EACH summer, I am called on to judge the "Gardens" category in
our village show. It is a humbling experience; there are many
examples of good plantsmanship on display, and often the impression
that the owners had been up much earlier than me that day.
I remember my surprise last June, when I stumbled on some potted
tomato-plants. Their matt leaves hung like limp dishcloths from a
skeletal framework. The perpetrator of neglect quickly explained
that it was intentional, and encouraged flowering and fruit
Now it is true that a stressed plant will be eager to set seed
and thereby procreate - or had he just forgotten to water the day
before? Certainly, later in a tomato's life-cycle erratic watering
often causes fruit to split, and varieties such as "Sungold" are
particularly vulnerable. Anyway, call me a softie, but I could not
do it - any more than I could leave the dog's water-bowl
intentionally empty. Which is all very well until one goes away on
For holiday pot-plant care, you may know an instinctive gardener
who can step in, or you may feel inclined to leave detailed
instructions. In my experience, a casual "keeping an eye on things"
leads to casualties. Non-gardeners just do not read the signs; so
it is worth taking a few measures beforehand.
Be pro-active at the planting-up stage. Summer bedding-plants
vary enormously in their ability to cope with dry spells in
containers. Choose gazanias, felicias, pelargoniums, tuberous
begonias, verbenas, and Livingstone daisies with ivy for foliage.
Avoid petunias and lobelias. The larger the pot, the more
drought-resistant it will be.
Water-retaining gel, which comes as dry granules that you mix in
with the compost, really does help. Be careful to hydrate when the
pot is half full of mixture, as the granules expand considerably.
Cover the exposed surface of the compost with some kind of mulch,
such as gravel, chipped bark, shells, or mosaic tiles.
Just before you go away, group the containers together, which
helps to raise the local humidity; and give them a thorough water.
Place in shallow trays of water if possible. An alternative is to
bury the pots up to their necks in a garden bed; but in either case
a shady spot is needed.
Neither of these methods would keep thirsty tomato plants happy
for long, but the Duogrow Planter, from Greenhouse Sensation, with
a large reservoir linked to the pots with capillary matting, could
help you. With a large summer pot-display, it may be worth
investing in an automatic watering-system on a timer. Set it up in
good time to find the minimum dose needed.
If you have just a few small houseplants, there is a nifty
product: Holiday Plant Savers. These are plastic pouches in which
you make up a gel by mixing water and the granules supplied. Your
plant sits in the gel, and can take up the water for at least two
weeks. But remember: a plant can look dreadful without reaching the
point of no return. On homecoming, plunge them into a bucket of
water before you even put the kettle on.