Well here we are in October and into the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” as described by Keats in his Ode to Autumn. It is time to gather in fruits from our gardens and hedgerows and store and preserve them for the winter. Perhaps not now so vital as in years gone by but still a satisfying activity. In his poem Keats describes the beauty and bounty of the autumn season. How lovely to see the berries developing and the spider webs in the dewey grass early in the morning – a sure sign that Autumn is upon us …
I have had a real glut of tomatoes (Sun Gold) and this year I will be saving some seed. I don’t think I have saved tomato seeds since the mid sixties when I taught a class of 9 year olds mostly from very deprived backgrounds. We cut open tomatoes, dried the seeds, planted and nurtured them. These children monitored the developing plants with close interest – they had never grown anything before and then we harvested and had a jolly picnic on the school field joined by the caretaker who had watered them for us during the holidays. I wonder if any of my class are still growing tomatoes or indeed any other plants. We are reaching the stage when, unless we get some very warm and sunny days, tomatoes will be slow in ripening. Help them on their way by cutting out all side shoots and the tops of the plants, plus any leaves covering the tomatoes, this helps the plant to put all its energy into the few remaining tomatoes – and of course if they don’t ripen green tomato chutney is very tasty.
As we cut back some vegetation in our gardens we can start to plan for putting down mulch – a late autumn and winter activity. Mulching means covering the surface of the soil to reduce the amount of weeds coming up through the soil. It also increases water retention in the soil by locking in moisture and reducing loss of water through transpiration by the wind and sun. Gravel, cobbles, bark will all do this but mulching with compost – spent mushroom compost, or the compost you have made yourself will improve the structure and increase the nutrient content in the soil as it breaks down. Leaf mould is particularly good for improving soil structure and well rotted mature is especially beneficial on light, sandy soils. Be careful around the crown of plants 5-10 cms depth is about right – it will give your plants a real boost. I was invited to visit two lovely gardens in Biddenham during the summer – the owners were great “mulchers’ and it really showed in their displays. I heard a tip the other day – which I pass on – perhaps you do it already. Dig a trench at this time of the year and during the winter throw in any vegetable peelings of other organic matter (not invasive weeds of course). This will rot down over the coming months and in May, when the soil has warmed up here you can plant runner beans. They need lots of water and the organic matter will help to conserve the moisture. My grandfather always put down layers of newspaper in his runner bean trench as did we when we grew them on our allotment in the seventies.
I am continuing to feed my hanging baskets and tubs with a high potash fertiliser and I have now started to use this on the hellebores that I have in pots – they will be forming their buds any time now and I find this helps them on their way. Speaking of which – how lovely to see the buds that have formed on the camellias and rhododendrons in readiness for next spring. Amongst my many failures this year – well you win some and you lose some – I have had particular success with strawberries that I have grown in pots. The variety is Toscana and I grew them really for their wonderful deep pink flowers but then found that the actual berries were really flavoursome. This afternoon I have been repotting them in a free draining gravelly compost. I have also been tackling the ghastly business of washing pots. I used to be much better organised on this and kept up with the task, but this year they have just drifted into piles in my side passage way. I must try to clear the backlog as later this month the garden will be a hive of activity. My pond, which my son made in 1988 when he was 13 (it was his Easter holiday project after pleading with us to let him create one) has become totally overgrown and the waterfall has not been in operation for many years. It is still excellent for wildlife and although it is over a metre deep in the middle it has various levels and a bog garden at each end so that any creature that comes to drink can easily scramble out. Well this is the year it is being transformed and I will keep you up to date on its progress. The pond team are setting up a holding tank so that the newts and everything else can be fished out and saved. I hope you have had successes in your garden this summer and three cheers once again for our wonderful Parks Department – their late summer display on The Embankment is as stunning as ever and so up lifting.