Demolishing the garden and reviving the lawn

It all started so well, I was going to tell you a bit about late summer planting and how to get the best from your borders, when suddenly It went from Gardeners World to Demolition Squad in the space of one minute. Here’s what happened…

6th September: Things I have been doing lately.

To get this bit into context I have to give you a bit of a preamble and go back a little bit in time. So you have to imagine your screen going all wavy and that back in time music; you know “do dah do do, do dah do do”. Anyway, we are back at the end of summer last year and I had decided to completely redo the borders either side of our drive. I was going to take out all the plants including bulbs and perennials and strip away and replace the top six inches of soil. I successfully undertook this, replanted the bulbs and sowed my usual annuals in Spring. So far so good, but because I had removed all my perennials this meant that when we returned to the present “do dah do do, do dah do do” there was no late summer flowering perennials.

The whole idea of a successful flower bed is that you have continuous flowering through “succession planting”. As one plant dies down so the next comes into flower. In Spain succession planting would look like this: Marguerite Daisies, Carnations, various bulbs (flag Iris etc), Marigolds. But holding it all together would be the perennials which dotted around the border give continuity amidst change. My plant of choice for this role are Lantanas (commonly known as Spanish Flag because of their colouring). Anyway, I didn’t have any as I had dug them all up last year, so I decided to buy some. I know, I know, we gardeners are supposed to grow things not buy them, but I didn’t have the time to grow from seed or cuttings as this would take about a year before I had the type of plants I required.

So I stole €100 from my wife’s purse, donned a disguise in case any fellow gardeners saw me and went to the garden centre. Half an hour later I was the proud possessor of 6 mature Lantana and my wife was lighter by €78 not bad at €13 a plant. I spent the rest of the hundred buying magic beans from a man I met in the garden centre; He wanted my cow as well, but I told him she was at home.

🌼 Planting Lantana. The secret to planting Lantana is to recognise they are going to be around for a long time so they will need good rich soil to get them going. Dig a good size hole for the root ball, at least a spade length deep. Fill this with water and leave to drain. Then fill the bottom of the hole with well rotted compost and add a handful of slow release food granules to the hole. Lay the Lantana pot on its side and roll it backwards and forwards whilst putting pressure on the sides. This should successfully loosen the plant and ensure it slides out of the pot into your hands. Once the plant is out of the post, holding it upright, place your fingers underneath and tease out the root ball to ensure the roots are ready to face out into the soil. Place the plant in the waiting hole, fill in with a mixture of the soil from the plant hole and more compost. Firm the plant in, water profusely and you are done.

That is what is supposed to happen, what actually happened was this. I was digging the planting hole for the second Lantana whilst the first hole was draining. As I dug down the required spade length I decided I needed to go a bit deeper as the second plant had a large root ball. Given the spade was getting nowhere, I decided to use my fork. As I dug the extra couple of inches I came up against a tree root. I duly dug harder and pulled at the root ramming my fork into it. In a sudden flash of clarity I thought “there are no trees near this spot”. That is when the water main went sending a jet of freezing cold water straight up the leg of my shorts. In my panic to get away I tried to clear the area by loading everything into wheel barrow and pushing it across the drive. This was when I hit the drive border wall smashing all the plaster off a big chunk of it.

I won’t bore you with telling you how I had to repair it all, or the cost. Needless to say this has confirmed my wife’s view that I am an idiot. The first photo below shows the planting hole of the first Lantana, I took this just before the great deluge. The second photo shows the damaged drive border wall.

🌱 Reviving the lawn. Those of you who follow this blog will know that now is the time to repair and revive your lawn. In my last blog I dealt with repairs to bare patches and reseeding. This time I want to deal with seasonal maintenance. If you have a lawn you only have two good months of the year when you can do serious work. In Spain the months of March and September are your two windows of opportunity. After March the lawn is growing and the sun is too hot. After September, the grass is going dormant and you are too late to seed.

September is the month for reviving work when you need to scarify and give your last feed of the summer. The process of scarifying involves using a lawn/leaf rake to scrape across the lawn and remove the thatch of dead grass that has built up over the summer. You can use a motorised de-thatcher (I had one in England, but unfortunately not here). If you don’t remove the thatch then it will gradually impede the growth of new grass and leave your lawn looking dry and patchy.

If you have a large lawn like ours then it will be too much to try and de-thatch it all. Instead you should pick out the worse areas to tackle. The system I use is to find a bad area and stand in the middle of it then work around it in a circle with me at the centre. This maximises your effort and minimises your need to move. The thatch once removed can be put on your compost heap, or if you wish keep it in a black sack then use it to line your hanging baskets just as you would with moss.

Once you have de-thatched the areas of the lawn that you can manage, then you need to give it its final feed of the year. This final feed will give the lawn a nice boost to see it through winter. I use a granulated feed high in Nitrogen and Potassium. Now you can distribute this by hand if you want by walking up and down the lawn and scattering it as you go. The danger of this approach is that you will unevenly distribute the feed leaving some areas badly covered where the grass won’t get fed and it will look sickly next year; and other areas with a double dose of feed that will scorch the lawn and leave you with bald patches next year; (the lawn not you).

The best way to distribute lawn feed is by using a wheeled dispenser. These are very cheap these days and most have a dial that you can set to different sizes that allow you to control the rate of distribution. Walking up and down with the dispenser it throws out the feed in a circle around your path of direction. Just make sure that you do not overlap the stripes as you walk up and down the lawn, otherwise you will get scorching (again, the lawn not you).

The two photos below were taken by my wife and are meant to be action photos. In the first I am de-thatching and in the second manfully feeding the lawn. At first she demanded that we brought in a body double for these pictures, but I refused citing my artistic integrity and desire for gardening authenticity. I wouldn’t mind really but I have just passed her computer and she has used photoshop and it now appears that George Clooney has been de-thatching and feeding our lawn. That wouldn’t be so bad but she now has it as a screensaver.




Author: spanishgarden

I live in both Spain and the UK and am a very keen gardener. I garden every day and enjoy sharing all the secrets that God allows us to discover in our gardens.

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