I finished working for the BBC early this year because I made programmes featuring the ‘RHS’ flower shows and did not work, as I have in previous years, on Gardeners’ World. This has meant that, apart from a month’s return to Birmingham covering for a friend on sick leave, I’ve actually become ‘self-unemployed’ earlier than ever. In theory I should therefore have an immaculate garden and be well ahead on all maintenance issues – err, ‘No’!
In fact I’ve filled my time setting up a little side venture to accompany the gardening. I’ve occupied a little unit in the ‘Antiques Centre’, on the St. Michael’s trading estate, and launched “Selected Eclectic”. Come along and I’ll willingly dispense gardening advice whilst trying to flog you a nice bit of ‘Mid Century Modern’ furniture…
Ironically I have bad memories of the building because it used to house someone who, almost 20 years ago, MOT’d my Triumph Herald estate and crashed it into the chapel doors, behind ‘Pam’s Place’, whilst in their ‘care’. I drove Herald estates in the early days of my gardening business which is how I came to be known as the ‘Triumphant Gardener’ – bringing things nicely full circle.
In the garden change is also afoot. Cooling temperatures will elicit the appearance of autumn flowering bulbs, chiefly autumn crocus and colchicums, to produce their very welcome, spring-like, blooms. A gentle reminder that now is the main season for planting spring flowering bulbs, a task which goes hand-in-hand with a light ‘editing’ of beds and borders.
This ‘edit’ will also make the most of any remaining blooms and prevents the whole lot from becoming a brown ‘mush’ when herbaceous plants die-down completely. I used to subscribe, out of laziness more than anything else, to leaving all the border clearance until very late winter or early spring but now I compromise somewhere between the two extremes.
Use your common sense to determine which stems and seed-heads are sturdy enough to resist turning to mush and leave them for winter structure in the hope of achieving lovely frost effects. Remove the densest, leafiest, herbaceous foliage and add it to the compost heap. If you are adding mostly woody, non-green, material at this time of year then an activator may be required to boost the breaking down process. Fresh leafy material is the best thing to add so layers of grass clippings between the brown stuff will help.
As the grass is growing more slowly now, and you shouldn’t be cutting it so short anyway, grass clippings may be in short supply. Growing an area of comfrey, which has big, nitrogen rich, leaves is one solution. My friend Wendy gave me a potful of a fine, purple-flowered, form, a few years ago, which has made a healthy patch in otherwise useless ground under a hedge. I chop the leaves off every time I need a layer to speed up the compost heap and, during the growing season, they soon bounce back bigger and better than before. I also, as mentioned in previous articles, keep a watering can in the bathroom to pee in and add that to the heap too.
It’s a good time to make new beds and borders as practically every type of plant will move well at this time of year so shifting stuff around is easy. Reshaping lawns is timely too as it’s still just about alright to sow new areas, during clement weather, and it’s certainly fine to be laying turf. If your new border is intended to house roses then they can be ordered for delivery bare-root from November to March. I set my heart on ‘Hot Chocolate’, having seen it in flower on the ‘Apuldram Roses’ stand at one of the flower shows, so I looked it up online and ordered it, with a few more chosen on impulse; simple.
With frosts looming sort out your greenhouse, windowsills, porch, or wherever you tend to overwinter plants, in readiness for the influx of tender perennials which need to be kept frost-free this winter. These plants will also need to be checked over and gathered close to the house where they can be whipped indoors as soon as overnight frost is forecast. I dose all specimens, which stay in pots from year to year, with a proprietary vine weevil killer because I have learned from bitter experience that these little monsters will polish off overwintering plants and the damage will not become apparent until it’s too late.
You may remember that I obtained lots of penstemons by post during the summer. These have now made good sturdy little plants and, although it’s later than recommended, I’ll pot them on into a pot size just marginally larger than the root system in a bid to overwinter them, with a degree of protection, while allowing for a small amount of extra growth without promoting rotting off. It’s a bit of a balancing act with these almost hardy plants; mature specimens will survive an average winter outdoors but these ‘teenage’ specimens aren’t quite to be trusted outdoors where the cold and the wet might just get the better of them.
As with so much in life it pays to know when it’s worth taking a chance and when ‘erring on the side of caution’ is more prudent. Even a lazy gardener like me does make the effort when the plant demands it!