At the end of October we took a break from the garden and went to stay with our dear friend Sonja who lives in The National Forest (imagine small thatched ginger bread house in woodland clearing – no – small but perfectly formed terrace in Swadlincote). We left home on the Friday to summer’s last hurrah; two days later we returned to autumnal gloom. Knee deep in leaf litter everywhere; it’s all very well extolling the virtues of Autumn Colour (hushed voices, deep awe), if only it would stay on the trees! Gutters blocked, paths and lawns littered, shrub canopies choked, containers swamped. And then, do you let the leaves rot down to a natural mulch in the borders or do you clear them away so they don’t rot the crowns of your prized perennials? (Neat freak, clear them away, and then add somebody else’s mulch for £4.50 a bag.)
Acers on a spectacular scale – October 2016
Anyway, mercifully so far I have been able to sweep this year’s leaf litter up during the current dry spell. Woe betide it should rain, you take your life in your hands every time you step outside your front door! (Talking of Autumn Colour, some of the best I’ve seen has to be on the stretch of M1 motorway between Northampton and Leicester.) Autumn Colour apart, it’s the low light levels at dawn and dusk, casting their luminescent glow over the fiery landscape that gets me every year, just magical.
Coleus ‘Campfire’ & Hydrangea ‘Zorro’
In contrast to my androgynous gardening demeanour, Sonja, being a perfumery consultant, is a fragrant jewel! So for the first time in about 30 years I treated my feminine side to some perfume. And the point of the story is this: Wearing said perfume whilst sweeping up the dreaded Autumn Colour (and why not?) just smelled wrong! It masked the scents of the soil and natural fragrance of the flowers that I hadn’t even consciously registered before. How about that!
Now it truly is autumn in the garden
……Anyway, back in my gardening world, I was so excited about all the plants I was going to grow in my new propagator that I forgot one fundamental thing – to water them: Guess what, they all died! I am rubbish at cuttings, I really am, having always put it down to lazy horticultural practices. A brief knock to my confidence before taking another lot of cuttings (host plants looking a bit bald thereafter) whilst promising to learn by my mistakes. So we will see. However as insurance I have supplied a duplicate set (what is the collective for cuttings?) of salvia involucrata and confertifolia (sounds like a musical score) to the Chairman (Chair, Chairperson, whatever!) of our local Hort Soc, who is a veritable cuttings magician.
Whilst we are on the subject of my shortcomings, how many times do I have to lose my heucheras to vine weevil before I learn my lesson? Empty pots, add fresh compost, plant heucheras, feel noble. Simple! And why oh why do I put off splitting perennials for five years? A WW1 trenching tool was the only implement hefty enough to shift the clump of white phlox with a root ball the size of a wrecking ball! While we are at it, perhaps it would be a good idea to clean the greenhouse windows before the automatic lights stay on permanently. (The electricity bill has already doubled due to the heated propagators, and David’s paternal concern for the mice.)
flaming central bed & FUCHSIAfuchsiaberry
Really though I cannot believe we have reached November already. Whilst David is raring to go with his festive red berry lighting for the front garden, I am so behind with my jobs: so reluctant to lift the cannas, some of which have only just come into flower; have hastily stuffed & wrapped the tree fern (oven ready?) but must must must raise the containers onto pot feet, fleece the eucomis and bring the tender salvias under cover. T & M Crackerjack petunias and new Bidens are still flowering in the hanging baskets, half hardy annuals, tender perennials and my treasured ricinus are still in full swing but surely it’s only a matter of time before they are cut down by frost. I did succumb to tulips in the end, black Paul Scherer and white Triumphator (not sure, threw the packaging away, why do I do that every year?) planted in amongst the grasses out front.
Hanging baskets just keep on going!
I am so reluctant to get on with it all, as it will signify the end of this amazing horticultural year for us. But no doubt I will find something to write about in December but until then have a productive autumn and be careful not to slip on those dratted leaves.
The changing colour of leaves from the garden
Autumn can be the cruellest of seasons, lulling us into thinking it is still summer, with rays of mellow sunshine followed by a blast of the East wind, to remind us that winter is not far away! When the sun is shining it is tempting to leave the garden undisturbed and enjoy every moment, but plans need to be in place for the frosts which will certainly be coming at some point.
Although many plants are still looking remarkably good for the time of year, there are a growing number which have already fallen victim to the dropping temperature and shortening days. The leaves are changing colour on the trees too, and they are beginning to fall, especially if there is any degree of wind.
Preparing for winter, but some of the blooms haven’t caught up yet!
So, it is best to be prepared for the first frosts, to ensure that you are not taken unaware when it happens. Really precious, tender plants should be in the greenhouse already, although there is no need for additional heat until the night time temperatures fall further.
There is an excellent RHS app which can be downloaded free onto your phone or tablet, called ‘Grow Your Own’. It has a ‘Frost Alert’ which can be customised to your postcode, and will warn you of an impending frost, giving precious time to take further precautions.
Many garden plants are totally hardy, and can cheerfully cope with any amount of winter weather, whilst borderline hardy plants can be brought into a frost free greenhouse, conservatory or garage to overwinter. Failing that, they can be given a degree of protection outside, using horticultural fleece, or a mulch. Fleece sleeves, which slip over plants, are a quick and easy way to protect vulnerable plants. Fleece allows air to circulate whilst plastic would cause the plant to rot, due to moisture trapped inside. A mulch of compost or straw for example, can be used to protect the roots of frost tender plants.
Beautiful in bloom
Certain plants, such as tree ferns, have specific requirements and they need to have their crowns protected, by stuffing the base of the fronds with straw. Some succulents, such as certain agaves, can cope with reasonably low temperatures, but need to be kept dry to prevent root rot.
Dahlias and cannas can be left in the ground until the first frost, when their foliage will be blackened. They should then be dug up, and excess soil removed from around the tubers. These can then be stored in a dry frost free place until they can be brought into growth again next spring.
There are inevitably some sacrificial plants, usually annuals, as it is not always practical or possible to ‘save’ everything from the rigours of the winter, and, indeed, there are many plants which are better grown afresh every season.
It is possible to get the majority of tender plants safely through the winter, but this depends on a little planning and preparation.
You can find me at www.hoehoegrow.co.uk
Hoe hoe grow
See my biog for more about me! J.
Potatoes are one of the easiest things to grow when you get your first plot of land for cropping. The early potatoes grow fairly quickly, in approximately 10 weeks. Check our Potato Selector Guide to find out which variety is the best one for you, and don’t forget it depends on the time of year you are growing them too. You also need to decide if you want to grow in bags, or in the ground. Potato ‘Rocket’ is a good first early. It has good all round disease resistance and can be grown in bags or in the ground.
Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser
Once you have decided where you are planting your potatoes, you need to prepare the ground or get the bags and compost, you can buy a Patio Potato Growing Kit which has all you will need for this choice. For comprehensive instruction on growing potatoes in bags, see our guide. If you want to see the difference between growing in the ground or bags then read Sue’s (very unscientific) potato trials.
Potato ‘Rocket’ grown & cooked
When growing in the ground potatoes are not too fussy on soil type. An acidic soil is preferable but not essential; add sulphur to the tops of the potato ridge if the soil is alkaline. This will deter skin blemishes like Common Scab that is a problem in alkaline conditions. You can get a kit to tell you the type of soil you have. Choose an open position in full sun on fertile, well drained soil. Avoid soil where potatoes have grown for two years in succession, as this will increase the risk of disease. Begin preparing the planting site well in advance. A couple of months before planting is ideal to allow the soil to settle. Remove all weeds and dig the site thoroughly and deeply, lifting out any large stones, and incorporating plenty of well rotted organic matter like leaf mould and high potash fertiliser.
Ph tester kit & potato growing bags
When your potatoes arrive you will need to ‘chit’ them. This is essentially just growing shoots out of the tubers prior to planting. The benefit is they will produce faster growth and heavier crops. Do it as soon as you get them. Remove packaging; lay them out in a cool bright, frost-free position. Pop them in egg boxes or seed trays; you will notice that the immature shoots are all at one end (called the rose end). Place the potatoes with this end facing upwards. By the time that you are ready to plant them, they will have produced shoots up to 25mm (1″) in length.
Remember seed potatoes (tubers) can be cut if they have shoots at both ends, this will make 2 tubers, so you will get more potatoes from your crop.
Plant your first earlies in February; you will need to dig a trench to a depth of about 10cm (4″) and place the seed potatoes into the trench with the rose end facing upwards. Fill the trench with soil to cover the potatoes. The potash fertiliser purchased at the beginning of the year, which you added to the ground, is fine to put over the top of the trench.
Potato sacks – paper & hessian
It is important to ‘earth up’ potato crops as the shoots emerge above ground, to protect them from frosts which blacken the shoots and delays production. Simply draw some soil over the top of the shoots to cover them again. first early crops need plenty of water during prolonged dry weather especially when tubers are starting to form. When the stems reach a height of 23cm (9″) above ground they should be earthed up again to prevent tubers near to the soil surface from turning green.
Plannting and lifting guide times
Start to harvest first earlies as ‘new potatoes;’ when the plants begin to flower, approximately 10 weeks from planting around late May. Tubers will generally become larger the longer their growing period. It is worth having a gentle dig below the surface to check the potato sizes – if they’re too small simply leave them for another week or so, otherwise lift them and enjoy!
After harvesting, leave the tubers on the soil surface for a few hours to dry and cure the skin. Once dry store them in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, cool but frost free place. Avoid storing in polythene bags as potatoes will ‘sweat’ and rot.
Then all you have to do is enjoy them!
Pack size info: 1kg equates to approximately 15 potato tubers of grade 35:55.
Having had an unexpected rest from gardening due to a chest infection that has now lasted for around 6 weeks, and a computer crash following an update! Which ended up at the repairers for around nine days. Thankfully I am now starting to recover and have managed to cut back old plants that were overdue and cleaning out pots. As I had to leave a lot of the work I noticed that plants seem to be having a second round of flowering – I guess you never give up learning especially when it comes to gardening.
Clematis’ 3rd flowering of the season & unnamed trial fuchsia
While clearing through some drawers during my enforced rest I found an old note book I had for my gardening in 1995! I had left notes to myself reminding me about getting fresh compost and not old bags because I had had a bad experience that year losing several plants. Also notes about cutting fuchsias and burying them until the spring amongst many other good ideas which obviously I took to heart as I seem to be doing them up to now..
1995 notepad & part of the container garden
With the weather cooling down quickly and leaves turning on my hydrangeas I noticed two Calla Lilies which have been in the garden for four years and have got to this stage in bud. Now that a lot of the other plants have finished they are taking pride of place, and yesterday (last week October) discovered that one of them has now flowered. FUCHSIA FuchsiaBerry has had a lot of fruit. I have tried them a couple of times and they taste quite smooth almost the texture of a cherry.
Still flowering laurentia & an unnamed trial antirrhinum
The Strawberry ‘Irresistible’ which I trialled about four years ago from Thompson and Morgan is producing fruit for the second time this year. The double antirrhinums, Sun Diascia ‘Eternal Flame’ and the three unnamed trial plants from this year – unnamed bidens, fuchsia and trailing antirrhinum are all pictured here. The latter, a peachy pink colour – have been flowering for the whole season. I wonder if they have been named yet?
In September I received an Invitation to attend the Bournemouth in Bloom presentations, thankfully Alan and I were well enough to attend. What a big surprise when I discovered I had won the Gold Award and overall winner for my Container Garden and Silver award for my Hanging Basket and Patio garden. I was thrilled to bits and thank you Wendie Alexander for the lovely piece on Facebook.
Bournemouth in Bloom awards & Strawberry ‘Irrestitible’
This year I have planted up some plants for the winter. We are usually visiting my Sister in California through October/November not getting home until the beginning of December, then of course we are into Christmas, so I have already planted tulips ready for the spring and thought that I would plant the daffodils in the garden so it doesn`t look so bare and then they can establish without much help.
Autumn colour & diascia’s 2nd flowering
Alan has been busy taking the watering system out of the front and drying the computer timer, taking the battery out and storing for next year. I usually throw the battery away as you can`t tell how much power is in it and it has been working for over five months. We leave the watering system in place in the back garden just putting the timer away as it is more sheltered than the front. My two tier stands have been taken down and sprayed with protective oil and the baskets cleaned and put away until next year. I take all the chains off the baskets and spray them, then hang them in my shed.
Calla Lilly & useful notes in 1995 notepad
Now is the time to start thinking about next year`s plants etc and look forward to the new spring/summer catalogue from Thompson & Morgan so the dark evenings will be used thumbing through the catalogues…and then of course there is Christmas. I have just received the Christmas catalogue from Thompson & Morgan and they have some wonderful flowers/plants in there, must start planning for some of them!!
Autumn tones & Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’
Hope all my gardening friends are keeping healthy and enjoying the autumn, take care until the next time………………….Jean
Geoff Stonebanks, one of the customer trial panelists and owner of the multi-award winning garden, Driftwood, in Bishopstone, Sussex, has had a very successful gardening year. He’s just scored a trio of triumphs in 2016.
In the November issue of a national gardening magazine his garden was judged to be a finalist and runner-up in their Garden of the Year Awards 2016 competition, in the small space category. After receiving hundreds of entries nationwide. This, coupled with Geoff and Driftwood’s appearance on the popular Gardeners’ World TV programme, back in September, and the photo shoot in June for an 8-page feature about the garden in the national lifestyle magazine Coast, next summer, has enabled Geoff to have the best year ever, since first opening his garden gate back in 2009. Not to mention of course the £15,000 raised for charity this summer alone bringing the garden total to £76,000. Geoff has been a member of the customer trial panel since 2012 and has trialled over 100 different products in that time. Many of them were on show this summer for the photo shoots and judging.
Verbena bonariensis and pinks
Geoff comments; ” I saw the competition advertised back in May and thought I’d give it a go. All I had to do was submit 8 pictures of the garden and complete a questionnaire answering specific questions, ranging from how I created the garden to the challenges and obstacles I had to overcome.” He went on to say, “I was utterly amazed to find out in late July that it had been shortlisted in the small space category and would be photographed before the final judging.”
When the magazine editor telephoned Geoff to tell him he was the runner-up, she said “Your entry was always a real stand-out and genuinely was knocking on the door for the top prize all the way. It will be such a pleasure to share more pictures of your garden with our readers over the coming months.”
Geoff was interviewed on BBC Sussex recently, along with the editor, who explained to listeners that the competition set out to look for clever solutions and the ability to make something of unique and difficult spaces.
Geoff’s garden with Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta.’ Film crew from Gardener’s World
Needless to say, Geoff is thrilled and tells us the magazine will be featuring more of his garden in their April 2017 issue. Not only that, he can now choose up to £250 worth of garden equipment from the competition sponsors catalogue.
Then, back in September the garden was featured in a 6-minute film on Gardeners’ World too. The show had been looking at inspired planting and design in a series of small gardens and spent the day filming in late August. Geoff was able to take the presenter around the garden and talk about the different garden rooms. You can clearly see the T&M Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta’ and lilac in the foreground of the picture of Geoff on camera along with the Thompson & Morgan Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea ‘Superba’ he won for blog of the month earlier in the year, sticking up behind the fig leaves.
Birds eye view of Driftwood garden
Driftwood is set to open 14 times in 2017 and full details can be found at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk Look out for the feature next summer in Coast magazine too!
So why not make a date to visit and see both the garden and the many Thompson & Morgan plants on show for yourselves. Private visits can also be made for lunch or afternoon tea in the garden.