desirable once more. A return to following the patterns of nature in the garden is a great way to feel calm again.
However, coming back home to the garden can sometimes be a bit of a shock, even if you left it in good order and in the hands of a trusted friend or neighbour. This is natural of course because, as much as the temporary guardians will have done their best, no one will care for your garden the way you do.
The first disaster you may face is weather-related. It might have rained the whole time you were away turning sunny on the day the kids go back to school. This warm wet weather can lead to all sorts of fungal problems. It could have been exceptionally windy, and you come home to snapped bamboo poles and tomato plants in a heap on the ground or even sweetcorn growing at a strange angle. Sorting this out is well beyond the responsibilities and often capabilities of the trusted friend and therefore awaits you upon your return.
The other possibility is no rain at all and while the garden might had been watered, it wasn’t quite enough, and the plants look a bit sorry for themselves and in desperate need of a long, cool, refreshing soak! Maybe your summer has had one of these situations or a combination of all three, but if you know your garden well enough you can learn the best way to avoid disaster before you go, or the best way to remedy it for next time. Because there will be a next time!
Having said that, the weather might have been perfect – with that rare combination of beautiful blue sky summer days and gentle rain at night – just enough to satisfy the needs of the garden. In that case, the problems can come from other sources.
The weeds could have risen up at a phenomenal rate and could be smothering your precious plants, giving them barely any space for good airflow, robbing the ground of nutrients and merrily spreading seeds far and wide. Weeds don’t take much to get a foothold, turning your well-managed and orderly garden into a jungle at the blink of an eye. The sight of it is enough to make you want to walk away from the whole thing. With a bit of effort though, it won’t take long to set things right again. If the soil has baked hard and they are difficult to remove, give the garden a good soaking first and the weeds should come out easily.
You can also get the last laugh and reclaim some of those lost nutrients by composting the weeds which will help create a lovely rich soil conditioner for the future. Make sure you don’t put seed heads or invasive roots in the compost though. If you find that they are mostly seed heads or invasive roots, then you can pop the whole lot into a black sack and leave it out in the hot sun for a few weeks for the heat to destroy them, then add them to the compost or put them to a large bucket of water to rot down – note that this is a stinky option.
In your absence, pest and disease may have crept in and, without you there every day to monitor any potential risks, the insects and fungal spores could have had a field day. As the populations increase dramatically towards the end of summer, it doesn’t take long for a once healthy plant to be completely decimated. You need to decide if it is worth trying to save the plant or cut your losses. Diseases like late blight, and damage from the tomato potato psyllid may require the call to pull the plant. But some pests like an aphid infestation or powdery mildew can be rectified by removing the worst of the damage and a few sprays of the right product and your plant should bounce back. There is always a risk of harm from pest and disease at this time of year whether you are there or not. The garden can be a bit of a battlefield at times.
You may find your minder didn’t harvest as thoroughly as they should have. Maybe they didn’t want to seem greedy, or they only took what they needed. No one needs 27 zucchinis in a week. This can cause problems since rotting fruit on the ground invites bugs. The best of the harvest may have come and gone and all that is left are leafy green and salad crops that have bolted, or plants, so exhausted with production and satisfied they have set seeds, that they have given up. All you can do at that point is clean up the mess, look up recipes and remove the plants that have expired.
The good news is that it isn’t too late in the season to pop in new plants; succession planting throughout the summer ensures that you will always enjoy young tender leaves in your salad or have more beetroot and carrots to replace what you have eaten. Alternatively, you can start looking ahead to the cool season crops – it is nearly time to start these seeds.
So, after fixing and strengthening structures, evicting weeds, replacing damaged or finished plants, giving everything a liquid feed and a good watering, top up the mulch, mow the lawn and the garden will be back to normal and looking fabulous in no time at all.