So the weather is unseasonably balmy, but The Sun is as usual predicting the coldest winter for 30 years (Elaine won’t have seen this headline, she pretends to only look at the Times newsfeed ….) and there’s a restless feeling afoot that one should be doing something to prepare. It’s probably a hangover from our Neolithic forebears who would be gorging on hairy mammoth to lay down a layer of winter fat and lining their caves with dead leaves and bracken. Here are a few jobs that will satisfy that primeval urge.
1. Bring the citrus undercover. My rule of thumb is ‘in by Halloween, out by Easter’. Did you know that the first greenhouse was made in 1619 by erecting glass panes around lemon trees planted outdoors at Heidelberg Castle in Germany? Well I didn’t until I read about it in the excellent ‘Gardening in 50 Objects’ by George Drower a nicely quirky book that would make a great Christmas present. Read my review of it here.
2. Plant out the last of your biennials. This year I am trialling foxgloves and have grown six different types. The Northern European species need shade, the Mediterranean ones sun. I have also donated two trays of the white form of our native foxglove to Caroline for her to grow on in pots for a friend’s daughter’s wedding next May – surely she can’t go wrong with these? (this is a genuine question, not rhetorical in any way).
3. Trim climbers tight to windy walls– particularly if they are in close proximity to your satellite dish – you don’t want to be sending your significant other up a rickety ladder in a gale on Christmas Eve to clear the undergrowth so that the queen doesn’t pixelate in the middle of her speech the next day.
4. Remove fresh algal slime from your ponds. Referred to as the ‘autumn overturn’ the cooling temperature and first gales lead to mixing of the layers in ponds, dredging detritus and nutrients that have settled in the dark depths up into the surface phototropic layer triggering algal blooms. These should be hooked out, draped over edge of the pond over night to allow any pond invertebrates to crawl back in then and put on the compost heap.
Well, stone the crows! Some good sensible suggestions from our boffin-scientist middle sister that even an ordinary mortal can understand! (We’ll forgive her the ‘phototropic layer’ , won’t we – poor old thing can’t help herself). Here are a few more suggestions of how to prepare for winter’s assault on our patches of green.
5. Give your rose bushes a little love. Take off the soggy dead flower-clusters unless you’re leaving them for pretty hips. And only leave them then if it’s the sort of rose whose petals fall off by themselves – life is a LOT too short to be fiddling about just picking off petals.
Pick off and dispose of all the manky black-spotted foliage either on the bush or on the ground around it (don’t compost it though – nasties like black-spot and rust can overwinter). Lastly, chop out stems in the middle that look like they’re crossing and clogging up the works, and shorten any very tall stems, or a ferocious winter gale can make the roots rockier than a meringue showstopper in the BakeOff tent.
6. Get picky! What on earth is the point of growing all those flowers, fruit and veg, if you are just going to let Jack Frost make mincemeat of them. So get out there, gather all your mellow fruitfulness in, (look at my haul in our feature pic this week!)and if you just can’t face one more marrow thingummabob, or apple oojamaflip, give ’em away – nothing says ‘Happy Autumn, dear friend!’ (Trans. ‘We’ve got too many of these’) more than a bag full of misshapen cucumbers, hazelnuts you can’t be faffed to crack open, and an inedible pumpkin.
7. October is definitely ‘Tidy-up Time in the Playroom’ – cut back the perennials that age disgracefully (resisting any urge to reference Caroline here – oops, it just slipped out) and neaten the paths and hedges one last time – winter is all about ‘Bones’ and ‘Structure’.
But as I’m rootling around in the undergrowth attending to these things, I love finding all sorts of self-seeded little treasures – hellebores, aquilegias, rooted strands of honeysuckle or Virginia creeper…….I can’t resist potting them up to grow on, or tucking them into the still-warm soil where I want them to grow. Ain’t Nature wonderful?!!
My sisters think I’m too clueless/lazy to do any winter preparation, but it’s simply that my worklist resembles that of most normal gardeners, rather than zealous over achievers…..
8. Dahlias – Neither E nor L are truly dahlia enthusiasts despite, lonely very occasionally sounding on board. But I love them. I’ll be lifting my dahlia tubers this month and, (pause for Laura to properly shudder) also those of my fantastic Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. How did I not know until now that you can overwinter begonia tubers? Like Lady Bracknell and lost handbags, Laura is appalled one should want to grow a begonia once, let alone twice.
9. Streptocarpus – another plant frowned on by E & L. Part of my October withdrawal strategy ie agapanthus, melianthus, and canna pots all dragged into the greenhouse, includes bringing my streptocarpus indoors from the greenhouse. My sisters’ patient silence accompanied my purchase of five plugs for a tenner at Chelsea two years ago – but with very little care (monthly fertilizer pill and watering restraint) surely they’re sufficiently spectacular to get an apology from Hinge and Bracket?
10. Paperwork – Given that I generally require instant gratification for any gardening effort expended, ordering now for spring is not hugely appealing for me, especially since snowdrops, chiondoxa and even camassias all look hugely deflated when they come through in dwindling numbers here on the windy Scottish coast. I’m going to wait until January when crown imperial bulbs become available… by far my favourite early season plant. However I have been doing funny little maps on graph paper of my beds and border so I know what the heck is coming through in the Spring. It’s a bit embarrassing when I have to rely on my iPhone app to discover what I planted just six months ago!
Now Louise’s Plant of the Month doesn’t need any autumn attention because it’s looking stunning now and will carry on doing so right into the winter months.
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