June is here and finally, so is the sunshine! I’m sure you have all been enjoying the beautiful weather, especially after such a long, cold spring. I love the long summer evenings in my garden. It’s something that I am looking forward to doing more of as I retire this month. I joined the Trust as a Garden Instructor in May 1989 and in time was very proud to be appointed Head Gardener. I fondly remember walking across the Gardens on my first morning. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I was greeted by the wonderful, sweet smell of Rhododendron luteum filling the air. I remember thinking that I had landed in paradise, and I truly feel as though I have been lucky enough to have the best job in the world.
I have never experienced that ‘Monday-morning’ feeling. It has been a joy and a privilege to work in a stunning place with wonderful people, including the people with learning disabilities that we support, volunteers, colleagues and our many visitors. It has been a real pleasure to share my love of horticulture with everyone over the last 34 years. I will be handing over the running of the Gardens to the safe hands of our Estates Manager, Andrew Bentley, who I’m sure will do a wonderful job of overseeing the Gardens for years to come.
One of the magical things about a shared Garden, is that visitors have great personal affection for the place. We have benches dedicated to special people, and visitors who return year after year to spend time in the tranquil, healing space. I have enjoyed seeing the Gardens grow in both popularity and size, and I fully intend to stay in touch and continue contributing as a volunteer. I need to finish some of the projects which I have started but have yet to finish, including plant archiving! A comprehensive record of each plant and tree will be a wonderful legacy of my time spent nurturing Furzey Gardens.
It is very difficult to pick a favourite plant or tree, but if I had to choose, it would be the prehistoric conifer, Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood). We are fortunate enough to have several of these truly incredible trees which I planted 23 years ago. Amazingly, prior to 1941, the species was only known as a fossil. You will recognise this distinctive conifer by its fine, feathery leaves, and very attractive, deeply fissured, red trunk. If you take the path down towards the lake at Furzey, you will find my favourite specimen. The bowl of the tree has become very fluted. It has understated, beautiful golden-brown bark, which glows when the sun shines on it. Of all the trees in the Gardens, I will miss this one the most.
Flowering at Furzey this month is another favourite of mine, the Cornus kousa var. chinensis (Chinese dogwood). It is a spectacular, showstopper of a tree. Bushy, with textured bark, it produces tiny green flowers which are surrounded by showy, creamy-white, petal-like bracts which slowly adopt a pinkish hue as they mature. We have one old specimen which was planted in the 1930s. I have successfully geminated seeds and grown several saplings, which are now thriving in the Gardens. Cornus trees are perfect specimens for a smaller garden, especially if you have a sheltered, sunny spot. Ideally, they prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. I recommend improving the soil before planting, by digging in some well-rotted organic matter.
Another striking tree flowering in June is the Stewartia pseudocamellia (deciduous camellia) which has incredibly attractive, multicoloured, flaking bark which exfoliates in strips of grey, orange, soft pink and reddish-brown. It is an amazingly graceful, classy tree and we are very fortunate to have five of them at Furzey Gardens. You can expect to see glamorous, white, camellia-like flowers, which open in random succession from June until August. In the autumn, it will wow us with an amazing display of red, orange and burgundy leaves. It really is a tree that likes to show off and one which I very much enjoy and will look forward to returning to visit.
Now that summer has finally arrived, we can begin choosing vibrant bedding plants. Position your summer hanging baskets and containers outside, and fill with plants such as Lobelia, Viola, Petunia, Salvia and Fuchsia. If you are planting up hanging baskets, be sure to use a liner and good quality peat-free compost. Most baskets will need frequent watering during hot weather. Try to avoid them drying out to the point where they droop, but if they do wilt, you can place a bucket underneath to capture the water that runs off as you water them and return this to the surface. It is very important to be mindful of water usage, and I recommend using water-butts for a sustainable water supply.
If you are growing tomato plants, it is important to pinch out the sideshoots this month. Every time you water, check the plants for any shoots sprouting just above each leaf, from the joint between the leaf and the stem, and pinch them out. This keeps the plants growing vertically on just one stem and maximises fruiting. Use a proprietary liquid fertiliser every 14 days, as this helps the plant to absorb nutrients through the roots and the leaves.
If you took part in no-mow May, you may have decided to cut your grass by now. But if you have kept at least one area of your lawn growing, you should be reaping the biodiversity benefits. Wildflowers will be growing in the longer grass which continue to provide a feast for pollinators, help to tackle pollution, and lock away carbon below ground. Less frequent or intensive mowing will enable bees, butterflies and other wildlife to take up residence in your garden.
As we reach the longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the warmer temperatures and extra sunlight will mean that plants will grow rapidly. Support tall-growing perennials including hollyhocks and delphiniums with a sturdy cane. Tie in new stems of climbing and rambling roses horizontally to encourage more flowers. If you are growing sweet peas, start to pick them as soon as they flower, to encourage more blooms. As new shoots grow, use soft ties to train climbing plants such as honeysuckle and clematis to their supports. I also recommend hoeing regularly throughout June to keep on top of pesky weeds.
At Furzey, we have an exciting new art trail featuring 25 four-foot, artist-decorated fairy doors. They will be in place until 3rd September, and I highly recommend taking time to complete the trail and find all the doors. They feature everything from mermaids to dinosaurs, fairies to space-animals. They are real credit to the talented local artists who have produced them and a wonderful addition to the Gardens. Maybe you could decorate a fairy door for your own garden or allotment. They are a sure way to make people smile. We also have our annual Bioblitz coming up on the 1st and 2nd of July, including a bat walk hosted by Andrew Bentley and a tree walk hosted by myself. You will be able to speak to experts and help us to record the range of nature in the gardens. There will be a schedule of activities to take part in, including pond dipping, insect sweeping and guided walks on the wild side.
Thank you so much for all the wonderful questions and stories that you have shared with me over the years. We have achieved our goal of becoming peat-free, and now Furzey Gardens will also be (mostly) Pete-free! Although, I look forward to bumping into you in the future, as I take a relaxed amble around the Gardens with my Grandchildren. Farewell for now.
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