Autumn is approaching and Rosemary Verey has some timely advice to ease the gardener into that time of mists and mellow fruitfulness
September is the start of autumn, when nature is having a final fling of beauty before quietening down for winter. And it is helpful to prepare a programme or campaign for your autumn activity.
We will be taking cuttings of our doubtfully hardy and tender favourites, verbenas, diascias, felicias, argyranthemums and pelargoniums. Do not forget the violas, rock roses, dianthus and fuchsias that are useful for infilling after the tulips are over. Most of our cuttings go on the mist bench, carefully noted with the name, number and date. If you don’t have the facilities to create a mist, put these cuttings in pots with a polythene bag over the top to conserve moisture.
Hardwood cuttings are easy. We have a well-drained shady bed where cuttings 10-12 inches long are lined out, with half their length buried. For an extra shrub or two put these round the parent plant. By late spring they will have enough roots to move them to their permanent home. Try ribes, spiraea, privet, rue, honeysuckle, philadelphus, weigela, hebes and willows.
Seed gathering continues into the September programme. Gather seeds in paper bags, then transfer them into sealed envelopes and store them in your fridge. Sow some now in drills and watch out for slugs eating the young growth.
We order new bulbs every August. Some crocuses, both species and Dutch, scillas and puschkinias and others ring the changes, and keep up a selection each year. Plant the prepared hyacinths in September so they are in flower at Christmas. Paper white narcissus are wonderful for forcing. Put them on the surface of a flat bowl with a sandy gravel mixture, keep them in the light, and they will be in flower in six weeks, sometimes sooner. Plant them at intervals so you have a succession and can enjoy their strong scent.
As your bulbs arrive, if you have ordered them by post, open the packets and stand them in a cool corner, preferably on a table so the mice don’t get at them. List them and note which bed they will go in. Over the years I have tried to keep each bed to a colour theme, especially for spring. Bed 1 has white and yellow, bed 2 white and pink, bed 3 stronger pinks with Tulip ‘Mariette’ and T. ‘China Pink’. Bed 4 has a variety of tulips in the purple spectrum to go with the hellebores and honesty. Our tulips are always underplanted with forget-me-nots.
Dead-head where necessary allowing some attractive seed heads to remain. Make sure you have enough mulching material, leaf mould, mushroom compost and Cocoa Shell (Sunshine of Africa) to cover the borders as they are finally put to bed. September is a ‘go-between’ time and you must be restrained but also look ahead. It is not possible to make a complete clearance in any border, but we take small areas where the penstemon or lobelias are past their best, dig and pot them and keep them in the polytunnel for next year. Your first tulips and special narcissus can go in groups in their place. Remember to label your dahlias before the frost cuts them down. Eventually, dig and store them for next year. You can also plan to clip your yew hedges.
Greenhouses must have their good autumn clean and disinfectant before the tender plants are brought in. We use smoke bombs to get rid of lurking greenfly and red spider mite. Paint the walls with white distemper and dowse the floor with Jeyes Fluid. Finally, clean the glass and mend any cracks.
Get into my favourite place, the vegetable garden, and enjoy the fruits of the earth and your summer labour. Earth up celery, leeks and cardoons. Lift your onions, letting them dry completely before storing. Harvest your main crop of potatoes. Pick all squashes and pumpkins and the remaining courgettes before the frosts get them and watch that special marrow you are growing for harvest festival. Outdoor tomatoes must be harvested, bringing unripened fruit indoors to store in a dark kitchen drawer – keep a daily watch on them. Sow more lettuces, oriental salads, spinach and parsley.
Your winter greens are important, so fertilize, protect and keep weed-free your Brussels sprouts, winter- and spring-flowering broccoli, cabbage, spinach and lettuce. You’ll enjoy those in winter.