Gardening Gardening 2019

Gardening – October 2019 – Helen Robins

As I write here on this blustery Sunday morning, summer is most definitely in the past for this year. If we needed any more proof than the weather, the Veryan Autumn Show took place two weeks ago, and what a display it was this year. A joyous site to behold in the hall, school and in the school gardens, wonderful folk music, sunshine, and people smiling everywhere. There were definitely lots of new faces and names on the exhibits (children especially, which was lovely), many familiar faces, but one or two old favourites sadly no longer there. The auction was as entertaining as ever, although the temptation to buy too many baked goods was overwhelming. Some cracking bargains though, and my neighbour has enough scones and bread to last until next year’s show.

The shows that have taken on the Roseland and surrounds over the last month or so may seem a little old-fashioned at times, and daunting for some who don’t grow, or fear arranging flowers. With some judicious updating of the categories (best exhibit I saw in the press – a Jacob Rees Mogg in that sprawling pose made out leeks and onions – classic), they could be more fun than frightening but still fulfil their principal task of being a community event where all ages can get together. Get involved with your local show and make a difference – in these divisive times, we all need a little more community. Right, off my soapbox.

It feels like it is time, gardening-wise, to retrench and put your feet up, but actually, it is quite the reverse. All sorts can be done now while the soil and air are still warm. We’ve caught up with overdue rainfall in the last few days, but still, all the gardening suggestions below should be caveated with “and water in well until established”, as this is the time for tops of plants to slow down, and the root development to be key.

This is a great time of year to be dividing clumps of herbaceous perennials, moving stuff, digging up seedlings to replant elsewhere or give away, and planting shrubs and trees. We are lucky down here in that we can get ahead of the rest of the country with these jobs, many areas of which have to wait until Spring.

You can be reasonably brutal in dividing herbaceous perennials (these are the ones which die down to nothing over winter, then reappear refreshed in the spring). The best way to do it is to dig up the whole clump, then chop or fork it into smaller clumps, cut off all the top growth to encourage the plant to focus on root development, and replant the healthiest part where you remove it from. Generally, because herbaceous perennials spread from the centre out, the oldest, most tired growth will be in the middle of the clump, so I would generally recommend discarding this. Any spare bits you don’t want can be potted up and given away or saved for the 2020 Veryan Plant swap/sale which will be happening in late Spring. See below for more details!

The exception to this rule is grasses, whether herbaceous or evergreen. Grasses simply sulk and likely die if you divide them now. Their root establishment is simply not strong enough over the remaining warmer period to defend themselves against winter wet. Leave those until late Spring, but exactly the same principles apply otherwise.

This is also the time to get in trees, evergreen hedging and shrubs (subject especially to the watering caveat) and similarly to move any you find to be in the wrong place (provided they haven’t got too big). Most garden centres are getting their new season stock in now. Trees tend to be grown in the ground, lifted and put in pots, and only when established in their pots will they be sent out to garden centres. Growers will be reluctant to lift in very dry weather so that sets the whole process back a bit. Better they are a bit later and in good condition, than earlier and with weak root systems. They will struggle to establish otherwise.

I am often asked about staking new trees, and advice varies. Generally, we are pretty windy down here, so to speak, so a low stake makes sense. It allows a bit of movement without wind rock, which again, will not allow the roots to establish properly and your tree is likely to fail. Mix plenty of nutrition (well rotted manure) and some bonemeal to the spoils from the hole you dig before adding it back to the hole. And trees must be watered well – a can once a week throughout its first year will serve you well, regardless of how much it has rained.

It’s a great time to get your spring flowering bulbs in too: daffs, crocus, grape hyacinth and so on, are all widely available now. Tulips are too, but hold off planting them until November. They don’t like the warmth and may become diseased and mutated as a result.

And don’t forget to process your crops. It is a shame to grow all this lovely produce and then waste it. I even made some rose petal jelly this week, and it is delicious. Costs only the sugar, a bit of lemon juice, and your time. And with a kitchen full of apples, I’ll be rooting out my chutney recipes later. What better occupation for a wet afternoon? If you don’t have time to process it, give it to someone who will.

So, that should keep you busy. If you find yourself twiddling your thumbs, it is also a tidying up time of year too, and many of our herbaceous plants are looking a little shabby. Shear them off, mercilessly, and add them to your compost heap. But don’t be too today – our garden creatures are looking for places to shelter now and squeaky clean doesn’t suit them.

A big thank you to all of you who supported and helped the Veryan Plant swap/sale last May. It was such an enjoyable day, and many of you have voiced that you want to do it again. So we are! May again, similar format, but some tweaks, we hope, to improve it. I already have tens of lovely plants I have dug up from my own garden, and all that dividing and moving you will be doing this month will throw up some spares. Save them for us!!

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