We’ve been lucky enough to stay on in Normandy for longer than other summers (oh how I’m loving retirement!), but the climate isn’t very different from most of England. It’s been windy here too admittedly, but nothing like this week’s damaging gales in Scotland (sorry to hear about that, Caroline). Our big pond is very low, though, and the garden is crying out for a few day’s solid rain. Still, let’s get on with a few tasks while we are waiting for that to happen…….
STUDYING DIVISION AND MULTIPLICATION
I could never make head nor tail of these topics in maths at school – much to my sisters’ infinite scorn. But I know how to do their horticultural versions now all right! September is a great time to divide up your herbaceous perennial plants to make new ones or rejuvenate an established clump. Watch my little video to see how to make divisions of two sorts of plants – the ones whose rooted rosettes you can pull apart once you’ve dug them up; Heuchera, Nepeta (catmint), hardy geraniums….. and the ones you have to chop apart Hemerocallis (daylily), Persicaria, Aster, Astilbe, Phlox, etc. You can do this job in spring as well, but I like to do it in autumn if I can, because I can see more clearly where the gaps are in the border, and imagine what the divisions will look like in their new positions. Don’t divide grasses at this time though – they can sulk and rot in a cold, wet winter so leave these until at least March.
Now here’s an odd thing – you can sow a load of seed onto a bare patch of soil, and the resulting plants will IMPROVE the fertility of the ground! We are so used to hearing that plants of all kinds strip the soil of its goodies, and we have got to pile on the feed and the fertilizers and the compost to make up for it, but if you sow certain things onto that empty patch in your veg garden that will be lying empty till the spring, then dig the resulting plants into the soil, usually before they flower, they will keep the ground AND add nitrogen (lots of it !! The charity Garden Organic recently found that growing green manure can reduce the loss of this key nutrient by up to 97% compared with soil left bare!)) to help massively with next year’s crops. There are various seeds to use – any sort of bean or pea, Phacelia (scorpionweed), Limnanthes douglasii (poached egg plant)…but I am very tempted to go for the enchantingly-titled hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) – just for the name really! I shall sow it quite thickly, cover the seed with half an inch of soil, water them well and stand back…….
HONING THE HEDGES
September is the moment to give your hedges their final trim
before winter. Tidy up the top, to a line made by a piece of string, if you can. And remember to make your hedge a little thinner at the top than at the bottom. This allows the light to reach the lower stems and make them grow more strongly. You don’t want your hedge to be facing the perils of winter with a fat head loaded with heavy snow, and its legs all bare and chilly!
* It’s still worth staking tall asters, sedums etc. – autumn winds can be strong but with support, they will give colour for several weeks yet as well as prolong the season for all the insects
* If you’re thinking about starting to plant bulbs, begin with the woodlanders – anemones, trilliums and the like, which prefer a longer autumn season than most spring bulbs, to get established
* Do keep feeding and deadheading the container bedding plants once a week – let’s hang on to the summer for as long as we can!