Well, this is the anniversary of our taking over this column and there is no doubt that much has changed for us this year, both personally and professionally. Familiar faces have come and gone and new ones have appeared, some with more than 2 legs in Sarah’s case! We’ll leave you guessing on that one… whinny.
But there’s no doubting one thing: the seasons move on around us regardless, and despite a very dry October until writing this week, our plants are telling us it’s autumn. The clocks have gone back, the autumn equinox is long past, and most of us have had the heating on at least once. We’re in full autumn throttle now. It has been a great year for tree fruits, including the apple and pear families, all of which are at their best now. Just look at the fruits on this cornus capitata – technically edible, but in our opinion, best admired rather than ingested.
At this time of year, it is very tempting to batten down the hatches and disappear inside with a cup of tea and box set (Game of Thrones anyone? No, us neither) or something more edifying (Cold Feet – yay!). While the best seasons for gardening may be over for this year, we should think of gardening as a continuous process, where there is always something useful and productive to be done, and things to enjoy.
Seeing as we are inside with that cup of tea, how about planting a little something to brighten the winter months? In November, we are a teeny bit late for prepared hyacinths for Christmas flowering, but if you are not bothered about that particular deadline, you can still plant them; they will just be a little later. However, you are not too late for Narcissus Paperwhites, with their immediately recognisable scent and a bowl of those about to flower make a very economical and well-received present.
Similarly, Hippeastrum (often known as amaryllis, although technically, that is not quite right) make a lovely gift; a bit more expensive though not prohibitively so, and they come in a fabulous range of colours these days, from greeny whites, through to reds and oranges. Pick a fat and firm bulb for guaranteed success. Plant in a reasonably snug pot, with at least 1/3 of the bulb proud of the grit-filled compost, and top with grit or gravel for a nice effect. Water very sparingly (ie hardly at all) until leaf shoots start to appear, then plenty of water and food for maximum effect. Voila, a lovely pressie for about a tenner. People often assume these bulbs are a one-trick pony, but Helen has 3 she has tried to get going for a second year. We’ll report back on how successful that has been later on. The one pictured was grown by a 10 year-old, so no excuses, anyone!!
Imagine now we have a dry, warmish day, and you can wrap up for some outside chores. Even with our favourable climate here on the Roseland, it is probably too late for dividing and planting herbaceous perennials (leave those until next spring now) but trees and shrubs are most definitely still a possibility. With both, even though we are entering a wetter time of year, make sure your new plant, or moved plant, if that is what you are doing, is well watered before planting and that the hole you have dug is puddled thoroughly.
We recommend mixing a bit of bonemeal into the base of the hole to aid root development, and some well rotted garden compost as an extra feed before topping up with soil. Firm your plant in well – if small, with your hands, if large, with your welly-booted foot around it about 6 inches away from the plant’s stem. We can’t ignore that we are in a windy county, so if you are planting a tree, you may want to consider staking it to avoid too much wind rock. Received opinion on this vacillates. At present, it is believed that a bit of movement helps the roots develop more quickly as an anchor. However, there is windy and windy, and only you will know your garden. If you feel more comfortable, stake it.
And while we’re on the subject of wind, there are a few shrubs that will benefit from a November haircut to reduce the potential for rock and therefore root disturbance and potential plant loss in strong winds. These includes the mallow family, particularly lavatera and buddleja . Reduce these by 1/3 to ½ now, and then hard prune after the frosts if you want to contain their size.
Let’s head now for the greenhouse, if you have one, or the window sill or you don’t. The greenhouse will benefit from a good clean at this time of year, to aid light penetration and to ensure any nasties find a new home for the winter. A late but virulent infestation of whitefly can leave everything extremely sticky and unpleasant, so it will be out with the dilute soapy water. Some like to use Jeyes fluid, which will certainly kill all-comers, but is a bit chemical for our liking. Make sure you clean hard floor surfaces as well.
We’ll then be ready to do a little advance planting for next year – many set off sweet peas about now for an early display, and also broad beans for some early croppers but watch out for mice! They love these when just germinating and now it’s a bit colder, our furry friends are coming in to look for some shelter and nosh. (Helen – they’ve already had my first lot of sweet peas….bah).
If you are unsure about which varieties of broad bean can be autumn sown, check the packet, or ask your friendly garden centre for some advice. Aquadulce Claudia is a stalwart. One seed or bean per cell will see you with fledgling plants before long. These will overwinter quite happily in a cold greenhouse or on a cool windowsill. It is possible to plant broad beans straight in the ground in autumn, but our experience is that the mice cotton on to germinating beans quite quickly, so unless you can be mouse proof, be prepared to share – a lot.
Finally, as we sign off for this month, don’t forget to harvest (and where appropriate) store your hard earned veggies. Many can stay in the ground and be harvested as needed (e.g. parsnips, swedes, celeriac, leeks) but others should be lifted and stored in a dry and cool place in a paper sack if you haven’t already – your late spuds, carrots and so on. Enjoy your bounty for as long as you can, and by the time we speak next, the Xmas trees will be in-store – aaaaaaargh!!