How to keep your garden blooming while you holiday

Going on holiday during the summer can be difficult if you’re a gardener. With the British weather notoriously unpredictable, you could easily return to wind and rain-battered plants or containers full of dried up twigs.

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Pick courgettes unless you want marrows when you return

The perfect solution is to find a friend or neighbour to keep an eye on things, water if there’s a heatwave, pick sweet peas and beans to keep them producing and courgettes to stop them turning into marrows. But what if there’s no one to help?

Here are some steps you can take to make sure your garden survives the holiday separation.

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Group pots in the shade

Move plants in containers out of direct sun into somewhere shadier and make sure they’re not sheltered from the rain by overhanging porches or house eaves. Standing them in saucers or trays will help conserve moisture while grouping them together makes it easier if someone’s coming in to water.

• Invest in a drip irrigation system for thirsty crops, such as tomatoes, or make your own using plastic bottles with small holes punched into the lid. Water the soil well then fill the bottle with water, put the lid back on and place the bottle upside down into the pot making sure it won’t fall over.

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Deadheading will keep plants flowering

Deadhead thoroughly including any flowers that have opened but will be over before you return from holiday.

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Don’t leave weeds to seed around

Get on top of the weeding before you leave, especially weeds that seed freely such as dandelions and bitter cress.

Stake tall plants to prevent wind damage, in particular any with large flower heads, such as sunflowers or dahlias.

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Stake tall sunflowers to stop them snapping

Harvest your fruit and veg and either eat, freeze or give it away. If you’re on holiday for more than a few days, pick baby veg, including beans and courgettes, to keep the plants productive.

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Pick beans to keep the plants producing

Mow the lawn and do the edges as there’s nothing worse than coming home from holiday to a meadow.

Check the weather forecast: water everything thoroughly if it’s going to be dry and just the greenhouse if a monsoon is expected.

Turning a forgotten space into an outdoor delight

The chance to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products has transformed a sad spot in my garden.

Many of us have a part of the garden that is somewhat neglected. An area that you walk past, averting your eyes and muttering ‘I really must do something about that’. Usually, lack of inspiration or time means little gets done.

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‘The Courtyard’ has long been in need of a rethink

In my case, the neglected spot is what we refer to as ‘The Courtyard’. It’s actually a rather grand title for what is little more than a tucked away area outside our basement kitchen; the strange layout of the house, which is dug into a slope, means that although technically the kitchen is under the rest of the house, it is actually on ground level.

The courtyard has a high retaining wall on two sides that holds back the garden, the house forms the third boundary and on the fourth there’s a fence that separates us from our neighbours.

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The wall planters needed redoing

North-east facing, it gets a little morning sun – a very little – but it’s really a rather gloomy spot. And, with quite a lot of garden elsewhere, it’s always been low on my list of priorities.

The impetus to finally do something about it came when I was asked if I would like to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products. A suggestion was a table and chairs set, which looked perfect for this tiny space. Not only is it a half-table, ideal for putting against a wall, the table also folds down to free up space when it’s not in use.

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The table and chairs are easy to put up

Before I had even set it up, I was impressed: both the table and the two chairs were well packaged to ensure they weren’t damaged in transit.

It’s also easy to put up – no assembly and just a lift and click into place mechanism for the table flap. It has a grey, powder coated steel frame with a toughened glass top, while the folding seats have the same steel frame with a checked manmade fibre seat and back, which are water resistant. They have proved to be remarkably comfortable.

Of course, merely plonking somewhere to sit into the courtyard wasn’t going to be enough to transform it. There was definitely a need to revamp the planting as well. Not that there is much scope: the available soil amounts to little more than a narrow strip at the foot of the wall and fence and the lack of direct sunlight limits the choices.

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The euonymus needed cutting back

The first step was a good clean, using a wire brush to get rid of moss on the paving. A Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’, used to provide a screen between the courtyard and next door, had got out of hand, with some reverting to plain green. It’s been pruned hard to remove the green and reduce the overhang into the courtyard.

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The euonymus has been tidied up

The remains of a Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ that until this year was doing well, were removed and I’m planning to replace it in the autumn, though possibly elsewhere in the garden.

Deciding I needed some expert advice for the difficult narrow ‘borders’, I paid a visit to ShadyPlants.com in Painswick. Tony and Sylvia Marden specialise in plants for those tricky places and we spent a happy hour discussing possibilities and looking through their stock.

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The back of the Begonia evansiana leaves are beautiful

For the space against the fence, where there is marginally more soil, they recommended two evergreen ferns: Polystichum makinoi and Phyllitis scolopendrium cristatum.

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Begonia southerlandii has lovely orange flowers

Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of begonias but I fell in love with the orange flowers of Begonia southerlandii and Tony suggested the white flowered Begonia evansiana ‘Snowpop’ would be a good partner. Both, he assured me, are fully hardy and well able to cope with the less than ideal conditions.

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Cardamine trifolia was suggested as ground cover

For the thin strip at the foot of the wall, they suggested Cardamine trifolia, which has what Sylvia describes as ‘clouds of white flowers’. It should spread happily to fill the space.

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New planting in the wall pots

Continuing with the begonia theme, wall planters that have in the past been used for violas, now have some cream-flowered begonias that I found at another local grower, Dundry Nurseries. I liked their long, tubular flowers and slight bronze tinge to the stems, which works well with the rusty planters and old bricks. The begonias are in plastic pots that sit inside the terracotta so that I can change the planting easily.

Finally, I shifted the old sink into a better position in the courtyard and planted it with mint while the chimney pot has been moved to another part of the garden.

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The courtyard has been transformed

I’m pleased with the transformation and the courtyard is already proving popular – especially as a cool place to escape the recent heat. I can see the table and chairs being well used.

Brundle Gardener’s table and chairs are available from garden centres and online stockists. The suggested retail price is £119.99.