Whoa, it’s properly autumn now, isn’t it! Even in the south we have had some seriously wet and windy weather recently, but there are still jobs we can do indoors, such as drying chillies and planting amaryllis, so let’s get on with them…….
STRING ‘EM UP! We became very excited about our chilli crop this year in the new greenhouse. One called ‘Orange Wonder’ has done particularly well with dozens and dozens of small green-then-orange fruits with a medium spicy heat to them. They fairly glow among the leaves and are almost worthy of a place in your greenhouse or conservatory for their decorative value alone! (I think they are fairly widely available, and certainly Mr Fothergills sell the seeds, which I found quite straightforward to germinate).
A fun (and pretty) way to dry and preserve them is to thread them onto fine string or yarn and hang them up. Pick your chillies and wash and dry them carefully. Discard (or eat!) any that are damaged, or they may cause others to rot. Thread a big- eyed needle with 18″ of strong yarn, fine fishing line …or even dental floss!
Tie a knot in the end, and then push the needle into the top of a ripe chilli and move the fruit down to the end. If you’re a perfectionist, you can tie another knot in the yarn before threading the next fruit, to prevent the chillies from touching each other. I’m not, (how did you guess?!) so I just make sure that each chilli is pointing in a different direction – this is to maximise the air circulation around each fruit.
After you have threaded on quite a few, make sure that you have left enough of the yarn at the top so that you can tie up your chilli-string somewhere dry, warm and in direct sunlight for 2-3 weeks. In fact, wouldn’t they make fab Halloween decorations! Pretty on the plant, lovely on a string, deliciously tasty in food – a plant that just keeps on giving!
HIP HIP HIPPEASTRUM Do you love those amazing amaryllis flowers (botanical name : Hippeastrum) that spring from a whacking great bulb indoors in the darkest depths of winter? If so, now is the time to plant one. Sit the bulb in a pot of multipurpose compost just a bit bigger than the bulb itself, with two-thirds of it sticking out of the compost, and put the pot in a nice light, warm place indoors. Only water it a little until you see new leaves, then water and feed it more often (not soaking though – very few indoor plants like that).
You might want to put a stake in for the really big-flowered top-heavy types, and you can make the flowers last longer if you move it to a cooler place once it starts blooming. If you have kept a Hippeastrum bulb going from previous years, you should give it a bit of down-time now – it needs a touch of dormancy before it springs into action again. (Don’t we all!)
Put the pot somewhere cool – it doesn’t need light, so a cupboard for instance is fine – and cut down any watering or feeding for a couple of months. Then bring it out into the light and warmth again, cut down any remaining leaves to 4″ (10 cm) from the neck of the bulb, change the top inch or so of compost, and away you go again! Lovely!
COLOURS OF AUTUMN
I’m not one of those people who love autumn. I don’t have to have steaming hot weather, and I can’t remember the last time I lay down and sunbathed, but I can’t help sensing the melancholy air of October and November, as another beautiful spring and summer slip away forever.
By way of compensation, Nature (sister Laura would say ‘hard Science’, of course) performs one last glorious trick – magical luminescent colour! In leaves, in fruit, in berries…… so my last important task for you is to tell you to yank on a coat and go out there. Look at the stag’s horn sumachs, the Virginia creepers, the spindleberries, the Acers…….This extraordinary beauty is so fleeting and all the more precious for that.
Let’s allow the natural world to put a thankful smile on our faces, even in the midst of regret for the season gone by.
* If you have pots standing on a hard surface, it’s a very good idea to raise them up a little on small tiles or ceramic feet, to aid drainage and stop them waterlogging in a wet winter.
* The bare-root rose season has begun, and they are usually much cheaper than pot-grown plants. Remember to plant them with the graft union just below the surface of the soil.
* Clear up any shady areas of your garden, to allow room and light for the spring-flowering things to get going early and unencumbered. Remove dead stems and fallen leaves which can harbour a multitude of overwintering slugs and snails.
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