Who knows what your garden will go through while you are away on holiday — torrential rain, perhaps, or a desert-like drought. Prepare for both before you leave if you don’t want to return to a wasteland where only weeds survive.
Don’t worry about the lawn. Even if the grass gets parched and brown, it will revive with the first rains. Your prized plants, however, may not, especially if you are away for more than a week.
Bedding geraniums — pelargoniums — will get by for several days in dry weather without watering and succulents need little or no watering at all, which is worth remembering for next year. For the rest, prepare for your absence by deadheading brutally — after all, you won’t be there to admire the display. Cut off the flowers that are both faded and in full bloom, at the base of the stem, so the plants can focus their energy on making new buds rather than running to seed.
Just before you leave, soak pots through and then mulch the surface with pea shingle to keep the compost moist for longer. They’ll look better too. Move pots to the shade so that the compost is in less danger of drying out and plants are less stressed, and group pots together not only to make watering easier, but to create a moist mini microclimate.
Do a little maintenance now to save a lot of work later, or those dainty little bindweed twirls will be garlands of white trumpet flowers welcoming you back while they strangle your shrubs. Weeds grow faster than garden plants, especially at this time of year, so eliminate the competition before it eliminates your prize perennials. Cut perennials back before you go, feed and water them well, and you will return to bushy, healthy plants with plenty of new shoots.
A garden guardian can be a godsend if you have a mass of containers, but if they are not green-fingered, you will need to explain that the plants will need watering even if it rains, as the rain won’t penetrate the compost, especially if it is covered by a canopy of foliage.
It might seem obvious, but if you grow vegetables, tell the garden guardian to help themselves — or at least pick the purple-podded mangetouts and snip the Japanese mustard so edibles don’t go to seed and stop producing by your return. Sweet peas, too, will need to be picked so they keep on flowering, or you will face the depressing sight of a tower of pale green pea pods instead of colourful scented flowers, and the clock can’t be turned back.
If your containers are home alone and you are away for more than a few days, set up an automated watering system such as Hozelock’s Automatic Holiday Watering Irrigation System, which will take care of garden pots and hanging baskets. The Growbag Waterer, also from Hozelock, will keep tomato plants in grow bags watered for a fortnight. There is even a system that will keep tomatoes, aubergines and co watered in a greenhouse or conservatory (hozelock.com). The primitive method for small pots or houseplants — effective for several days — is to group them in the bath on a soaking-wet towel.
For watering beds and borders, the simple soaker hose system — a leaky pipe — works a treat, and is worth setting up as a permanent no-maintenance watering solution. You just snake a porous hose around beds and borders, at the base of shrubs where you need slow, deep watering. The hose is black, so barely visible, but you could bury it in the soil. It’s far more efficient, and labour-saving, than flinging the hose all over the place. See easywatering.co.uk.
Otherwise, give the garden a good soaking before you leave, so that the water penetrates the soil instead of just splashing it. Take time to do this and you will keep plants happy for a few days. And of course, while you are sitting on the beach soaking up the sunshine, pray for rain back home.