Writing about the my cacti last month, regarding how they were luxuriating, outdoors, may have tempted fate a little because we have had a fair amount of rain since then. Having said that, we really did need it and it’s gratifying to see just how quickly the dust dry land has turned back to a much healthier shade of green. I do get a bit bored with my annual, early summer, warning “not to water the lawn, however dry it gets” but irrigating grass really is a luxury our environment cannot afford.
One advantage of just how exceptionally dry it became was that, at the height of the drought, the grass wasn’t growing at all—which saved loads of grass-cutting time!
Now that we’ve had some rain, and assuming we continue to have regular downpours, it makes autumn planting even more important this year when it really has been too dry, from late spring onwards, to do any planting. If, unluckily, you did do a lot of spring planting then, unless you have been able to water it frantically, there is a good chance that those new plants have failed to thrive and some replanting may now be required.
Autumn was always the traditional time to make new plantings, especially before the advent of container grown plants, and a dry summer just serves to remind us that some old gardening practices still make a lot of sense. September will, hopefully, still be too warm and dry for planting ‘bare-root’ herbaceous plants, trees and shrubs but it’s a good time to plant pot grown plants as they will establish quickly, in the warm soil, and keeping them well-watered shouldn’t be a problem.
Something else I ‘bang on’ about every single year (writing about gardening is, by definition, fairly repetitive) is that it’s a really good idea to plant your spring flowering, autumn planted, bulbs as early as possible. This is because, like fresh veg in the supermarket, flower bulbs will deteriorate the longer they are out of the ground so it makes sense to buy them as soon as they become available in garden centres / mail order etc. and then plant them as soon as soil conditions allow.
The general rule is that the later they flower in the spring / summer the later you can get away with planting them but, on the whole, just obtaining your bulbs as soon as possible and getting them into the ground is recommended. There are always exceptions to every rule and, for me, ‘Foxtail Lilies’ (Eremurus) are the autumn planted ‘bulb’ exception—due mainly to the fact that they are not the ‘standard’ sort of bulb (don’t get me started on the botany perennating organs) but are actually dormant, swollen, shoot / root bases.
Eremurus are much more prone to drying out than more ‘normal’ bulbs due to the starfish shaped structure of their dormant rhizomes with a central, easily damaged, growth point. Some references suggest that they should be planted in the spring, just as they are coming into growth, but, in my experience, they are easier to obtain, and are therefore available at lower prices and in greater variety, at this time of year. Having said that, they are relatively expensive, compared to more common flower bulbs, so getting hold of them as fresh as possible and then planting them immediately (in a sunny, sheltered, well-drained, yet nutrient-rich, soil) is paramount.
On a completely different tack; September tends to be the last month when foliar applied herbicides are, according to their label recommendations, able to be applied. No doubt you’ll have seen that ‘Round-Up’, the trade name of the chemical weedkiller ‘glyphosate’, has been ruled, in the United States, to be carcinogenic and the manufacturer, ‘Monsanto’, ordered to pay £millions to the plaintiff.
My understanding is that the very nature of the way glyphosate acts to kill green plant material, by disrupting the chlorophyll making process in plants, means that its toxicity is very clearly linked to organisms that contain chlorophyll. The ruling in the States was made by a non-expert jury and not by scientists. Despite rigorous, long-term, studies by numerous bodies around the world, it has not yet been proven that glyphosate is harmful to humans when used as prescribed.
The oft repeated ‘factoid’ is that glyphosate, when subjected to ‘lethal dose’ trials, is less toxic than sugar… I’m not sure I’ll be putting that to the test any time soon but, in pure scientific terms, it does make sense based on the knowledge of how it acts on plants.
I completely understand that, if you are organic, then you may not want to use any chemical control at all. I, myself, use very few chemicals in my garden, as far as is practicable, but my choice to use a glyphosate based weedkiller is based on the fact that it is a lot less harmful to the environment than many of the broad spectrum herbicides that have been available previously. I still hold that to be correct and, as a scientifically trained horticulturist, I shall continue to use glyphosate until it is scientifically proven to be ‘dangerous’.
Back to less contentious matters; this summer, especially now we’ve had the return of slightly wetter conditions, has proved the value of ‘naturalistic’ planting schemes which have been in the ascendant over at least the last twenty years. I remember visiting Piet Oudolf’s nursery, in Holland, in 1995 and being blown away by how fantastic his planting schemes were with their subtly different plant palette compared to the more traditional ‘English Country Gardens’ style.
It must have been around then that I bought my first Miscanthus varieties, mostly from ‘Green Farm Plants’ (John Coke and Marina Christopher), and I still have those huge, prairie style, grasses now. I must admit that they’ve mostly lost their variety names these days, because seedlings and divisions of the original plants are all mixed up together, but the three varieties of Miscanthus sinensis that I started with, and which are still identifiable, were; ‘Silberfeder’, ‘Strictus’ and ‘Malepartus’.
They get so huge that they are the backdrop to many areas of my ‘wider’ garden and are much less hassle than the shrubs which, in the past, would have performed a similar role. As a foil to huge, late summer, Compositae (daisies), Miscanthus are hard to beat. I especially like the clear-yellow, simple, elegance of Rudbeckia laciniata against a stand of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’. This tall grass has a fountain shape and fine foliage with white, central, variegation to the leaves.
The great thing about this time of year is that it’s generally a pretty relaxed time, as far as gardening is concerned, as there isn’t anything that absolutely, without fail, on pain of death, has to be done right now………..make the most of it!!!