Mrs Mend and Make Do in the garden

Shirley Lanigan remembers the ' under-gardeners and the bothy boys'

Mrs Mend and Make Do in the garden

Gardening with Shirley Lanigan

Back in the olden days, when labour was cheap and materials were expensive, under-gardeners and bothy  boys would be sent to repair broken terracotta plant pots with a little drill and a roll of wire. In essence, the pots were more valuable than the boys’ time.
Under lockdown, I have become that boy. Having to stay at home and forget about paying work, the different ways of managing to operate my own garden without access to either garden centre or nursery have become ever more comical. Whatever about hang the expense – hang the labour costs!
Every year, one of every gardener’s staple buys in spring, is a big batch of bamboo canes to support plants. In my garden, I always need long two-metre poles. Some use them to fashion into wigwams for sweet peas. I turn them into longer, tent shaped supports for climbing beans. I never need them to support peas though. For peas, I grow dwarf varieties and so I only ever need to use arm-length prunings from shrubs and trees to support the clinging pea plants.
Then lockdown came along and the only pea seeds I could get my hands on, in the supermarket, were tall-growing, two-metre varieties. No complaints. I am grateful to the supermarket for stocking any sort of seeds to be honest. But having to buy these particular seeds that are going to grow in to Jack and the Beanstalk giants, meant that this year I have need of loads of big long bamboo canes. There is however, no place to source them. There is no point in growing these peas without supports. So, in steps Mrs Mend-And-Make-Do:
Climb into the shed. You never know what you might find in there, I told myself.
What I did find were great batches of old, short, brittle and broken bamboo canes. Any tidier gardener would have thrown these out long ago. Luckily, I am not a tidy gardener and the bamboo canes were in the ‘Good Rubbish’ pile. This is a collection of things that you just never know, might come in handy.
I dragged the bamboos out. The first result of this action was to discover a lot of extra space in the shed. That in itself is A Good Thing.
Next on the agenda was to haul a garden chair out into the sun and park myself on it. Hours have been spent in the past week sitting in the sun, like a day labourer from the 19th Century, tying short lengths of bamboo together with twine. Luckily two rolls of this natural twine turned up in the hunt for bamboo. They had been bought in the centre aisle of the supermarket sometime over the past few years, to be dumped in the shed and forgotten about.
The trick is to tie double lengths of short and broken bamboos together. This strengths the otherwise weak and brittle old sticks. The strengthened doubles are then joined with other short doubles – to give length. All these are then fastened to the few long poles that were found in the pile and used for the uprights.
The end result will accommodate the giant peas when they start making their way skyward. This is slow work.
The result is, to be kind to myself, daft looking. I had been listening to a podcast of ‘Frankenstein’ in the long hours spent making the supports and the result is probably a garden version of that poor Monster.
Nevertheless, I will have my peas!
If you have been growing dahlia tubers in pots for the past few months, getting ready for planting out later in the month, begin putting them outside during the day to harden the plants off and accustom them to life outdoors.
The same applies to filled hanging baskets and containers of tender annuals like petunia, nemesia, busy Lizzie and all the other bedding plants that you might want for a big summer display.
You can certainly fill and plant up the containers up and leave them out during the day to get the sun.
But do not leave them out over night. Even if it is warm during the day, the temperatures at night can tumble and cause trouble to the baby plants. These tender little ones are easy to damage. One cold night can put a check on growth and stop them from thriving later.
Be conservative. You want these plants to look good right up to the end of October and even later if the early winter is mild. So do not risk that long show by jumping to quickly at this end of the year.

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