Gardening in June

I so wanted to report back on the decent rain we’ve had in May. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Reports vary, but we have only a few weeks’ worth of potable water left in our dams. I’m sure contingency plans are in place, but for the first time ever we are faced with the possibility that our taps will run dry. Looking at the medium and long term forecasts the picture remains dark. Even a normal rain season won’t be enough to fill the dams now, another dry winter will be catastrophic. We need a radical mind shift in water management and usage. Potable water is a scarce and valuable resource. Having drinkable water on tap is a privilege. We need everyone to see the value of this.

The water scarcity has led to stage 4 water restrictions – the following uses of potable water is now prohibited: all forms of irrigation, washing of cars and the topping up of swimming pools and water features. Grey water can keep some precious plants alive, but I don’t suggest any new planting until we’ve had some significant rains. It is a pity, because June is a major planting month in the Fynbos garden. This obviously leaves us with a dilemma – what to do in the garden this month. I would suggest using whatever water you have available (rain or grey) to propagate cuttings and seedlings for the spring garden. These seedlings will have a head start and can be planted as soon as the rain comes. Cuttings from all summer and autumn flowering shrubs can be taken. Use some hormone powder if you want a good success rate. Agapanthus, daylilies, dietes, kannas and other perennials can all be split now. Indigenous bulbs can be planted – this is one the most water wise decisions you can make as our bulbs are specially adapted for dry summers. Scatter some annual seed mixes around your flower beds – the survivors will be a welcome sight in Spring.

I am trying to get out in nature as often as possible. The crisp clear days make for excellent hiking and we have all these mountains around us to explore. It is amazing to see how well some plants survive the drought and how others suffer. The notes I make about this will definitely impact my future plant choices and gardening decisions. Our gardens should imitate nature. Using local endemic plants as well as a selection of plants from other similar climates will go far in creating resilient responsible gardens. Have a look around you; I am often amazed at how well certain plants survive on pavements, in school grounds and on road verges where they get no irrigation or other care. These are the plants we should go for. Unfortunately, there are also some opportunistic invasive species that take advantage of the tough condition and often out compete our natural plants. Invasive plant control will be a challenge during the coming summer. Remove any saplings you see and never let any of the invasive weeds go to seed.

I am going to leave my winter pruning until July, so I will give some tips in next month’s column. For this month, the efforts in the vegetable garden will be focused on propagation, bed preparation and compost making. The dry weather does allow us to do some proper bed preparation. Working wet soil is never recommended, but this year we have time to properly prepare some new beds; and then allow weeds to germinate and be hoed to get rid of them. Take your time in doing this – the golden rule is to never let the weeds go to seed. A weed cover on a new bed is better than bare soil and it is anyway too late to sow a cover crop now. If you do have water available you can continue with succession sowing of root vegetables, peas, broad beans and lettuce.

In the kitchen, we’ve had our usual glut of eggplant this autumn – this year I turned them into pickles. This is a lovely tangy addition to a snack platter and easy to make. Google helped me to get some recipes. We’ve also had a decent crop of peanuts – these made for a great addition to our pesto’s. This month it seems like we might have a bumper crop of sweet potatoes. I am looking forward to exploring new ways to prepare these. The same goes for Jerusalem artichokes.