Growbag Blog

Is your October garden a war zone, a project or a piece of paradise?


Oh, how the Growbag tables have turned this year! Down in the south Elaine and I have endured ‘the summer that never was’, now seemingly being followed by a dank, soggy autumn. Meanwhile annoying little sister Caroline, ensconced in the Highlands of Scotland, has been basking in sunshine since April, a fact of which she never stops reminding us.

So, as we’re each talking about the garden tasks we’re currently tackling, mine will involve salvaging autumn stars from the rotting debris of a lost summer, Elaine is renovating an overgrown border whilst Caroline is no doubt still able to deny summer’s finale as she knocks back another prosecco on her patio (grrrr..). 

If you’d rather listen to our ramblings than read them, click through to our podcast – you’ll find the link at the end of this blog. 

My garden definitely resembles a battlefield at the moment, full of fallen dahlias that never got into their stride, and bedraggled, balled rose blooms, mummified in the prime of their life. But when the sun does break through, the valiant asters (we’re still permitted to use this term as their common name I hope) lift their weary heads and provide some nourishing nectar. They’re our feature picture this week.

So one of my jobs this week will be finding a space for my latest acquisition Symphotrichum ‘Vasterival’ (I’ve relented, I’m using aster’s new name) which I carried triumphantly home from the Chelsea Flower Show, thanks to the good nature of the courtesy mini bus driver and its other occupants.

Symphotrichum ‘Vasterival’
‘Vasterival’ survived the journey home from Chelsea so has already earned its spurs

With the rest of the garden, I’ll leave any standing spent seed heads for the birds to feast on, and the insects to overwinter in their hollow stems, but I’ll be clearing out any hopelessly prostrate fleshy foliage from the front of the borders, to let the light and air into the yet-to-flower star turns, the hardy chrysanthemums, who may yet save Autumn.

Hardy chrysanthemum
Hoping these hardy chrysanthemums will ride in like the cavalry and yet save autumn

I’ll also take a tip from the War Graves Commission (whose incredible work was recorded by Caroline recently), and spruce up the whole site by creating good clean edges and taking the clippers to the box hedge. We’ve taken a strategic military decision to bury our heads in the sand over the discovery of several patches of box moth damage, and enjoy this 20- year old cloud-pruned hedge for one last season.


Quite agree about our little sister, Laura – she just will NOT shut up about how well her Highland garden has done this year compared with ours – the only credit we can claim is that we planted most of it for her!

Wildcat cottage
So who exactly planted up your border Caroline? There’s a link at the end to the blog that spills the beans …

After the deluges last weekend, working in the garden has indeed been a messy affair here – the mud-to-carpet ratio is distressing. My own military campaign out there involves a disgracefully neglected border.. Now be honest, have you got a corner of your own plot, or a border somewhere, that you haven’t touched for years, crying out for re-think, or a complete revamp? Can’t be only me! You could go on calling it ‘re-wilding’ for another decade, though even that takes a bit more thought and care. Or you could do something about it now, like I’ve finally done..

The border is about 140 cm wide, had a gravel mulch and is backed by an old stone wall. Too many weedy spring bulbs, too much creeping violet and Campanula porcharskyana; I’d allowed ivy to have its wicked way with the wall for far too long, silently loosening the stones and crawling across the border. And sinuous white bindweed roots had taken gleeful advantage of my reluctance to move the gravel mulch aside and dig them out. So this last week, I shrugged on my rather grubby gardening fleece, yanked on the wellies, and marched into battle.

Ivy – brilliant for the birds and bees, not so good for old stone walls……

I raked off most of the gravel and left the rest to be dug in, then took out the few ‘good’ plants I wanted to keep (they are now tucked into pots or ‘heeled’ in elsewhere, until I’m ready to move them back). Now I’m working my way along the bed, methodically extracting the undesirables with a spade, fork or trowel, accompanied by lots of interested robins and blackbirds; it’s not a very long bed, but we old ladies have to be a bit more careful with our backs these days – slow and steady does it. Once I’ve reached the other end, I’ll dig in some organic goodies (rotted manure, leaf-mould, compost etc.) and I’ll effectively have a new border to plan and fill. Lovely jubbly!

It’s actually very pleasing to see the wall again – don’t worry, there’s plenty of ivy on the other (strong brick) wall for the birds and bees (as it were). Well-behaved small clematis for this wall in future, I think – where’s that Taylors’ Clematis catalogue?

Clematis alpina ‘Constance’ – could be a much better bet for my wall……………..


Yes obviously I don’t want to appear too smug 🙂 but in Scotland our lovely summer has morphed into a pretty decent autumn. While my sisters, and Monty Don on Gardener’s World, are packing up their soggy herbaceous borders and doing redesigns, my Cosmos, Eupatorium and Rudbeckia are still partying like it’s 1969.

What would be the point of wrecking my tenderly raised annuals, just so I can keep up with my sisters’ rigorous autumn schedule of dreary tasks such as mulching? No doubt E & L will now predict a litany of Spring disappointments for my garden, but personally I’m already looking forward to this view over the top of my G&T tonight. I won’t surrender to mulch stress.

My borders still look fantastic! No dreary mulching here, thank you very much.

However there’s no doubt everything is collapsing slightly. We might have the weather but Highland daylight hours are definitely in retreat. Despite looking rather messy, this is a definite bonus for people like me and possibly you. Numerous things we carefully planted in the Spring are emerging miraculously from the jungle and we now have a window of opportunity to prep them against the same thing happening next year.

Rosa ‘Penny Lane’ a feisty climber and now safely tied in after my neglect gave her a traumatic start in life.

I’m putting in the support and protection I should have applied to my new shrubs in the Spring (mainly to prevent them getting strimmed off at ground level again next year!) and my climbing rose Rosa ‘Penny Lane’ now has something to grow up after earlier being ripped up by a sheep and left on her on her back with her roots in the air.

Like most of you I’m also busy planting up pots of bulbs (mainly my favourite tulips – Princes Irene) as part of my winter mental health strategy. And on the topic of bulbs, did you see Monty’s amarines last Friday. Now’s the time to plant them and I’m tempted. Hardy and generally unfussy, these could be a late summer triumph for me next year and hopefully one that E and L won’t subsequently claim was actually theirs?

A cross between a nerine and an amaryllis, aren’t amarines gorgeous? Very tempted by Monty’s on Friday.

Please click here for a podcast of this blog – it’s a little exploratory so any views as to how we could improve our podcasting would be great! Email us at

Don’t forget – we have got some gorgeous greetings cards in our shop, and other goodies besides…………

NB Louise’s plant of the moment would definitely light up your garden in October. Click on the box below to find out what it is

NNB This is the blog in which we explain that Elaine and Laura did all the work in Caroline’s new garden

More NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

14 replies on “Is your October garden a war zone, a project or a piece of paradise?”

Morning…my Box balls succumbed to moth damage too for the first time ever!! Toxic caterpillars were crawling all over them and the smell was vile!! No wonder they have no predators…..
Against my better judgement I ended up spraying and picking some of them off…long arduous task…not sure they will ever recover. Sob !!

I know Elizabeth it’s heartbreaking isn’t it? Like you we have our patches a squirt of insecticide but really this is not a route we want to go down long-term so I think it may be a major removal job next summer. Trying to turn a negative into a positive it give us an opportunity for a garden makeover as we look for alternatives, which is always exciting. Best wishes Laura

Sitting up in bed with an earlish morning cuppa and enjoying reading your as usual lovely blog!
Thanks girls! X Irene

Ah thanks Irene, it’s lovely to know that our ramblings are bringing a bit of cheer into people’s Saturday mornings. We love writing them too, so it’s a win-win! Best wishes Laura

Thank you Ella! More than a little rough around the edges at the moment, but we are battling up the steep learning curve, and enjoying the challenge – mostly! Elaine

Thanks girls, love your blog, your banter and advice. But heh, this is the UK and i love it for its unpredictability which keeps you on your toes. Visiting RHS Rosemoor again tomorrow which is looking stunning. Prior to your winters Caroline, luxuriate when you can – cheers. Seasonal greetings and love to ya all.

Thank you, Scott. Elaine here – really glad you are enjoying the blog. I hope you are having a lovely time at Rosemoor today – it’s a long time since I’ve been there and would really love to visit it again – photos of it in magazines always look absolutely stunning. All the best.

Hello girls, I’ve just discovered your blog, and love it. I’m in the Highlands too Caroline . Looking forward to reading your banter.

Edwina – that’s fantastic news! Thank you so much for the compliment. Caroline here and I’m so pleased to have another Highland gardener join us. Perhaps you can back me up when my sisters become particularly patronising. Gardening in the North is not the same as it is in Sussex! Thank you for leaving a comment – it’s lovely for us to get feedback. Looking forward to sharing our gardening experiences together, Caroline X

Don’t rip out the box just yet. This year we also had a visit from the box moth caterpillars. In April out of 25 box balls I picked off 8 of the ‘critters’ on two large box. I quickly went on line and got armed up with Topbuxus Xentari and drenched the two affected plants. At the same time I also purchased two green box moth traps and over a period of 6 months to date caught 7 male moths. The trap has a small nozzle at the top where one puts a drop of cream wax (lasts a whole season); the smell of the wax mimics that of the female moth and this attracts the male moths into the trap. No other species of moths, butterflies or insects were caught – just the box moth which is easy to recognise from googled pics on line. After doing the annual box clip in August I gave them all a Xentari drench and there is no sign of any caterpillars. It is now thought that the caterpillars are no longer toxic to birds and at Ham House (NT) where the parterre was severely damaged, jackdaws have been seen daily polishing off the caterpillars. I have often noticed blackbirds, robins & wrens hovering around our box so am assuming they have been keeping the critters at bay over a long period of time. So persevere and good luck!

Susie Brooke

Oh Susie, what bright hope you have brought into the household this morning! We have fully researched the biological control offered by Topbuxus Xentari over breakfast and intend to mount a full campaign next spring complete with monitoring traps and pheromones. We have also given the garden blue tits and great tits a good talking to, telling them as we feed them all winter they need to get over their aversion to box moth caterpillars and start patrolling our hedge for them from early spring. Wonderful advice, thank you so much ? Laura

I am unable to open your blog on 16.10.20? However wondered whether you could advise me why my climbing rose which I train along the top of a 6ft fence is seriously dying back. After flowering I pruned it back as usual. Some long stems I could not reach have remained healthy. Was I too severe?

Hi Sue, Elaine here. I’m so sorry you couldn’t open the blog on Saturday – one of our frequent tech malfunctions! But you should have received another email 10 minutes later, which did work, so do see if you can find that. With regard to your climbing rose, it’s hard to say what has caused this, but I’m wondering if the stems you pruned are actually quite old and becoming less productive anyway. It’s a good idea to look critically at any climbing rose at this time of year, and cut out one or two of the oldest brown stems right down to the ground. This should encourage more new stems from the base to take their place. Tie the healthy shoots you refer to, horizontally along the fence (if you can reach them!) which will prompt more flowers next year. Hope this helps.

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