I cannot decide whether I love or loathe this time of year. There is that horrible bit when your best loved herbaceous plants that have given joy all through the summer now just look worn out. But yet there is the equal pleasure in cutting down and tidying the border, the equivalent of a spring clean in the house really. Though against that there is the drawing in of the evenings, that shortening daylight that seems to curtail not only the time one can be outside but also the enthusiasm for being there.
Couple all that with this constant dank drizzly rain (it makes my hair go frizzy) and I am torn between the fabulous colours of autumn with the abundance of hedgerow fruit and the thought of it being dark soon by 5pm! So rather than dwelling on the awful bits I try to find the good bits. That is the eternal optimist in me I think. At least we haven’t had too much wind and there have been some fabulously still days when up here on windy hill you can actually get things done without fighting a tempest at the same time!
I embarked on a new project in the last few weeks, knocking down a 1970s wall that had been hidden by and protected my ferns. We inherited this awful wall and to cover it I planted small tree ferns in its shade. This was hugely successful. Too successful, the tree ferns grew at a rate and this year I could see that as they had grown so well they were suffering as they emerged as they had grown to meet the sunshine on the top of the wall. The great thing with many ferns is that they will stand some sunshine (some are totally intolerant so be careful) but the time that they are most vulnerable is when the fronds are unfurling.
If the top of the unfurl gets burned they stop emerging and die off. So the ferns had to be moved in mid -September and the wall could finally come down. This created a whole new border in bright sunshine which I have planted up with lavenders which were moved in flower, complete with their bees, from a less worthy spot and interspersed with orange geum, darkest purple blue campanulas and hundreds of allium.
And that reminds me, I have allium of many varieties in a border in my car park. It has been much admired and so many people say (in the spring) have you any of those for sale? Answer usually ‘no’ they are always sold out as soon as I display them. Buy your bulbs absolutely now and get them planted into warm soil for a great display next year.
Gardening is all about forward planning like this and so many people expect instant gratification. Think ahead, you should be planning for next spring now, planting daffodils and all your spring bulbs, with the exception please note, of tulips. It horrifies me to see tulip bulbs on sale so early in the autumn. Do not plant them until November or you risk the dreaded tulip fire disease, the cause of so many disappointments just because they were planted so early.
But if instant gratification is your thing and you are currently admiring the nerines in flower in so many gardens? Go buy them quickly now, in flower in pots. Plant them at the base of a wall for best effect although they will happily grow in open ground. They are another of our imported friends from South Africa. Their leaves emerge in spring disappear for a while and then up comes the fabulous pink flowers in autumn; a fabulous companion for white chrysanths. Watch the variety that you buy. Not all nerines are fully hardy. The most usually grown is nerine bowdenii or one of its crossed relatives.
Now all that said, I have heard from several people this year that their nerines have not flowered. One lady has a thirty foot stretch of them, planted beautifully at the base of a south facing wall and every year they double up to give her more and more. This year, not one flower, for the first time that she can remember in ten years. The simple reason for this is their origins. Nerines are from the Cape, they adore wet summers and suffer if they are baked. This is contrary to popular opinion. Whilst they like the damp they also like to be free draining. So for the last few years our summers have been perfect for them. This year many have failed to flower solely because of the lack of summer rainfall. But don’t panic, those long hot summers may be few and far between!
Now is also the time to look for herbaceous plants. Many of the large garden centres will have stock that they have failed to shift during the late spring and summer when they are in flower and looking their best. Now they are cut down and looking scraggy the big boys in the retail market want rid of them and there are bargains to be had. Planting herbaceous plants now in to warm soil will give them a good start for next year. No instant gratification here, just good forward planning.
Start planning new hedges or tree plantings now. The bare root season starts in November usually when the plants are dormant and can be lifted from the ground giving you a much cheaper hedge or tree compared with those that are pot grown. However, the current mania for griselinia is an exception. That has to be soil or pot grown and does not like being transplanted. So those of you planning a griselinia hedge will have to pay a greater price.
New lawns can be laid whilst the weather is relatively mild and grass seed will sprout away quickly. Shrubs that need moving can be shifted to their new place, with a good root ball now.
Try some hardwood cuttings too. The shoots you need are those that have grown this year. They are easily identifiable as this year’s growth and should be no more than pencil thickness. Take the cutting as low down on the plants as possible as the growth hormones are at their lowest point now having sunk in the plant at this time of year. Trim the end leaving a cutting 6-18” long depending on the parent plant and the distance between the leaf nodes.
Remove all leaves or buds that are below ground unless they are fruit bushes. Dip them in fresh rooting hormone (it must be fresh, last years will be useless) and bury all but the top 2-3” in a slit trench outside in the garden. In a year’s time you will be able to transplant them and just think what you will have saved in growing your own hedge. The new cuttings when transplanted should be trimmed ruthlessly to allow them to bush out. There are so many plants that can be propagated this way now. Buddleia, berberris, cornus, cotoneaster, garrya, spirea and many more. If in doubt try it! (Or google it!)
Once the leaves have started to turn on your blackcurrants, prune them now. Remove a proportion of the old shoots and use them as hard woodcuttings.
So what with the final harvest of summer veg and fruit, tidying the herbaceous border, planning new hedges and lawns and taking hardwood cuttings there shouldn’t be any room for complacency in the garden despite the diminishing daylight.
Finally, you may have heard via that very reliable grapevine on the Roseland that we are retiring on October 31st! Yippee!
It’s a reasonably well-planned decision because there are so many things we want to do which are currently impossible to achieve when we are open for retail sales 6 1/2 days per week. I refuse to hand over to an assistant because the whole ethos of the business has become so personal. Therefore we will be closing for day to day retail sales but will continue the floristry business and the consultancy and plant supply work both of which have grown well.
It seems from our experience in the last couple of years that bar the browsers, most sales are done by email or telephone and we will continue that with the advice, design and consultancy work whilst freeing ourselves up for a little time to indulge in those things you retired folks do! You are always so busy! I also want to spend time on some very successful plant breeding projects and on our farm which after four years is now going well and taking up more and more time as I learn more and we are able to do more ourselves. We also wish to develop the garden here using much of the Nursery space.
I also hope to embark on that book which I understand we are told we all have in us but very few of us ever get around to writing. The plans are endless and I just need the time!! For readers of this column there may be some bargains to be had up here during October, there is no ‘everything must go’ sale because so much will be used as stock for the on-going business. However a general tidy up of surplus stock is on the cards. Huge thanks to all our regular customers, we are still only a phone call away.
Now get out there and do all those October jobs whilst the weather and temperatures hold.