The worst time for a gardener to go on holiday!


For this gardener, the worst possible time to go on holiday is the April-May divide.

That’s when seedlings and tender young plants are being coaxed towards maturity under glass and outdoor growth is becoming rampant.

Cherry blossom and an iconic statue

Cherry blossom and an iconic statue

How on earth would they cope if I left them home alone?

It’s okay when I’m around to regulate the searing solar heat of midday and offer protection against cold nights in a greenhouse devoid of artificial heat.

Developing plants then thrive in a relatively narrow temperature band.

But it’s not unusual for an unattended glass structure to record upward of 25 Celsius around midday (encouraging red spider mite, whitefly or aphids) and zero Celsius overnight.

Cornus (dogwood)

Cornus (dogwood)

In such extremes, young tomato plants run a high risk of becoming infested with whitefly and having leaves turn blue with cold.

Daily watering presents another problem. Plants confined to pots, trays or containers rely on us to replace moisture lost via transpiration.

We could invest in a bench irrigation system offering water by the drip but I prefer to deal with them individually.

A more cost-effective way of ensuring plant survival during your absence would be to stand them in deep trays with a layer of pebbles, topped with water. This works for me.

Apple blossom

Apple blossom

At this time of year, the greenhouse benches are filled with half-hardy summer bedding subjects, young vegetable plants such as courgettes, sweet corn and runner beans, and one solution would be to plant them all out, swan off on holiday and let them take their chance.

If watered in well at planting they could send out new roots in search of moisture and food, making steady progress in your absence.

That’s the theory but it’s not for me. You can just imagine the possible setback they’d face while cold winds and frosty nights are still on the agenda.

Plants in the garden are just getting into their stride with soft rampant growth and that would also present problems if you vanished for a week or two.

Blossom galore

Blossom galore

You’d need to offer supports to broad beans and peas on vegetable beds, earth-up the early potatoes and mow the lawns just before departing.

Assorted plant containers would need to be soaked in case Mother Nature failed to offer precipitation during your absence and soft-stemmed herbaceous perennials, such as delphinium, would certainly need some form of unobtrusive scaffolding to see them through windy days.

I cannot recall ever abandoning the garden and greenhouse at this important stage of the year but there’s always a first.

We’ve just returned from a vacation in America made possible because of the provision for plant care in our absence and green-fingered friend George kindly agreeing to keep an eye on things.

There were visits to key eastern cities and sites in several states and a natural curiosity to compare plants and their progress with those left behind in the UK.

Suffice it to say that in the colder regions where deciduous trees were just breaking bud, we enjoyed a second helping of spring blossom.

On the Canadian side of Niagara, batches of narcissi, dangerously planted on the very edge, were just blooming.

Our spectacular spring displays of ornamental cherries actually stretches from March until May according to the variety, so anticipation ran high.

The Amish countryside was alive with early cultivars and further afield on Liberty Island, they flowered freely at the base of the iconic statue, so reminiscent of the Alnwick Tenantry Column display weeks earlier.

New York’s Central Park was a different matter, with lots of colour from azaleas, cornus kousa, wisteria and fragrant mock orange (philadelphus) so outstanding.

But no wonder, with midday temperatures of 28 Celsius.

I also noted a healthy patch of the dreaded Japanese knotweed (fallopia) and the lady of the house wondered out loud if they realised.

Perhaps best to leave it I thought. They’re not going to appreciate a lad from Northumberland telling them something they already know.

A daily walk around your garden is essential – it keeps you in touch with a rapidly-changing environment.

My must-do list for the day, albeit mental, is based on regular observations; which plants need supports, where aphid colonies are developing, what is being nibbled by pests, when to step in with secateurs.

If a wasps’ nest is developing in the hedge or ground you need to know asap.

Knowledge of bird nesting sites is just as important. We were aware of two in nesting boxes before our departure, others have been discovered in a wall ivy and privet hedge since returning.

They are a joy to monitor but from a distance.

The garden we left just as a surge of growth was beginning, is a total stranger on return – apples flowering, potatoes emerging from polythene mulch, hayfield instead of lawn.

Guess I’ll have to start bonding again and promise to leave at a more sensible time in future!