19th October 2016
Autumn is arguably as busy as the spring, if not busier. At this time of year, the garden is being stripped back bit-by-bit to its bare earth. The raised bed bones are revealed as annuals are ripped out and wheelbarrowed away. Tender perennials, the salvias and dahlias, are dug up, labelled and then potted up in the greenhouse.
The salvias, such as the hummingbird purple Amistad and the huge, towering Macrophylla, will all be taken onto the roof to stay cosy and protected from the frost in the greenhouses, watered sparingly. Lots of cuttings from these parent plants are already in residence here, ready for next yearís summer display.
Iím also lifting the dahlias in the traditional manner. The modern scheme of thought, which is largely and successfully proven, is to leave the dahlias in the ground and mulch them with spent or mushroom compost. This acts as a blanket for the tubers below ground and protects them from frost. Iíve found that dahlias bloom sooner in the year if given a start under glass; here they are also more protected from slugs as they shoot into growth. Itís a big job to lift and sort through a large number of dahlias, but it will be worth the effort. The tubers look identical once the foliage is cut down, so while I can identify them through their last flowers itís important to put white labels on the stems, then I know who is who.
Dahlias are originally from Mexico. While they can cope with the cold, a wet winter can result in many being lost. They will rot if they the soil becomes waterlogged. Once each tuber has been dug up and labelled, they are put into a plastic tray and covered with spent compost so they donít dry out. In late March they will all be potted up into large pots and awoken into growth to be planted out again in mid-May, all being well.
The cosmos and rudbeckias would flower until the first hard frost, but they need to make way now for the foxgloves and wallflowers that need to be planted while the soil is still warm. This will let them root a little bit before the ground becomes cold and clammy. If they are planted too late many will sulk and they may even die, resulting in a poor spring display, so you have to be quite ruthless with things that still have flower buds on.
Bees are still visiting the cosmos and scabious when the sun is out. These are all young queen bumble bees who are building up their reserves ready for the long winter sleep that they have ahead of them. They will have mated with the short lived male bumblebee princes who will have died by now after their brief female encounters. Each pregnant queen will lay her fertile eggs in the spring after her sleep, to start their own hives.
The fox gloves and wallflowers have all been grown from seed, sown in July. Wallflowers are a relic of my childhood as Mum always planted them, as she still does, buying them as bare root plants. Bare root wallflowers are fine if you can get fresh bunches of them and are able to plant them straight away Ė otherwise if you leave them in a bucket and forget about them, theyíll become very sorry, limp yellow sticks! Around 400 wallflowers will be planted in the coming week and 200 foxgloves; alas, I wish I had many more of the latter, but Iím looking forward to a Beatrix-Potter-like display of them, naturally with broods of ducklings among their towering bee-cladded flowering spires!
The courtyard now has a new flower bed that runs along the Seconds shop windows. Itís really exciting to see it finished, thanks to much help from the maintenance team. Each sleeper has been painted with a black tar-like paint, and several pairs of my jeans bear the scars of this long job. Itís well worth painting the sleepers, as with protection they should last for many years. The new raised bed took 15 tons of top soil to fill! It will copy the planting theme of the other bed which was built opposite it last year, with lots of old English roses, nepeta and grasses, complemented with summer bedding and spring/summer bulbs. Itís a wide raised bed so Iíve put through its middle a narrow, gravel path then I can get into the heart of it come the summer, to tackle and cut flowers from its lush growth.
The hens have been helping me clear the beds as I go Ė now they must be kept shut in, as they find the wallflowers very tasty!
Thanks for reading - Arthur Parkinson
19th October 2016