Oh what splendid weather we were blessed with in September and most of October. (Sorry it fell apart for half term!!) We managed to re-seed an ornamental lawn in mid October and the autumn tidy has just started because the dahlias and geum, veronica and perennial geranium were still doing their thing until the winds. The compost heaps have been emptied onto the veg beds where possible and that has been a much easier job as the heaps worked well with the damp summer and have dried a little now to make them much easier to move. We make over three tons of compost a year so this keeps the old boy’s muscles well honed as he moves it by hand and barrow load. We always leave a good layer of the cooked compost in the bottom of the bin as this contains great bugs and bacteria to get the new stuff going, especially when the weather is colder.
Everybody can have a compost heap in a warm but not necessarily sunny location in a corner of the garden and I have lauded our ‘four pallets strung together’ method before, but it does work. It allows in air, allows drainage directly below and the removal of one front pallet makes shifting or turning the compost easier. The use of homemade compost means you know what has gone into it, you are not importing any weed or disease and all organic matter can go into it as long as it is not too large or is cooked food which attracts rats and smells. I do not put citrus peel or any of the Artemisia in there either as this deters the good bugs. Put your dried Artemisia in the wardrobe, moths hate it.
Last week I was honoured to speak at the St Mawes Garden Society meeting. I chose the subject of herbs. Now herbs may not be topical in late October but I think there is nothing worse than picking up a magazine or watching a gardening programme and they tell you what is looking good now. That’s fine but to have it looking good now you should probably have planted it six months ago. So talking about herbs now gives you time to start thinking about buying seeds for the annual herbs for next year and to plan the perennials. This is the second time I have given this talk and each time I do a bit of further research and there is a temptation to take up serious herbalism but I think I have enough to do at present! But I will find time soon to write in this column about companion planting. I use chemicals in the garden only when absolutely necessary and I have taken companion planting very seriously and it’s working well for me and many of the common herbs are part of the companion system.
I mentioned at length last month that this was the time to start buying bare root hedging plants. It is also the time to be buying bare root roses. We have a superb grower now in Cornwall not too far away from here and I will be happy to pass on details. The company has been growing roses for many years in Hampshire and have expanded the operation to Cornwall but are only supplying the roses that they know will grow here, because some will not. Many roses prefer 5-6 weeks very cold weather so that the roots actually stop growing. If those varieties are planted in our climate they spend all their energy putting on small fibrous roots in the winter and then have little energy left to flower properly in the season. So unless you are desperate for a particular variety and are banking on another cold winter, it is better to grow varieties that are suitable for a warmer wetter winter. This year they launched a new rose for Cornwall, sales of which raise money for the Precious Lives appeal. The rose is called Proper Job and is a deep velvet crimson in the style of an old fashioned rose with ruffled blooms and a very sweet smell.
To ensure that roses live well and for a long time preparation is everything. Cultivate as large an area as possible and make each hole big enough to take the spread of the roots without having to bend them too severely. Work in some rotted manure and/or garden compost or use one of the tree and shrub planting composts. No fertiliser is necessary at this time of year but remember to feed in the spring using a proprietary rose fertiliser.
For those who appreciate the science bit, rose food is a balance of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the ratio 5-5-10. Most good rose foods will also have added magnesium. If the stems have been left longer than 6-8” it is worth cutting them back before you plant only because it’s easier. Any shoots that are thicker than a pencil can be cut to about 3” (8cm). Always cut back to an outward facing bud remembering that the bud will grow the way it is facing and you do not want it facing into the middle of the plant. I still make a sloping cut, though I am told that method is now argued, but it is logic to me that the rain will run off a sloping cut, not sit on the stem. If you are replanting where old rose bushes have been I think the advice has to be, don’t! There is a rose replant disease and if you plant in the same place, only too often the new rose will die. Not enough is still known about this disease though it is thought to involve nematodes.
A product called Rootgrow which is a fungus which attaches to the roots can be used to prevent rose sickness or there is anecdotal evidence that growing a green manure crop first will prevent the disease. Whatever you decide, remove all the old soil and replace with new if planting roses in a bed where they have previously been. Plant the rose firmly with the graft just above soil level.
If you are short of an idea for a present for the person who has everything consider buying a bare root rose between November and March when they are cheaper and can be planted straight away into a prepared hole.
There is a rose for nearly every occasion now and you will never be short of a present!!
Many Happy Returns – a light pink, low growing bush rose
Birthday Wishes – a Hybrid Tea, light red, good for cutting
Birthday Boy – a Hybrid Tea, mid red with huge blooms with a rich scent
Birthday Girl – cream yellow and pink floribunda
Congratulations – a pink HT and prolific long flowerer.
Mum’s Blessing – a floribunda with yellow, beige, orange and green in the flowers
Isn’t she lovely – a creamy gold HT with pink and gold tones
My Valentine – a crimson HT, I know a man who bought a dozen plants for his wife on Feb14 rather than a dozen buds!!
Loving memory – large red blooms, superb.
Oh I could go on, Wedding Wishes, Special Occasion, Honeybun, Golden Celebration.
Little Rambler (a pale pink patio climber!)