Listen, I’m all for a challenge but opening your garden for charity in October? That’s a new one on me! Way, way back in April our garden was recommended to a local U3A group by A Friend (you know who you are!) as ideal for visiting in autumn. How flattering, I preened, that said friend thought our garden was interesting and attractive enough to warrant paying guests at that time of year. So I said yes. Of course.
Well, when other NGS Garden Openers are hanging up their secateurs and tea towels, here I am, pruning, feeding, sweeping, planting and baking. OK so it’s only 15 visitors but all the same………… Usually by now I have started cutting back spent perennials, emptying hanging baskets, lifting semi-hardies, but with Open Day in mind it’s a whole new ball game! Cutting back has been minimal, a balancing act between leaving on waning top growth and creating gaps in the borders. Normally I allow dead foliage and fallen leaves to rot down where they land in the borders, but as this just adds to the overall look of decay, I have swept them up. I realise that as gardeners, the group will understand the natural seasonal process of decline, but with so much still in flower I want to promote a sense of vigour and vitality in the garden. Still, to a certain extent it’s all smoke and mirrors whatever the time of year, so with well swept paths and patio, a fresh top dressing of mulch and some judicious deadheading, the garden should not disappoint.
In the process of preparation I have however been subjected to a deeply distressing experience from which I may never fully recover! Winky the Sphynx cat (bless her, her one tooth is never going to do anything more harmful than frighten critters to death) brought a live toad into the living room! I found her frothing at the mouth, the toad playing dead at her feet. On seeing me she picked up said toad and ran upstairs with it, final destination under-the-bed, hotly pursued by a retinue of fellow felines, with me bringing up the rear. David to the rescue, toad liberated to the pond, Winky given mouth wash and floor given the Wet Wipe treatment.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, preparations. Having started propagating perennials for next year’s plant sales (which includes grading plastic pots by size, with corresponding pot carry trays, for ease of storage, transportation and pricing – can’t you just tell I have a background in retail!) I find I have nowhere to put them during the visit. Can’t leave them out for people to trip over. Can’t just shove’em in the greenhouse in case visitors fancy taking a look at my Fabulous Tomatoes (more of that later). “I know,” says David, “they can go on the roof terrace, no-one’s gonna wanna to climb up there”, (not to put too fine a point on it, the visitors being somewhat elderly). No-one, that is, other than me, having to get them up there (the plants not the visitors) and back down again with ‘My Knees’.
Talking of Fabulous Tomatoes, my T&M Cherry Drops and Garnet, grown from seed, are finally ripening. I offered one of the purple jewels to David to try and, after wrinkling up his nose at it, murmuring suspiciously, “What’s that? Are you trying to poison me?” he reluctantly popped it into his mouth. His expression changed to one of pleasurable surprise. Tangy and sweet, he pronounced it to be the nicest tomato he’d ever tasted! Trouble is I am not sure if it was Cherry Drops or Garnet so I shall just have to keep comparing them as they ripen on the vine. They’re never going to reach the salad bowl.
And begonias, big, bright, blowsey blooms. (Ooh alliteration!) As well as overwintering my own tubers, I store friend Anne’s for her and I guess somehow the tubers must have got muddled up because I have one that I’ve never seen before: 4” wide orange doubles with red edges. Passiflora and T&M ipomoeas have climbed through the pergola, flowering right under our bedroom window.
But surely it’s the Wyoming and Durban cannas that will cause the most stir. At 8ft tall, multiple orange flower spikes, emerging from giant black paddle shaped leaves, have bloomed continuously since July. I was astonished to find that the root ball of one such plant, recently lifted from the raised bed out front, had easily tripled in size: it went in in May at about 4” and came out mid-September at over 12”. I’ve had to store it in half an old compost sack. So let’s do the math (as they say in good old USA): if I created 9 such divisions from three giant overwintered clumps this spring, then next spring I could potentially end up with 27 such plants!
Shame the visitors won’t get to see my prized dahlias (yes, they won first prize at our Horticultural Society autumn flower show). They must have been on my allotment for at least four years, never dug up, protected by a thick layer of multipurpose compost, and they too are record size this summer. Trebbiano and Fox Mix, T&M trial plants from summer 2012, have reached 6ft and have yielded at least 2 dozen flowers on a weekly basis with plenty more to come. I hope that the as–yet-unnamed dahlias in this year’s trial, now planted alongside, will perform this well in time.
Oh well, must get on, it’s been raining all night, the miscanthus grass is all splayed out at 45 degrees, the 7ft salvias confertiflora and involucrata (I do love a good Latin name don’t you?) are leaning dangerously, so tall that their stakes have become woefully inadequate. Forecast for Visitor Day not good. Still hopefully the cakes won’t collapse even if the plants do.
Happy gardening, love, Caroline
Caroline Broome has been gardening for more than 20 years. Having passed the RHS General Certificate, she has since developed her East Finchley garden into a “personal paradise” that she and her husband invite the public to visit each year via the National Garden Scheme. Learn more about our contributor using T&M’s ‘Meet the experts’ page.