An autumn garden reshuffle

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It was a good summer for the back garden. I enjoyed sitting out on the terrace in the hot sunshine, gazing in unabashed admiration as various pleasing planting combinations waxed and waned. How could any of the plants yet to come be as good as these tulips and forget-me-nots, I wondered in May, as the gorgeous twisted tulip petals relaxed into their fading farewells. But then the garden (with only a moment’s hesitatation) triumphantly produced geraniums, alliums, icelandic poppies and perennial cornflowers, peonies, foxgloves, delphiniums, roses, catmint, and its annuals (nasturtiums, gypsophila) in a glorious parade of bright, precious colours. Then the season shifted to late summer, and suddenly there were calendula, crocosmia, cosmos, achillea, dahlias, and persicaria, their flame colours now punctuated by a backdrop of green allium and poppy seedheads. Yes, I enjoyed the show very much.

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But come mid-August I noticed a niggling feeling that the garden was entering an early decline. Now that the best of the flowers were fading, there were no longer enough of them to distract me from the garden’s inevitable faults. Areas that lacked interest started appearing. The corner in which a host of white foxgloves and blue delphiniums had proudly stood last month now bore not a single colour or texture of note. It’s too small a garden for large patches of dullness. I went out and bought a Ceratostigma willmottianum for the bare corner, and planted it. Although it’s too small a plant to make much of an impression yet, I am hoping that it will look good this time next year with its gentian-blue flowers and red autumn foliage. But it wasn’t enough; other things were starting to chafe: an ornamental thistle that was smothering a rose, and nearby, the unattractive brown lower leaves of an echinops in plain view from the back door. There were some bearded irises that had failed to perform for the fourth year running, and a young sedum was being drowned by a surprisingly vigorous pineapple sage. (When will I learn to leave more space between plants?)

When I saw a beautiful billowing sedum while visiting Dr Neil’s Garden in Duddingston, it was the nudge I needed. How I wished my sedum looked the same: healthy, vigorous, enthusiastic, and surrounded by wafting perennial grasses. I knew the very spot I wanted to try moving mine to, under the arch where it would catch the full benefit of the summer sun and provide personality to an otherwise lacklustre corner. Of course, moving the sedum meant moving a lot of other things first. That’s half the fun of it.

First to be dug out were some foxgloves to make space for the echinops, which I split into three or four smaller plants. Christopher Lloyd once wrote that an echinops does the same job as an eryngium, and since the latter is more exciting you may as well plant that instead. But I disagree –  echinops is less startling, more subdued and graceful, and grows more upwards than outwards, taking up far less room. Yes, there is the problem of its ugly lower leaves, but if you place it carefully they can be hidden behind the foliage of other plants. In its new position by the wall, mine would be disguised by some geraniums and a peony.

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The ornamental thistle came out too. You could almost hear the rose behind it breathing a sigh of relief. In fact, I breathed a sigh of relief too to see it come out. Now with a few spaces created in the border, I fetched a potted camellia that I’d been wanting to plant out for some time. There is no point in keeping a camellia in a pot unless your soil is alkaline, which mine isn’t. After trying the camellia in various positions and looking at it from all angles, I decided it looked the business in the place left vacant by the echinops.

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I took great delight in digging the bearded irises out. I’ve had one flower (admittedly a spectacular one) from these irises in four years. I reckoned that if the stupid things couldn’t flower in the hottest summer on record, then they’re hopeless cases and need replacing. In their place I planted a hydrangea that my mother had given me. I don’t have many shrubs in the border, and I’m looking forward to the structure that the camellia and this hydrangea bring to the garden.

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Finally to move the sedum. There was a large drumstick primula (Primula denticulata) that had to come out first, which I planted next to my peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’. The sedum went into its place under the arch, and behind it I placed a little pheasant’s tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana. Both sedum and grass were gifts from Cathy (Rambling in the Garden) so it seemed appropriate that they should go in beside each other.

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While working, I was able to appreciate the rest of the garden: the cosmos in full bloom, asters and astrantias, nasturtiums, erigeron and dahlias. Autumn days in the garden are some of the most glorious. The whole garden has an atmosphere of quiet and calm, of falling slowly asleep. The birds are still singing, but less frantically than in the spring. The light is more interesting, but of shorter duration. Interesting things are happening to seed heads, to the colour of leaves, even to the colour of flowers.

After my garden ‘reshuffle’ the garden once more became a place I wanted to spend time in, to wander around and enjoy the changing season. No longer was I troubled by those niggles and annoyances. (I should say that naturally there are ongoing niggles as in all gardens; merely less urgent ones.) I look forward to next year, when the fruits of my reshuffle will show themselves in an improved autumn outlook.

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In The Garden: February

With this month’s warm and balmy temperatures, the garden has begun its slow explosion into green, starting of course with the snowdrops and dwarf irises, while narcissi and tulips line themselves up to begin their show next month. So, what is looking good in the garden this month?

Looking Good

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Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ in a vintage clay pot has come out to see the February sun.

 

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A surprise of crocuses, which I did not plant! I imagine they must have self-seeded from our nearby park, which is absolutely thick with the most beautiful displays.
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Helleborus argutifolus. I adore these subtle shades of lime and the soft rounded texture of the sepals.
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I planted a handful of ‘borrowed’ bulbs from our rented garden in 2015, and last year I divided and spread the clumps, so now this year at last the garden is starting to fill up. Nothing in the garden gives me greater joy to see at this time of year. I am not a galanthophile by any means: I am happy with old faithful G. nivalis. Perhaps one day I will splurge on some different varieties, but right now, these simple flowers couldn’t be making me happier.
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Electric blue Iris ‘Clairette’ saved over from last year’s pots.
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Another spring favourite of mine just coming into bloom. I have a white and a baby blue variety somewhere in the front garden and am awaiting their appearance with anticipation and hope.
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An enormous primrose taken as a seedling from my grandmother’s garden. It needs splitting.
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I am delighted to have spotted my first Anemone blanda, which I planted in autumn 2016 under the cherry tree.
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Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ making a surprise appearance at the back of the back garden. I ought to move these nearer the house as they were almost over by the time I spotted them in the distance through the rain-spattered window.

Jobs

  1. This is the month for sorting and sowing seeds. I stocked up on coir pellets (which I am using for the first time as an experiment) and washed out my seed trays and root trainers to ensure they were fresh and clean of any dirt that could have harboured disease from last year. I sorted my seeds into those that needed planting right away (sweet peas, Calendula, Cerinthe, Aquilegia, Nigella, Antirrhinum), those that could wait a month, and those that needed direct sowing. I had lots left over, which I packaged up to send to friends.
  2. It was a good month for mulching the beds with some left over horse manure, as well as some seaweed that I picked up on our recent walk on Tyninghame beach. I try to collect seaweed whenever I go to the beach (always the loose, dead stuff) as it is so wonderful to spread on the garden or to add to compost.
  3. Early spring is the time for pruning hydrangeas, clematis in groups 2 and 3, and certain other woody shrubs that flower later in the year. img_1902
  4. February is the last opportunity for clipping hedges before bird nesting season begins, after which it is necessary to wait until late July. Last year I had sparrows nesting in our privet hedge, so I took to them with hand shears instead of electric.
  5. Each year I grow a different variety of new potato in reusable deep sacks. I find it deeply satisfying earthing them up, watering them, and then tipping the bag out and finding all the new potatoes among the dark earth, even though our local greengrocer sells delicious new potatoes for far cheaper than I could ever manage to produce them. February is the time to ‘chit’ potatoes so I put mine in egg boxes by our french doors, where it is bright but not too warm.img_1901
  6. A general tidy-up was a satisfying way to spend a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, cutting back all the dead stalks and foliage for the compost heap to allow new growth to come through.
  7. Dividing perennials can begin this month if the ground isn’t frozen. I have my eye on a Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, some Bergenias and a Christmas rose that I would like to split so that I can increase my stock.

February Garden View

At last the front garden is beginning to green over with the fat shoots of bulbs growing in thick clumps all over the beds. Snowdrops are spreading beneath the roses and in small corners.

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The back garden too is changing: no snowdrops here, though I plan to spread some to this garden as soon as possible. However, many bulbs planted both this autumn and the previous one are making bold appearances.

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So that is it for February, a joyful month in the garden as spring begins to break through and cheer us all up after a long winter. I am now thoroughly looking forward to March, when the first species tulips and narcissi will be bringing even more colour to the garden. What have you been enjoying about your garden in February, and what are you looking forward to seeing in March?

Finally, can you see a face in the photo below?

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In the Garden: January

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Hasn’t it been a confusing month! While gardeners in some parts of the country have complained of the bitter cold and the lateness of their bulbs, those in other parts have been basking in clement, agreeable, if not exactly seasonable, weather. Here in Edinburgh, I am not sure what to make of the alternating balmy days of 11 or 12 degrees, and the frozen days of one or two below zero. But my bulbs are appearing just as they should, with Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, already flowering in some of the more sheltered spots.

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Looking good

The mild days have brought on some unseasonable growth from all sorts of plants besides the bulbs. Here are the brand new leaves, good enough almost to eat, of my Acanthus mollis. (As you can see, these clement days have also brought out the molluscs from hibernation.)

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New buds are appearing on the honeysuckle beside the front door and the Hydrangea petiolaris:

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And the raindrops look especially becoming on new foliage of Aquilegia:

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The Scarcococca flowered briefly, and quickly produced its shining berries:

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And the seedheads of the hostas are providing elegant hidey-houses for overwintering insects:

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But the stars of the garden are the hellebores:

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Helleborus ‘Winter Bells’
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Helleborus argutifolius

Jobs

1)  I have no greenhouse, and there is no room in the cold frame for tender plants, so I have wrapped hessian protection around my potted pelargoniums and alstromeria to ward off the worst of the frosts.

2) To prevent blackspot, last year’s hellebore leaves can be cut back and composted, allowing the new buds to shine through.

3) Squirrels just love to nip off the buds of emerging bulbs, and I have already found buds of my Iris ‘George’ on the ground. I like to paint on an unappetising concoction of garlic and paprika or cayenne pepper (but not chilli pepper, which can be harmful to wildlife) to put the squirrels off.

4) With all of summer’s growth dead and gone, now is a wonderful time to assess the garden and make any architectural or structural adjustments. I am building an extension to the brick terrace at the back of the house, and thinking hard about which shrubs to add for winter interest and structure.

5) I do not keep the garden too tidy, as a scruffy garden is best for wildlife, and though the jury is out on tidying up dead leaves, I err on the side of messy and leave them where they lie. However, where they are lying too thickly or have formed a mat over new growth, it is good to tidy up the leaves, and any dead or rotting stems that are not providing winter interest.

6) Having tidied up the garden and planned the garden’s permanent structure, now is also an excellent time to order seed for the coming year and make a sowing plan. I have ordered cornflowers, ammi, and sweetpeas, and will start sowing in early to mid February.

7) This is almost the last chance to trim hedges before birds start nesting. In the UK, it is illegal to cut a hedge that might contain nesting birds, which is usually from early spring until mid to late summer.

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January garden view

The following photos show views of the front garden in mid-January, as the first bulbs were emerging from both ground and pots.

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And a view of the back garden, which is still something of a building site, so I have cropped in close!

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So that is it for January, and not a moment too soon, some might say. Things start ramping up in February, with snowdrops and irises in full bloom, and pots just bursting with emerging bulbs. Which jobs have you been getting up to in the garden this month, and what have been your favourite sights?

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In the garden: December

What with low light levels, compressed daylight hours, and frantic Christmas preparations, December is usually my month off in the garden. However, I still always find time to observe and appreciate the garden, take notice of the few plants that have made a special effort to bring prettiness to a scene that is otherwise bleak, and take some photographs so that I can continue to appreciate the changes, however subtle they might be at this time of year.

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Jobs

What – you mean you don’t have enough jobs indoors at this time of year? Then pour yourself a mulled wine and read a book by the fire, you lucky thing!

Looking Good

The three stars of this month are: my Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, quite the prettiest and most cheerful thing and I wish I had more of them; and the smokebush Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’, which has turned the most incredible colours, large puce and fiery coins dangling over the side of their coppery green pot; and Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, which is leafless and bare but for several of its delicate blooms.

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Every week I look anxiously for signs of bulbs pushing up, but save for some enthusiastic muscari in pots, there is no sign of anything yet.

I will leave you with my usual views (none of the back garden this month – it is in slight disarray due to the very slow terrace-building that is dragging ever on) and a couple of my pretty robin who always pops out to see what I am up to. Just photos, Mr Robin, no upturned worms for you today.

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In the Garden: November

November has been kind to Edinburgers. We’ve had plenty of blue skies, no winds, and several days of good hard frost to zap the molluscs, as well as some rain to keep the soil moist. As autumn slips uncertainly into winter, every day has brought new sights through the window: golden trees that gradually defoliate to become stark against the bright clear sky, a lawn of blue-white frozen grass, the emergence of the first tiny Helleborus niger buds, and that most satisfying of things, a steady gathering of terracotta pots freshly planted with bulbs and top-dressed with grit.


Looking Good in November

It would be easy to say, ‘not much’, for the dahlias have blackened and gone, the roses pruned back, the sweetpeas and salvias have been thoroughly frosted, and even the Cyclamen hederifolium that have been cheering the area beneath the cherry tree are beginning to tire, though there are another few weeks in them yet. Yet I still feel a great deal of satisfaction when I look out of the window at both front and back gardens. All of the annuals have been cleared out of the beds, the edges cut, and the bulbs planted, leaving the ground neat and tidy for winter. My pots are neatly top-dressed, and indeed labelled (a first for me!), and arranged tidily around the edges. The garden is not pretty, but it is under control, with a great deal to look forward to as the first bulbs emerge.

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Gardening jobs for November

1) November is the month in which I plant tulip bulbs. We have usually had a frost to help wipe out tulip disease by this time. It is also not too late to plant any other bulbs that were not planted during October, especially those that flower later in spring, such as alliums and late narcissi.

2) After November’s first frost, the time is ripe to attend to dahlias. I wait until the leaves have blackened and the frost has sent them into dormancy. Those to be overwintered I then mulch heavily to protect against wet and cold. This year I am going to experiment with a layer of shredded paper that will be covered over with home-made compost. Those that need lifting (if, for example I wish to reposition them for next year), will be hung upside down for a couple of weeks and then stored in our cold back corridor in bags of dry material such as sawdust, shredded paper or dry compost.

3) I have just spotted the first buds of my Christmas rose, the beautiful and delicate Helleborus niger. Tomorrow I will carefully cut back the hellebore’s old foliage to prevent black leaf spot and allow the white flowers to shine through.

4) We had our first hard frost last week, so I made sure to lag taps and waterpipes with fleece, bubble wrap or polystyrene caps, and disconnect and empty the hosepipes.

5) November is the month in which I prune roses for winter. I shorten stems by about a third to the first outward facing bud to prevent windrock, and cut back and tie in my climbing roses too.

6) In October, I emptied my leaf-mould bin and spread the delicious, crumbly leaf mould around my cyclamen and hellebores. With November’s huge leaf-drop both in our back green and on our tree-lined street, I was able to refill the leaf-mould bin with fallen leaves.

7) Although the garden is now empty of flowers, November is a perfect time to get out and go foraging for all the best that autumn has to offer: acorns, pine cones, mossy sticks and berry-laden branches make beautiful indoor decorations. I collect seedheads from the garden too, but always leave some in situ for overwintering insects.

8) November is a good time to cover or store garden furniture. I have put mine in the back passageway, where it will stay dry and frost-free until the first warm days of next spring.


An embarrassment of containers

My annual over-enthusiasm in ordering bulbs left me short of pots and containers in which to plant them, once again. Thus I was on the lookout for pots, or any suitable containers I could convert. While staying with my parents last month, I found two old wooden crates, which my father said I might take away with me. To convert them into well-draining tubs, I drilled several holes in the bottom of them, then lined them with old pet-feed sacks in which I had made cuts for drainage. Each one was able to hold over 30 bulbs.

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Then I found these on eBay…

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…a haul of over 40 vintage terracotta pots, some bearing the famous ‘Sankey’ marque (and others looking suspiciously like B&Q’s finest).

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The haul included a large and slightly wobbly terracotta urn.

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I also planted a good many tulip bulbs in the ground around both gardens.

Finally, here are some views of both gardens back and front:

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The back garden, with furniture cleared away for the winter, edges cut, tender perennials moved closer to the house, and sweetpeas left in situ to shelter the Salvia ‘Amistad’ from the worst of the frosts. Christmas tree is inching its way towards the house…

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And here follows the front garden, with pots, tubs and window boxes planted up with bulbs, the latter to replace the ones still bursting with erigeron and apple mint once they become exhausted.

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In The Garden: October

Welcome to my new monthly In The Garden report, which begins in this glorious (and possibly my favourite) month of October. The cool, damp air is filled with the attar of log fires and fallen leaves, the daylight is dimming, the foliage in the garden is dying back, and still there are a multitude of floral charms to delight, thrill, and sometimes astonish the senses.

Looking Good in October

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One of the aforementioned astonishing charms in my garden is the mass of sweetpeas that still show no signs of stopping. I have more or less ceased picking them as the stems are now much shorter, and I don’t look at them too closely as in many cases the petals have succumbed to aphids, and are more prone to getting sodden with rain. But in these cooler, wetter days the stems are nonetheless promising to produce and last till the first frosts.


 

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Behind the sweetpeas in the back garden is a mass of Salvias including SalviaAmistad, its purple fingers growing on shoots almost as tall as the sweetpeas. On the opposite side of the path, ‘Wendy’s Wish’, ‘Love and Wishes’, and ‘Ember’s Wish’ from the ‘Wish’ triplet of salvias are looking just as good.


 

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My dalhias remain in full stride. In particular, ‘Totally Tangerine’ has been going strong since late July, and has not yet lost steam, while ‘Café-au-Lait’ is providing me with more flowers than I know what to do with.


 

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In the front garden, I am enjoying the upward-fluting petals of the Cyclamen hederifolium against the dark leaf-mould beneath the ‘Morello’ cherry sapling.


 

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While some ferns are going over, the new foliage of the bronze-leaved Dryopteris erythrosora looks fresh and neat against the terracotta bricks of the terrace.


 

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Ammi visagna is – just – clinging on and still providing pretty filler stems for my vases.


 

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The Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ has tolerated its move into a larger pot and is still delighting with its diminuitive, neat blooms. When they age and become papery, I will see how they dry.


 

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A plant that was underrated by me when I first bought it, this unknown Nemesia tumbles charmingly from its pot, gracing the air with its delicious vanilla scent. I brought a sprig indoors, and though it lasted only a day or so, the kitchen was filled with its gorgeous aroma.


 

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Three or four crowns of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ continue to potter about in the borders quite contentedly of their own accord, asking nothing, giving plenty in return. The perfect plant?


 

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Pretty window boxes of Erigeron, apple mint and sedum look set to carry on through till November.


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The second flush on my roses has dallied disgracefully. But I love these tight flame-coloured buds, despite their faithless promise of blooms.


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And finally – though I hesitate to put this under ‘Looking Good’ – three surviving Nicotiana seedlings eventually did their thing, one of which has possibly been taking banned substances while my back was turned. It comes in at about 5’9″, and I can’t say I’m delighted about those fleshy leaves blocking the light from everything behind it; I rescued an ailing alstromeria just in time from beneath its gigantic shadow. It’s going to need a compost heap all of its own when I cut it back.


 

Gardening Jobs for October

There are plenty of tasks to do in the Scottish garden in October. This month, my garden jobs have included:

  1. Finishing collecting seed from my annuals, including Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’, Cerinthe major, and Papaver somniferum ‘Black Paeony’.
  2. Spreading last year’s leaf mould on the garden, particularly around my Cyclamen hederifolium, which prefer plenty of organic matter but would find compost or well-rotted manure too rich, and begin collecting fallen leaves for next year’s batch.
  3. Moving perennials that need a new spot. Now is the perfect time, as the soil is still warm and they will have time to root into their new homes before the frosts arrive.
  4. Taking cuttings of my favourite plants, either those that are not hardy and may not survive winter, or those that I wish to increase stock of. My cuttings include osteospermum, salvias, French tarragon, penstemons, mint, lemon verbena, and Nepeta.
  5. Cutting back fading perennials, being careful to leave those that still have autumn interest. Sweetpeas can also be cut down once they are past their best, but I leave their roots to rot down in the soil.
  6. Moving any self-seeded foxgloves into their final flowering positions.
  7. Monitoring the temperature forecast and bring houseplants indoors on colder nights. My rule of thumb is to bring tender houseplants indoors once night-time temperatures have dropped below 9 degrees.
  8. Planting bulbs. I plant all my bulbs such as daffodils, irises, crocuses, alliums and muscari in October, but leave tulips until November or even December, once the first frosts have been.
  9. Turning the compost heap every fortnight, and continuing to add chopped garden cuttings, woody matter such as shredded paper and egg boxes, and kitchen vegetable waste. After turning, I often ‘mulch’ the top of my heap with a modest layer of heat-giving grass cuttings for insulation and a nitrogen boost.
  10. Ensuring that tall plants such as dahlias and nicotiana are staked against winds and rain.

And so before I end, here follow a few views of the garden this month. As you will see, the slugs have been at my kale, and the Christmas tree has yet to find its spiritual home in the garden, but good things have been happening too: my Clematis montana ‘Miss Christine’ is obediently, nay, enthusiastically, making its way up the arch, my Sempervivum has divided into about 40 tiny individuals (I am looking forward to giving some away as gifts), my new tool rack is doing an excellent job of keeping the tools neat and tidy, and my native primroses, which I grew from seed, have flourished into many healthy plants that I will be planting around the garden and elsewhere (more about that later).

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[Epilogue:

I realise it has been many months since I last showed you pictures of my garden. The reason for this is that I have been rethinking the way I describe the month-by-month development and seasonal changes that go on here, and it has taken me a while to come up with a tentative format. For a long time, I have been a fairly dedicated partaker in Helen at The Patient Gardener’s End of Month View, but I no longer feel that this wonderful meme quite does everything I need it to do. I fancied a change; besides, EOMV requires me to be on time with my photos, and I’m not a deadline kinda girl. There are other memes I would like to join in with, such as Tuesday View, Bloom Day and Foliage Day, but these have even stricter deadlines than Helen’s, and my opportunities for taking photos in the garden are too limited by my working week, the prevailing weather, and restricted daylight hours for me to be precise about days, or even sometimes weeks, when it comes to posting. I’ve therefore come up with a Swiss-army meme of my own called In The Garden, which will encompass a month-by-month view, ‘looking good now’, and monthly garden jobs. I’ll aim to post during the month I’m talking about: even I can cope with a 30-day deadline! I’m not scouting for joiners, since I realise there are enough memes out there already for everyone to be keeping up with. But if you wish to join in, then by all means do so, linking to my post and leaving a comment so that I can find yours.]