Head Gardener’s Diary – Summer 2018

18/06/2018

As I write, we’re approaching mid June, and Killruddery is dried up and in places looking more than a little sunburnt. The last number of months have brought some acute and impactful weather of varying kinds. Well documented are the fury of Ophelia and Emma etc. The ‘longest Winter ever’ has been discussed ad nausea, and of course Spring this year seemed to take forever to properly arrive. The Spring temperatures did seem really low for a long time, lots of chilly days through March and April, and real dips in the night time temperatures. For me, here in our nursery, I feel those low day temperatures and night time fluctuations were hugely unhelpful with seed germination. We have a polythene tunnel and a very simple warm bench, but a lot of my results this year were less than I hoped for. I had a lot of (for me) new material I had gained access to, and much of it would be considered challenging regarding germination rates, but I can’t help feeling (with some exciting exceptions) a degree of disappointment.

As for the present…well, Summer is certainly underway…and it’s very hard to be critical of warm, sunny days. However, I personally would love to see some pretty serious rainfall, and ground conditions currently, are such that a reasonably significant ‘rainfall event’ may be needed to allow proper soil penetration. We haven’t seen rain here for quite some time now, as highlighted by our yellowing, stunted grass…

On a slightly more upbeat note, our largest planting job this year is settling nicely, and hopefully despite the arid conditions is managing to successfully establish. Located outside the ticket shop/ garden entrance, its very different in style to other planting we have round the garden. It’s a very open site, and receives considerable sunshine. There have certainly been some failures, and afew groups of plants have been more almost entirely eaten – rabbits the culprits I think. However, with a variety of ornamental thistles, a number of grasses, and afew reliable dry area perennials, I’m for the most part fairly pleased. We’ve done almost no watering whatever here so far, although that may have to change soon.

On the subject of watering – (and of course, in some parts of the country it may well be considered irresponsible to use mains water in the garden), the approach taken can make a big difference to the effectiveness of your efforts. Something akin to a mere dribble of water is of little use to plants under stress. In fact, an amount of water that fails to properly penetrate the root zone of the plant in question, will firstly do little to address the plants immediate needs, but will also potentially encourage a more shallow rooting action from the plant. Also, time of day can make an enormous difference. It’s clearly best to water when evaporation is not a factor – watering in early morning or later in the evening will allow far greater levels of penetration and absorption. Automated irrigation systems for example, are generally set to operate sometime in the very late night/ early morning.

We did squeeze in a couple of other smaller bits of planting. Some underplanting in a couple of areas, and a small, tucked away spot where the path behind the Rock, toward the top of the Rockwood begins. This is an especially sheltered location, although still receiving good light. There’s also the likelihood of moisture run off from the rock (not lately!). Here we’ve planted a couple of nicely proportioned Camellias, and a couple of my personal favourite Primulas – P. capitata and P. vialii – neither of which, particularly the latter would be known as long lived subjects, but beautiful plants, especially when in a reasonable sized drift. We’ve also added some Mysotidium hortensia, Cautleya spicata, Arisarum proboscidium – the mouse plant, kids love it, a real curiosity and a favourite of mine. Also some beautiful Meconopsis – M. paniculata and M. grandis and a couple of Veratrum. So, all in all not a huge area, and a little off the beaten track, but a pocket of planting in a spot offering a very particular set of conditions. I would say watch this space, it could end up being an area for experimentation…

Of course Summer is the time of high levels of maintenance throughout the garden. Although at present grass growth has greatly slowed, differing aspects of lawn maintenance – mowing, edging, and feeding etc. are important tasks. We’ve usedseaweed feeds sporadically in recent years, but I plan to increase their use during 2018. We’re going for a low rate application, used fairly regularly, and I’m hoping we’ll see some good results. I can already see it will be very difficult to gauge this year – the benefits of seaweed feeding will be seen best over a period of months, provided the frequency is kept up, but there is tremendous stress on turf at present, making all these tasks more difficult to complete, and most likely less effective.

Weed growth doesn’t seem to stop (or slow…) in times of dryness, and although it can seem an unending and thankless task, it is important, and if you can get just a little ahead of the worst, it will pay dividends…remember the old saying – one years weed, seven years seed… Dealing with excessive weed growth allows your cultivated plants a better share of light, moisture, food and space, and of course allows them to display far better.

Soon the schools will break for the Summer holidays. Lots of local families, members and one off visitors will I hope be planning some pleasant, lazy days in Killruddery, perhaps enjoying coffee or an ice cream. Many such visitors might remember our much loved (but for many, too short lived) playground area. Lots of you will be aware that for safety reasons, it was necessary to remove it. Our young members are of course hugely important to us, and while we are not set to replace the former play ground area, we will have a nice surprise for our youngest of members and their families. We’re very excited and should be able to tell you all much more around the time the school holidays are getting properly underway.

In the meantime…we have a rain dance to perfect…

How did we ever manage without you tube…?

Daragh Farren – Head Gardener – June 2018