hedge trimming so it’s a good place to start this one. In a perfect world I’d have been cutting my various hedges, a section at a time, when the mood took me but, as ever, I’ve let them get away from me. I always have a mad panic this month as the mixed hedges need taking in hand at exactly the same time as the yew gets its annual cut. It’s difficult to know what to do with all the trimmings. Short, soft, foliage can be composted but the larger, woodier, material needs to be fed through a shredder before adding to the heap. I generate so many clippings that the only practical method of dealing with it is a big bonfire – rather than burning precious fossil fuel driving down to the ‘recycling centre’ (formerly Bridport tip) and adding it to the green waste.
It’s a bit depressing thinking about bonfires and the autumn that is looming just around the corner. Much better to remember that this time of year yields blooms from some of my favourite plants; tricyrtis, cyclamen, schizostylis, liriope, late-flowering clematis, asters, Hydrangea villosa… et al. Rather conveniently it’s also a good time to plant, or move, such specimens due to the cooler temperatures, still warm soil and more abundant (!) rain. Exactly the same conditions that make September a good time to sow a lawn – giving it a good chance to get a bit of growth on before the properly cold weather arrives.
This time last year I was sowing ‘inoculation’ patches of ‘Yellow Rattle’, in random circles, in my field. The plan was for the rattle to germinate in the spring, parasitize the grass, flower and then ripen seed to re-inoculate the meadow when the long grass is cut down the following year. I’ve got to report that this experiment hasn’t been entirely successful but it has taught me valuable lessons.
The main one is that mowing the circles very close to the ground, then raking to aid inoculation by the rattle, had the unwanted by-product of encouraging any buttercup which was present to increase exponentially and kill off the weakened grass. Ironically this meant that in late spring I was forced to use a selective weedkiller wherever the buttercup had taken over. Weedkillers are an absolute ‘no-no’ when encouraging a species rich meadow because, of course, they wipe out the very sensitive rattle along with every other broadleaved meadow plant.
My excuse is that I am establishing a meadow from what was a ryegrass and clover agricultural mix, an entirely unnatural planting, and doing it mostly by mowing and selective weeding. Apart from the buttercup setback, and the reduced amount of rattle as a consequence, I must say that I am pretty chuffed that the sward, after just a couple of years, is already reverting to a diverse range of native grasses. These are beautiful in their own right and quite stunning in August just before the meadow is cut. I shall add wildflower seed, now that the grass is short again, and I’ll do it by broadcast sowing followed by gentle raking. That should be enough to get the seed into contact with the soil without damaging the grass to such an extent that the buttercup rears its ugly head again. A small amount is alright, as part of the mix, but sheets of Ranunculus are just rank.
I’ll not be adding bulbs to the meadow as I am not Prince Charles and I happen to think exotic tulips and the like have no place in what should be a natural looking landscape. They also make maintenance a bit of a nightmare and, I heard, he had to replant them every year, to get the desired massed effect, which is hardly sustainable! I shall, however, be planting plenty of bulbs this month in borders and in containers for spring interest. Tulips, and you must be getting bored of reading this by now, should wait until November for planting in order to reduce the risk of ‘tulip fire’ disease.
Some of you may remember that much earlier this year, February I think, I started work on a formal pond. I really wanted somewhere to grow hardy carnivorous plants, in the shallows, and because my ‘tin bath’ pond froze solid last winter killing all my ‘White Cloud Mountain Minnows’.That little project was halted by the ‘axe incident’ (as it has become known) and I’ve only just found the time to complete it – largely thanks to a posh new pondliner from those lovely people at ‘Hozelock’.
The pond should have enough time to reach some sort of equilibrium during what is left of the warmth before the restful winter cold is upon us. There is no time for resting yet, for gardeners, as late summer into autumn is a great time to be doing all those tasks which have been building up over the summer. Cuttings will need potting on, or planting out if hardy, while still actively growing. Tender plants should be tidied up in readiness for bringing under cover when frosts threaten. Dead-heading must continue but feeding should stop so as not to encourage lush foliage at this time of year when plants need to be hardening up to survive colder temperatures.
I am, as ever, hoping for an ‘Indian Summer’ so I shall leave you with that thought in mind and it’s worth remembering that a well-stocked garden is actually a very pleasant place to be at this time of year.