The autumn equinox has just passed and it is official, nights will be longer than days from now on. But don’t let that be a cause for gloom; the soil is still warm, the air temperatures reasonable and a little growth is still emanating from our garden. We really love this time of year as the colours change. The candy pinks, blues and whites of the summer months take a back seat and it’s the reds, burnt oranges, bronzes and warm yellows of the late show which start to dominate, not only in the flowers but also in the foliage and berries all around us.
What is more eye catching than a clump of zingy rudbeckia, lifting even the darkest corner, the ripening fruit on the crab apples and rowan trees, or the ephemeral reds and oranges of the acer leaves as they build up to their crescendo. And enjoy the colours in your greenhouse too – those pesky tomatoes finally had a sprint to the line and mostly ripened in the recent warm spell, and the chillies and peppers are starting to look like little rainbows.
Last month we mentioned the opportunity you had to plant some hardy annuals in readiness for next year, and that you could expect them to germinate within a couple of weeks. Well. We planted some cornflowers on the Sunday, and by Wednesday, they were up, AND they were outside, not even under cover. Two weeks later, they are 3-4” high. Hmm!
They will slow right down soon, but we might need to move them on before the winter, otherwise they will be very hungry in their little cells. They can go outside, as they are hardy, but as there is a bit of a slug fest at the moment, they will likely be eaten and that may be too dispiriting. Anyway, part of the reason for telling you that is that if you think are too late to plant these, most likely you are not – give it a go. Grass seed and wildflower seed also germinates well at this time of year, so again, go for it.
We are also going to trial autumn sowing some sweet peas, seeing as ours this year were an unmitigated disaster (curse those early summer cold nights), but if you do, make sure they have the opportunity to establish a deep root run. They will be much better for it. You can buy special sweet pea root trainers which are extra long, or make your own using a paper pot-maker.
Provided the ground isn’t too soggy for us to tread on (rain is hammering down as we type), it’s a great time to be dividing late spring- and summer-flowering perennials, either to create new plants for your garden, or to rejuvenate a patch that isn’t flowering so well because it hasn’t been divided for a year or five… Leave the late summer flowerers for now – they are still doing their thing, and the best time to tackle them is in early spring, when our (mostly few) Cornish frosts have passed. When you are dividing, always be brutal and cut back all the top growth, however ugly it may make your plant appear. It will thank you for it, as it can concentrate on root growth in the warm October soil, and not have to bother with the top end. Give everything a good feed as you replant, and it’ll get off to a flying start next spring.
It is also a really good time to plant or take hardwood cuttings from roses – not only in the weather, but because many retailers are trying to clear their stock for the year, so there are bargains to be had. We don’t really know why, but roses are one of the few shrubby plants that only really sell well when in bloom, even though they are perfectly viable from year to year. Maybe the sight of a rose bush in winter just has an air of melancholy about it…who knows.
Taking cuttings couldn’t be easier, but requires a little patience. Cut a healthy looking section of stem between 6 and 12 inches long – cut straight at the bottom, just below a leaf bud, and angled at the top, just above a leaf bud. The angle helps rain drip off, and reminds you which is the top. Plunge the cutting about 6 inches into a well enriched flower bed or pot, firm in well and then walk away until next year – it is unlikely to show much sign of taking before then. And resist the temptation to tug on it to see if it has some roots – that really won’t help! You might want to take several cuttings to increase your risk of success, seeing as it is so easy.
Planting potted roses is equally rewarding at this time of year, particularly if you’ve picked up a bargain – just make sure there is plenty of goodness in the hole (well-rotted as appropriate) and water in well, even though it may be damp outside. Any new plant needs watering in to help the soil settle around its roots, regardless. And planting now doesn’t have to apply just to roses – it’s a great time to add to your deciduous shrub collection. They may look as if they’re done for the year, but all the work will be going on underground, in establishing root growth. What a nice surprise it will be next spring when that new plant you’d forgotten you’d planted pops into leaf for the first time.
Also, it’s coming up to harvest festival time all across the Roseland and further afield, so don’t forget to take 5 minutes and admire the work of your local flower arrangers, whether that be in the schools, churches or village halls, and enjoy the fruits of the year in the broadest sense. We are lucky to live in a country with such distinct seasons and now is the prime time to celebrate that. Having waxed lyrical a bit this month, let’s see if we’re still feeling so upbeat in rainy cold November! Now, where did we put our waterproofs and thermals……?
Sarah Daniel and Helen Robins, Pengelly Garden Centre