How to keep your plants alive while you’re on holiday

By the time you read this, I shall be paddling around an island in the Hebrides, which fills me with anxiety, not about being swept away, but about how my plants will survive without me.

Going away in the summer is always a complicated bind: the garden is in full swing and there’s so much to do. The first thing I do before I go is to make sure I don’t have anything in plugs or small pots waiting to be planted out. Plants in cramped conditions will dry out much more quickly than those in the ground, with room for their roots. If it’s not possible to plant out, then pot on, particularly if there are roots poking out of the drainage holes (a sure sign that the root mass is about to use up all the available space in the pot).

By far the best solution for watering is to find someone to come in to do it. I have amassed a small army of teenagers who dutifully water in exchange for cash. However, it can be a more complicated task than it seems, so it’s sensible to make life easier for the waterer.

If the weather suggests that it will be dry for the period you are away, put any smaller pots in drip trays full of gravel or sand. These will catch the excess water, but the gravel will ensure the plants don’t drown. If you have a greenhouse full of pots, then the best bet is to invest in some capillary matting (try and drip trays, and sit the plants on that. The matting can be fed into a reservoir of water and the plants will draw up moisture as they need it.

If the weather looks set to be blisteringly hot, I also use a fine green netting, sold as debris netting for building works, to create extra shade. I use this for both outdoor and greenhouse/polytunnel plants. The idea is to slow down the rate of growth so the plants use less water. It’s better to have plants that haven’t moved on much than to have ones that have fried.

I follow the same principle for indoor plants on bright, south-facing windowsills. Instead of letting them potentially bake to death, I just move them a foot or so away from the window, where light levels are lower. The other indoor trick is to fill your bath with old newspaper or towels and a couple of inches of water, and place all your plants on top to soak up the water over a period of time.

Finally, if you have anything that needs harvesting, particularly peas, beans, cucumbers or courgettes, then you definitely want to persuade someone to pick them for you: the more you pick at the beginning, the more you’ll encourage the plant to produce.