The gardening year is getting near the end but there is still plenty to do.
In the vegetable garden most crops will be finishing but cabbages, parsnips and leeks will stand through much of the winter. The remains of the plants that have done their bit need to be cleared away and put on the compost heap (You have got one haven’t you?). If you have got a shredder the debris of runner beans and sweet corn will rot down much better if shredded. Clear the ground of weeds and, if the soil is not wet, start the winter digging. Leave it roughly dug and let the frost break it down. Any remaining outdoor tomatoes should be picked and ripened indoors, or make some green chutney. Tomatoes under glass will probably keep ripening through November. If you have grown herbs try potting up plants like basil and parsley and put them on a window sill.
There have been reports of unusually cold nights in September in some parts of the country but frost is a real possibility any time from the beginning of October and frost tender plants should be brought indoors. That includes pelargonium (geranium) and most fuschias. Dahlias can be left to enjoy as long as possible until the foliage has been blackened by frost. The big question then arises. Will you leave them in the ground or bring them indoors? There is a risk of losing plants either way and the best course is to hedge your bets and do a bit of both. Either way, plants should be cut down to leave a few inches of the main stems. If they are staying in the ground mulch them with garden compost to a height of around nine inches. If brought indoors put them upside down for a few days to drain any water. I think it is then best to ‘plant’ them in a pot or wooden box with compost, either from the garden or a commercial potting compost. Start watering them sparingly from, say, February.
If you are thinking of growing sweet peas you can start now. The earliest blooms come from October sown plants. Start them in a cold greenhouse or a cold frame and, ideally, use special sweet pea pots that are narrower and taller than standard pots, and not reusable. The old way was to chip a tiny piece out of the hard seed covering but this is not thought necessary now. Some people like to soak them overnight and others don’t bother.
The flower borders may benefit from some weeding and tidying but leave any major cutting back until February. Birds and insects will enjoy what you leave and dead foliage and seed heads, especially grasses can look very attractive covered with frost and back-lit against a low sun. If you have got a garden pond cut down foliage to just above the water level and net the pond to keep out fallen leaves.
This has been a terrible year for fruit for most people. Strawberries were a wash out. I have had one plum, a few dessert apples and not much prospect of any pears. I hope there will be a few cooking apples. Apples and pears are ripe if they come off in your hand when you lift them. It shouldn’t be necessary to snap them off.
Bedfordshire is not the best county for autumn colour but it is worth making an effort to see something of the beauty of this time of year. Try the beech woods on the Chiltern Hills (the National Trust Ashridge estate near Berkhamsted is a lovely place) or visit an arboretum even if it involves a bit of a journey. Westonbirt near Tetbury or Batsford near Moreton-in- the- Marsh, both in Gloucestershire, or Winkworth near Godalming in Surrey are within reach on a day’s outing.
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