Once upon a time, summer was a hot season and was followed by autumn, which was cooler and then winter, which was properly cold (back when baths were once a week; Christmas lights didn’t light up until December and no one had heard of the jet stream).
But all that has now changed and we live in precarious climatic anarchy in which sunny, crisp autumn days, all mists and mellow fruitfulness, have been replaced by smorgasbord of remnant hurricanes borne on subtropical vectors interspersed with ‘weatherbombs’, (met office code for ‘We didn’t see that coming!’)
All this makes ‘preparing for winter’ slightly tricky. You will look pretty silly wrapping your banana plants in the wire netting and straw edifice that is apparently required, whilst still dressed in shorts.
But we are creatures of habit and once the clocks change some primeval instinct to prepare for winter hibernation kicks in and has to be sated. So no matter that the night temperatures are still hitting double figures this weekend, and plants like Louise’s Great Plant this Month are just coming into their own, I will be dragging in pots of citrus trees, my beloved Tibouchina (now 10 years old but still flowers all winter) and my collection of scented geraniums. Surely the most evocative of all scents, I can guarantee that for anyone who touches their leaves, the next phrase will be ‘ooommm, I remember great aunt Mabel/Doris/Gertrude used to grow these’.
I am more than happy to leave Laura swaddling tatty Echium seedlings in hessian sacks -sometimes I wonder if some people have too much time on their hands. All over the country, gardeners are dragging pots about and digging things up to protect them through the winter. Ovid said wisely, and with a nice touch of assonance ‘nitimur in vetitum’ – we strive after what we cannot have. In his case, it was mostly other men’s wives, I’m afraid, but for us, nowadays….an honourable path through the Brexit morass perhaps? Motorways with less than 10 miles of roadworks? Or tropical plants not at all suited to these damp windy isles.
I am lucky; here on the South coast, damaging winter frosts are pretty rare, and I can usually leave outside anything of borderline hardiness. Like Laura, I will be bringing in all the pelargoniums to over-winter in a glassed-in porch, as much to get them out of the wet as the cold.
Tempting as it is to leave the fallen leaves on the borders (‘nice cosy bed for the dozing perennials’ etc.), the colourful leafy counterpane quickly becomes a des.res. for trillions of slugs and snails, so it’s off to the leaf-bin with them, to rot down. Our small pond has its custom-made chicken-wire frame already in place to prevent fallen leaves from fouling up the water, the compost heaps have been turned, with the most mature one used as a mulch for some of the beds.
It’s low-level stuff, I grant you. Planting out some bare-rooted wallflowers, lifting and dividing a few perennials, sowing some sweetpeas seeds, feeling lazy but guilty about the shambles we laughingly term the garden shed and all the garden implements I should be cleaning and sharpening ….that pretty much sums up late October round here. The downside of our mild climate is of course that the weeds keep growing.
Well actually it’s been a little too inclement to prepare for winter here today – I don’t engage in windspeeds over 20mph. Instead I’ve been to Binny Plants to stock up on ever more robust plants…..Rosa glauca; Aruncus and Chelone obliqua. Be afraid Mother Nature, I’m squaring up.
You see I agonise over what to do with plants that need a little bit of nursing. For example – Lobelia tupa (Devil’s Tobacco). It’s done wonderfully well this summer and I love everything about it.
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