LIKE farmers, gardeners are hardly ever happy with the weather — and this spring and early summer are certainly no exceptions.
The rain has made outdoor germination brilliant and will undoubtedly mean a bumper potato crop, but the grass and weeds are growing at furious speed and slugs and snails have been on the rampage.
So voracious are these menaces they have even scaled my copper wire defences to decimate my courgettes, ravage my runners, top my tomatoes and cut off the growing tip of one of my two precious cucumber plants and kill it.
My F1 Natsuhikari cucumbers are one of the big-hitting success stories each year in the greenhouse and I had just two seeds left.
Both germinated and one was quickly masticated to death and the other had its leaves shredded but growing point left intact — and it struggles on. I have been moved, unusually, to using slug pellets this year and I know other gardeners have been forced into that similar, uncomfortable, corner.
Animal-friendly pellets sadly wash away, seaweed loses its salty bite and even the copper wire has not worked this year.
One idea up at the Sandlands Allotments has seemed to work — although I don’t quite know why.
Well-washed plastic milk bottle mini-greenhouses have been employed.
Not only do they provide protection and give the bean a useful hint for twining, but they seem to keep the gastropods at bay too.
While I have had to replace several beans and one hapless allotment holder has lost nearly all his, the milk bottles have had gold top success.
Tropical plant does not like our sun
I HAVE received a progress report from James Harrison, from Cowes, on the baby achocha seeds I sent out far and wide.
"I planted three almost immediately after receiving them in January — and two started to grow after about two weeks," he said.
"I have been potting them on as they grew. I’ve kept them in my conservatory and they have grown to well over 6ft and several fruits have developed measuring about two inches long.
"This last week, I decided I could not keep them in any longer and therefore planted them in my garden in front of a 7ft fence, tying them into a framework I fastened to the fence.
"All seemed well for a few days but then I found many of the leaves started to scorch from the sun.
"It’s clear they do not seem to like the sun and all I could do was to fasten some shading over them. They seem to have survived but don’t look healthy at all.
"I would have thought, as they are tropical plants, they should have been OK outside in the sun but obviously I was wrong.
"I have now planted the three remaining seeds and one is shooting. I shall have to try something different when the time comes to plant these outside."
It may be that James’s plants did not like the shock of being transferred from the warmth of the house outside when we were still prone to chill nights
It is not a plant I’ve grown before but I do have some late tiddlers on the go in the greenhouse and I would appreciate readers’ suggestions.
I, too, would have thought that the tropical achocha would appreciate full sun.
l As ever, gardening tips and photographs can come to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Seeds on the cheap
COLIN Rushby, from Shanklin, sent me this tip: "If you like growing and eating sweet peppers, the cheapest way I know of getting a good supply of plants is to buy your preferred colour at a supermarket.
"Sow the seeds from inside the pepper and be prepared to be surprised at the high germination rate. When growing on, they prefer lots of light and heat."
Seeds from tomatoes, peppers, melons and squash can all be used but expect trial and error. If they are hybrids, the offspring will not be true to type and are likely to be disappointing.
Most legumes and pulses and grains will grow marvellously in the garden too.
Tomato seeds need to be fermented (which means they need to start to rot) in order to become viable.
Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to seeds. Pretty much every tuber you can buy will grow in your garden, although potatoes should be avoided because of the danger of disease. Certified seed stock remains the best.
Ginger has worked for me in the past and my massive, swaying collection of Jerusalem artichoke is testament to just how vigorous they are.
Just two little ’chokes bought from Godshill Organics when they were at Newport Farmers’ Market have turned into scores in just three years — a great value investment.
Echiums show off round the Island
IT IS a fantastic year for echiums and they should be on top form for Ventnor Botanic Gar-den’s midsummer soiree.
The friends’ society, which raises funds to keep the community interest company enterprise flourishing, has chosen the evening of next Friday, June 13. Fingers crossed for that date choice.
The event will raise funds for the friends’ and for St John Ambulance and your £35 ticket will get you a canape and drinks reception in the Palm Garden to harp and flute accompaniment, followed by a garden tour and a buffet by chef Graham Walker.
Tickets are a fiver more on the night but can be bought in advance from Kirsten Morris, 855397, choosing option 3.
It co-incides with Sylvia Thorne, from Cowes, sending me a photograph of her wonderful echium display.
Gardens to view
THIS year’s Binstead Garden Walkabout spans two days.
There are eight gardens all close to Holy Cross Church — so it is easy, level walking and very little traffic with which to compete.
There are four new gardens this year and all are open between noon and 5pm tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday.
One of the organisers, Joan Crosley, said: "We do not claim to be National Gardens Scheme standard but all the gardens are different and have an individual quality — three of them have appeared on your page over the last year or so, including topiary, container vegetable growing and a huge magnolia tree."
"The theme is to mark the 70th anniversary of D Day and there will be an exhibition in the church, as well as lunches and teas.
"The cost is £4; accompanied children are free. Programmes are available from the church on the day."
Festival of flowers
HISTORIC Barton Manor at Whippingham opens its gardens to support two charities on Sunday.
Challenge and Adventure and Age UK (IW) benefit from the Festival of Flowers from 10am to 4pm.
The day offers a rare chance to explore the wonderfully tended gardens, including the tranquil Japanese Water Garden.
Curator of Ventnor Botanic Garden, Chris Kidd, will be on hand to help with gardening queries, and there will be selection of plants for sale.
Entrance is £4 for adults, £1.50 for children with under fives free. Guide dogs only.
GARDENING Galore Revisited comes to Rookley on Sunday.
After the miserable earlier weather caused cancellation of Gardening Galore, Sunday’s event, between 10am and 3pm, will raise community funds and fill many spaces in borders.
Everything from plants and tools to gardenalia and refreshments will be there. The event is free.