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Saturday, June 22, 2024
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GardeningOctober in the Garden

October in the Garden

As I write this we are still enjoying the last gasp of summer, the sun is shining and the skies are blue. October still has the capacity to provide some balminess but the odds are definitely more firmly stacked towards wetter, windier and duller days.
It’s funny how, sometimes, a single word can spark a long distant memory. In my case any reference to ‘equinoctial’, most commonly used in relation to a greater propensity for stormy weather, automatically brings to mind a particular ditty which I must have learned as a schoolboy:
“O ‘twas in the broad Atlantic, ‘mid the equinoctial gales, that a young fellow fell overboard among the sharks and whales”.
Sung to the tune of ‘Rule Britannia’, this traditional song has always stuck in my mind due to the, appealing to me as a small boy, cleverness of rhyming ‘fellow’ with ‘fell o’ (verboard). The ‘equinoctial’ connection was merely a coincidence—but any mention of it immediately brings this tune, ‘Mermaid’, to mind.
Not sure what that’s got to do with timely gardening tasks except to remind me that strong winds will start to shake loose the leaves that are beginning to fall from deciduous shrubs and trees. If you regularly rake up, or ‘mow’ up, lots of autumn leaves then it’s certainly worthwhile to build a leaf composting bin. Four stout posts, driven into the ground, in a shady part of the garden, with chicken wire wrapped around, to form an enclosure, is all you need. The size will be determined by how many fallen leaves your garden tends to generate.
The collected leaves can be added to the ‘bin’ throughout the autumn and a compost accelerator, available from garden centres, sprinkled over each layer as desired. The leaves will take at least a year to break down and they will need to be kept damp, even watering the heap in dry weather, which is assisted by adding a covering over the top, like old carpet or empty plastic sacks. The resulting ‘leafmould’ is a great soil improver and worth its weight in gold!
Now that herbaceous plants and biennials are dying down, in readiness for winter, it’s the last chance to collect seed from plants which are offering it up and which you’d like to grow more of. If you’re not sure whether the seed is best sown straight away, or stored to be sown in the spring, then try both—you have nothing to lose and experimenting is one of the joys of gardening. Plants are generous by nature so collecting a few seeds and playing around with them seems like a ‘no brainer’ to me.
While you are in your flower beds and borders, gently remove collapsed foliage to keep plants looking their best for as long as possible. It’s a good time for digging up and moving plants around so reorganisation is the name of the game. Earmark any gaps where you may have lifted congested herbaceous perennials, or edited out anything that hasn’t lived up to your expectations and think about whether you could plant spring bulbs there instead. Autumn planting bulbs for spring interest should be in full swing now before the soil has lost all its summer warmth.
Tender perennials and dubiously hardy border plants, like cannas, should be brought under cover towards the end of the month when the risk of overnight frost becomes too great. Cannas need to be kept in large pots, or boxes, of barely moist compost in a light but frost-free place. If it never gets really cold then they may well stay in leaf all winter. Dahlias will probably stay outside until next month as it’s traditional to let them get blackened by the first frost.
It’s very pleasing to see how popular dahlias have become again, having been out of horticultural fashion for decades, and I’ve mused before on how their ‘social media friendly’ vibrancy may be key to this renaissance. Their ability to go from dried up tubers to exuberant blooms in just one season is a major asset. Their drawback of not being reliably perennial, if left in situ, must disappoint some converts to their brazen charms.
A perennial plant that is equally vibrant at this fag end of the growing season is the good old ‘Michaelmas Daisy’, a.k.a. ‘Aster’. I am using ‘aster’ as the common name in this instance because, in the last decade or so, a lot of the garden plants formerly labelled, taxonomically, as being in the Asteraceae have been redivided into other genera so now have more befuddling Latin names. This is important, and correct, when it comes to being able to scientifically identify plants but, as far as gardeners are concerned, I think it’s best to look at them in the same way as most people look at dahlias.
If you see a ‘Michaelmas Daisy’ that you like the look of then just make a note of its variety name and don’t get hung up on its full, Latin, identification. I like the look of the aster ‘Lady in Blue’, so I’ll remember that variety name and forget about the Symphyotrichum novi-belgii bit that comes before it. The fact that it was previously an aster is neither here nor there once it’s in your bloomin’ garden. Searching for images of garden-worthy asters, on the internet, will yield plenty of choices and links to UK nurseries that stock them.
Or just got to ‘Groves’ (“other garden centres are available”—but I’m a creature of habit!) and see what they have flowering in pots. Once planted in your garden asters are hardy, behave just like any other herbaceous border perennial and, for varieties with single blooms at least, an absolute magnet for nectar-feeding insects. Mine are alive with bees and butterflies at this very moment.
I shall avoid all “Aster la vista” references as I sign off 😉

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