Microclimate Musing
0 comment Sunday, August 3, 2014 |
Microclimates are weird, but nevertheless affect gardening in ways most gardeners fail to take into account. I certainly have learned a thing or two about the site I currently use as a garden, and as I still have plants to eventually move into their permanent site, I'm studying photos of past and present to monitor the whole garden situation. Viewing friends' gardens, I notice that even though we planted at roughly the same time, all of our gardens are in different stages of growth - a mate of mine's garden has totally taken off, her beans are huge and her potatoes are probably going to be ready for new potatoes in a month's time. Me however - my peas have barely broken the surface, and my potatoes are still clambering away and trying to fill in. My living on the heath vs. she living in a valley also plays a part - the apple and cherries all around me have only just finished coming into bloom, while her apple tree is already setting fruit.
My garden is east-to-west, and therefore you'd think it would get loads of south-facing light. However, this is not the case as there are massive trees in my neighbour's garden as well as my own, which completely block out the light. As a result, half my garden is actually in shade and never sees any light at all. About a third of my front garden grows nothing at all but stunted grass and moss, and along the fence in the walkway is filled with scrub and bulbs which have no light requirements. Personally I find the whole effect rather pleasing - rather like my own little woodland, so with the exception of cutting out the worst of the brambles and weeds, I've left it alone. It does make the front lawn look rather meh, however - although I have what I consider a bonus; there is yarrow growing everywhere in the grass along the shady side. Again, I'm rather fond of it so I leave it where it is, but keep it trimmed. There's some shade-loving plants growing in the shadows of the cypress trees - and I'm thinking about moving some of these to the back garden shady areas to help deter the weeds, so I'll be propagating by moving whole clumps and planting with a fair bit of bone meal and some willow fronds. They're pretty, rather low-growing and until I can afford more plants like ferns or something, they'll have to help fill in space for now and help keep the weeds out.
Another thing about the current microclimate I'm in is my garden is affected by what other people do in their gardens. There are a lot of really massive trees in the small back gardens around here, probably planted when the houses were built - and back then, no one ever thought how big the trees would eventually get. All along one side it seems everyone decided to plant an apple tree - and I've already explained just how MUCH fruit a apple tree can give, so honestly if only one had been planted it could probably feed everyone for five houses down. But here's the result; everyone's garden is divided by deep shade due to all the overhanging trees. This is especially true along sprog's portion of the garden. You can see above, just where the wooden step is, there's a wide area on the right that is completely shaded by the tree from nextdoor. Now, personally I think this would make a nice little place for a water feature or sculpture, but that also won't be happening this year - still, it's worth taking into consideration that whatever it is cannot be solar powered as there's no light which actually gets into that portion, no matter how many of those boughs I trim back.
Along with trees, there's also weeds; next door's garden-bottom is packed with weeds - and said weeds are creeping into my own patch of garden, which has had me wracking my brains on how to stop it. I've come up with a solution of creating a wooden barrier in the ground using some old timber - sadly, it's been painted with clear preservative so there's no chance of planting any food items along that bit if I do this - sinking the wood into the ground to block roots, using strong nettle tea as herbicide, and digging up the soil and roots to create a bed. I'll be placing perennial plants in that space to encourage them to take over and keep the weeds as choked out as possible; lavender, and chamomile for example. The bluebells can stay as they're charming, and I'll also encourage the sunflowers also, but for the most part, bushy, pleasant and fast-growing groundcover which can handle a bit of partial shade is the name of the game.
There's other bits of microclimate which I've had to take into consideration, but that's along a biological slant - the feeding of birds by my other neighbour means there's tonnes of them in my garden, nesting close to their food source. Normally I wouldn't mind - indeed, they're doing a real number on the slugs! - but this has meant that I've had to put a lot of thought into protecting my fruit crops, and my veg seedlings have already been decimated by the pigeons - no lettuce, no swiss chard, peas chomped down to nubs. The cats have been using my raised bed as a midden, and pre-bird-hatching the slugs managed to chew down the rest. What to do? Well, I've netted my fruit to keep the birds off, but the netting is big enough to allow pollinators to find the flowers. I've also netted my raised bed and this is keeping the birds off the last few shoots I have. I've put bits of orange peel into the bed to deter the cats, and I've installed small jars filled with beer to deal with the slugs, as well as offering some sacrificial plants to their voracity - they're munching away on one of my mints and leaving the rest of the garden alone. As mint can surely take care of itself, I'm not overly fussed, and my struggling-but-determined zinnias and asters are being allowed to grow in peace now. One thing I will certainly do differently from now on, however, will be growing my plants in modules, planting out only when they're several inches high - this way I can not only be able to tell the difference between weed and seedling (and so will sprog) but I can also manage to see the damage before it completely destroys all my crops altogether. I'm out of swiss chard seed at the moment but I am considering planting some more in modules to go out so I can have some veg during the winter months. I've already planted my chicory and radicchio out and will hope for the best, though I've still got seed for both and will also module plant to go out during the summer.
It's not just all about summer, either - the winters here have been getting harsher and harsher, with snow and ice and bitter frosts, which means if I actually want some of my plants for next year I'll need to do propagation to overwinter a few for planting out next year. As I adore the osteopermums and the psychedelic geranium I have at the moment, I'll need to not only mound these up with straw for protection, but also take cuttings and bring these indoors to grow on my sill for the following year. The goal of the garden is not have to buy anything ever again, just propagate as I go, and buy seeds when needed.
We'll see how far we get, but the project will never be completely finished...and honestly, that's a good thing.