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Saturday, June 22, 2024
GardeningOctober in the Garden

October in the Garden

We’ve certainly been having a good few dollops of rain recently, making the near drought conditions of the summer seem like a lifetime ago. This has definitely breathed new life into some of the later flowering perennials which otherwise might have stopped flowering by now. The Hesperantha (formerly Schizostylis), which I touched upon last month, is making the most of the wetter soil conditions which initiated their flowering after the dry summer.
Cyclamen hederifolium is such an undemanding plant that there is no excuse for it not to be present in every garden, no matter how small. It tends to start flowering, pinky-purple blooms appearing from nowhere, before leaf emergence as soon as cooler, wetter, weather arrives at the end of summer. They are happiest in shady areas, under trees and the skirts of deciduous shrubs, but are so prolific at seeding that they often find their way into lawns, cracks in paving and sunnier areas where they have no right to be! For me their secret weapon is that, after the flowers have faded, they have attractive, non-smothering, marbled foliage which persists all winter and into late spring.
As generous self-seeders, these ‘ivy leaved’ cyclamen can form large sheets to perform a useful ground cover role where otherwise, especially during the barren winter months, there would be just bare soil. The disappearing trick that they perform, as summer approaches, means that their reappearance is especially welcome at this time of year when their flash of bright pink blooming contrasts with the general dying down of the wider garden. Another plant which flowers late in the year, but with almost spring-like enthusiasm, is Liriope muscari. It has spikes of dusky mauve flowers, akin to grape hyacinth, sprouting from grassy leaves. A quietly ‘background’ sort of plant which is culturally undemanding and yet surprisingly generous when it comes into flower—great for edging or weaving through mixed borders.
As with last month, keeping on top of tidying beds and borders, removing herbaceous foliage as it begins to collapse, helps to maintain an air of orderliness just as everything tends to chaos. Removing dead and dying leaves also exposes all those little gems, such as autumn flowering crocus and Colchicum species, which otherwise might struggle to be appreciated if battling against a background of decaying border plants. Tidying away excess foliage also affords opportunities to plant more spring flowering bulbs in any gaps that are exposed. The general abundance of water in the autumn, with soils still holding a degree of summer warmth, makes it a good time to dig up and move around plants so that they have a chance to establish again before the real winter cold sets in.
As well as planting spring flowering bulbs, into beds and borders, it’s also a good time to plant them in pots and containers. Add plenty of drainage to the bottom of your chosen container, coarse gravel will do, and use a 50:50 mix of loam based and multi-purpose compost on top of that. Add your chosen bulbs in layers with the largest at the bottom; the bigger the container the more bulbs you can cram in and the greater the mix of types for the longest succession of blooms. Try tulips at the bottom, daffodils in the middle layer and grape hyacinths, or another small bulb like Anemone blanda, on the top level. This will require a large, deep, pot but it will provide a spectacular firework display of spring colour. It’s popular, these days, to refer to this a ‘lasagne planting’ (i.e. layers of bulbs) but it’s nothing new.
To finish off the ‘lasagne’ of bulbs, adding a cheesy topping you might say, winter flowering bedding plants can be fiddled into the top of the pot. These always look best when squeezed in relatively close together, unnaturally so, because whatever variety you use they tend to sulk a bit before coming into bloom so the more you have the less bare soil will be visible before they get into their stride. I generally use violas, the smaller flowered forms of winter pansies, because they tend to flower better during colder periods and are less likely to succumb to botrytis (rot) than the larger flowered varieties. I really like primulas and primroses too although I find that these tend to be much more spring flowering, than truly winter flowering, so they may provide no flowers at all until well into next year. Bellis perennis (bedding daisies) fall somewhere between pansies and primulas, in my experience, when it comes to their winter flowering potential.
One word of warning with containers which have bulbs underneath spring bedding; there is a good chance that, if the pot is really well crammed, the larger bulb types, narcissi especially, will lift the bedding plants out of the pot as they begin to emerge in late winter or early spring. If this happens it requires a small amount of vigilance and intervention on your part so that you can gently firm the bedding plants back into the pot before they are left completely high and dry. This is a small price to pay for a winter / spring flowering container with real impact. There’s nothing worse than a mean little pot with just a few sparse blooms in it. Be generous with your planting and you can look forward to proper fireworks in the spring.
At the time of writing it’s impossible to know what type of autumn we shall have, let alone what the spring will hold. Having had a hotter and sunnier summer than usual there is every chance that the autumn colour will be particularly good because the brightest and deepest autumn hues rely on the leaves having a good sugar content at the point where they are beginning to break down and be shed. Lots of sun combined with a relative lack of rainfall should provide maximum concentration of sugars in the leaves and should therefore maximise the potential for good autumn colour.
Having said that, abundant rainfall preceding leaf drop may dilute the sugars and therefore the potential for outstanding autumn colour. Other factors also come into play; a rapid and sharp drop in overnight temperature is more likely to lead to strong colours than a slow descent into autumn. Very strong winds, before the leaves have a chance to produce their autumnal hues, may scupper everything as the one thing that is necessary is for the leaves to stay on the trees and shrubs long enough for them to be shed naturally and not be blown off while still green!
If there is one thing that we have learned recently it is that there are no certainties.

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