Kitchen Garden Notebook in June
By Ian James, gardener, and co-custodian of Water Lane
June is a time of abundance. The garden is full of life, energy, and colour; there’s summer weddings, roses, picnics by the beach or in a field under a tree, English strawberries, and of course Wimbledon. The warmth of long summer days means a gardener’s day is never finished, there’s always another job, more weeding, but at the risk of sounding too earnest, do sit down once-in-a-while and enjoy your garden, roof terrace, windowsill, or any green space you have access to, and admire the fruits of your labours. Listening to the birds sing, watching a bee tuck in hungrily to its pollen-fest lunch or, literally smelling the roses, is a balm for body and soul.
Now we’re feeling a little more zen, let’s get on with the June jobs at hand…
In the vegetable garden:
June is the first month of the year when the vegetable garden is racing ahead and producing enough food to eat. At Water Lane, we’re harvesting the first carrots, peas, and beetroot, having grown the classic Boltardy, Golden and the candy-striped Choggia varieties. The broad beans are doing well, pinch out the tips and tops to maximise growth and save these green tendrils to add to salads, and lift the first crop of early potatoes. A favourite and quick lunch during a long day in the garden is an omelette filled with sorrel and soft garden herbs and a little fresh goats’ cheese.
- Keep on top of weeding, little and often, and only when the soil is dry and warm, so weed seedlings dry out and die on the surface.
- Transplant out Dwarf and Runner beans for summer cropping, and Brassicas and Leeks ready for winter harvesting. Sow Parsnip seeds for Winter.
- Succession sow beetroot, carrots, salad leaves and peas to prolong the season.
- Tomato plants are putting on their main growth spurt before harvesting July onwards. Keep them well supported, regularly pinch out the side shoots at the leaf joint and feed regularly.
In the flower garden
- If you missed the annual Chelsea Chop, there’s still time to do it at the beginning of the month. Cut back Phlox, Nepeta, Echinacea, Penstemons and Helenium by a good third. It seems drastic but the plant will be invigorated and put on lush new growth quickly.
- Deadhead spent tulips from borders and leave the leaves to die back to energise the bulb for next year’s growth. If growing tulips solely for cut flowers, as we do at Water Lane, lift the whole tulip and its bulb. These can be dried and stored to plant next year or planted into a perennial bed to enjoy for years to come. Mulch the bed and replant with Autumn flowering Chrysanthemums.
- A June garden is all about the roses. Deadhead regularly to ensure a second, and even a third flush, and cut long stems wherever possible to encourage growth from lower down the plant to give longer, stronger stems. Keep your roses well fed.
- Continue sowing annuals for extending the season - easy germinators such as calendula sown now, will see you harvesting through to October.
- Sow biennials such as foxgloves, sweet Williams, wallflowers, Icelandic poppies, and honesty to flower next year.
- Tend to your Dahlias, they are thirsty and hungry plants and need good support.
- Water in the evening rather than in the morning and thoroughly soak any pots while giving them a regular liquid feed.
Cooking in June is a cook’s dream, especially for one who can grow a few edibles themselves and can wander from kitchen to garden, barefoot, to gather herbs and salad leaves and pull up a handful of knubbly potatoes, to simply boil with fresh mint and serve with butter and crunchy salt. Peas and mangetout are on the menu, boil or eat raw, or try grilling the whole pods on the grill or barbecue and dressing with silvers of lightly candied orange zest, toasted hazelnuts, and hazelnut oil.
The first bowl of home-soil strawberries and double cream is so hardwired into our collective consciousness, it could be considered the official start of British Summer Time. These scarlet berries are so celebrated it could be easy to dismiss any of the other early summer berries. Gooseberries have a special place on the Water Lane table. Their prickly, sour nature can be off-putting to some, but a little sugar and warmth are all these tart fruits need. Make a simple compote with a dash of elderflower cordial for breakfast with Greek yoghurt and maybe a little honey and purple thyme flowers, use in crumbles, pudding cakes or make into a fabulous ice-cream. Gooseberries are wonderful in savoury dishes too, make a gooseberry vinegar or shrub and dilute with sparkling water, ice and a slice, make a gooseberry ketchup to cut and balance the richness of a grilled pork or even try the fruit raw in a salsa. Top and tail each berry, cut in half and macerate with a tablespoon of caster sugar, a little gooseberry or apple cider vinegar and macerate for an hour to let the juices flow. Just before serving stir through a handful of picked and chopped fresh mint leaves. Delicious with grilled butterflied mackerel.
Capture the quintessential scent of summer by making your own raspberry and rose vodka. This is best with pink English garden scented roses, which are organically grown and unsprayed. A few days before the rose is about to go over, deadhead five or 6 heavy blooms and gently pull the petals away from the ovule bud. Pack into a sterilised kilner jar, alternating with 200g of raspberries, mulberries or loganberries, a few lemon slices and 100g of golden caster sugar. Pour over 750ml vodka and shut the kilner jar. Shake or gently tip upside down every few days for up to two weeks, to help the sugar dissolve. The blush pink of the liqueur will deepen as the flavour intensifies. Strain the liquid, drip by drip, through a double muslin, being careful not to crush the sodden fruit (keep for a treat of a boozy pudding). Serve ice cold as a Rose Blush Martini or top up with Prosecco.
[This piece originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of Kent Life]