Last year we had some of the hottest ‘summer’ weather in September, although, seasonally speaking, we have now entered ‘autumn’. September keeps you guessing as so much depends on the weather and how benign it turns out to be.
It is popular to start muttering about an ‘Indian Summer’ whenever it turns particularly warm at this stage of the year. When I hear this term I automatically see images of our lost Empire, colonial types luxuriating in the ‘last days of the Raj’ and generally ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ scenes of khaki and elephants.
Aside from being potentially ‘Non-PC’, these images are most likely to be entirely misplaced. Apparently, the term was first used by our North American cousins, notably on a completely different continent, and the ‘Indians’ referred to are actually the, ‘PC rectified’, original inhabitants of that colonised land mass—‘Native Americans’ (although I may be out of date with that term too; I find it hard to keep up these days!).
Anyway, back on safer ground, in the ‘cutting garden’ rows of dahlias, available in every shape, colour, form and stature, provide reliable blooms and vibrant hues to suit every room of the house. There’s so much shrub foliage around, at this pre-leafdrop stage, that a simple vase of leafy exuberance, teamed with dazzling dahlia heads, is all that’s required. If only dahlias were scented (bring on some much-needed genetic modification) then they’d truly ‘have it all’.
For scented cut flowers, a succession of summer flowering bulbs, such as Acidanthera murielae, may be planted over the spring / summer, even up to a late planting in June. Also, experiment with late planting scented lily bulbs and you could be rewarded with these, typically ‘summer’, blooms managing to hold on into September. Plunging pots at different soil depths, or against the ‘cold’ side of walls, may also delay flowering long enough to ensure scented florist’s lilies well into September.
Whatever the weather, autumn flowering bulbs can invigorate areas of the garden which might otherwise appear dull; you can’t beat sheets of ivy leaved cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium). Their pretty white / pink flowers emerge well before the marbled foliage which, in turn, persists after herbaceous plants have died down. It’s cool, wet, weather, after the ‘heat’ of summer, which encourages autumn cyclamen to flower. Therefore, in most years, individuals will bloom well before now but it’s the ‘dramatic sheets’ of colour which I hold out for.
What else is coming into its own now? The late flowering, ‘orange peel’, clematis, such as ‘Bill MacKenzie’, is a joy. Jaunty little nodding flowers, like pixie bells, smother an established plant and stay blooming for many weeks. Being a ‘late flowering’ clematis (one which flowers after midsummer’s day) pruning is a cinch as they can be chopped right back, to just a framework of stems, in spring. They flower on the shoots which grow during the current year—so even a drastic chop back will not stop them from flowering. For this reason they are great planted where they can scramble through a big old shrub, festooning it with flowers when otherwise the space would be dead.
For soils with that rare combination of constant moisture and full sun we return to the realm of bulbs and, in this case, corms, in the guise of Hesperantha coccinea (formerly Schizostylis coccinea). ‘Kaffir Lilies’ come in many named forms with colours from deepest red, palest pink through to pure white. Stunning when they are given the conditions they enjoy (see above) but ‘all leaves and no flowers’ when they are either too shady or too dry. Looking for recommended ‘newer’ introductions I came across ‘Sunrise’ (pale pink flowers of increased size) but, to add to the already confusing ‘updated’ Latin nomenclature, this offering is synonymous with the variety ‘Sunset’!!!
Bringing it back to bulbs reminds me that it’s now that I really should be starting to plant spring flowering bulbs. Start planting them in the order that they flower in the spring so that the earliest flowering ones, early crocus come to mind, have enough time to get some roots down before producing the flower stems. Tulips are famously planted late, in November, to reduce the likelihood of ‘tulip fire’ (a debilitating infection) so don’t worry about those yet.
Moist, warm, soil means that it is a good time to move evergreens and conifers which need to be able to produce new roots and recover from the shock of transplanting before the ground is so cold that it stops growth. By the same token, it’s a good time to prepare new areas of ground for future planting or to clean up an area that has become weed-infested. To clear it using a non-persistent, ‘glyphosate’, weed-killer, September is the last month in which chemical herbicides reliably work. If you’re clearing it manually then this needs to be done in good time so that any weed regrowth can be removed before it dies down completely over the winter.
Areas that have been cleared of weeds are best covered up again to suppress further weed growth because even the most thorough ‘clean up’ will only remove the visible miscreants, there will still be thousands of weed seeds, or viable sections of established weed, waiting to sprout again. A physical mulch, such as ‘weed suppressing fabric’, is ideal for larger areas, requiring long term control, but this is a bit too ‘industrial’ for the average garden.
A thick application of sterile, bagged, ‘mulch and mix’ type compost is easier to handle and less likely to introduce new weeds than your typical ‘farmyard manure’ alternative. The ‘belt and braces’ approach is to use weed suppressing fabric with a layer of organic mulch (finely graded bark chippings look acceptable) on top. Of course, if you’ve applied a fabric type mulch future planting will be more problematical as cutting holes in the sheeting to plant through is a bit of a chore. For this reason physical weed barriers work best for planting schemes which are predominantly shrubs or trees. Daintier herbaceous perennials and their ilk are better suited to mulching with organic substrates alone.
I think I’ll end on the positive note of making plans and looking forward to new areas of planting. After all, autumn is historically the real beginning of the gardening year.