Well the rains came and we survived the heat of the summer – now our gardens and our poor beleaguered trees can recover. I understand that, to date, this has been the driest year since 1976. However, I have to say that I have had the best crop of Sun Gold tomatoes ever this year and the sunshine on the days when it wasn’t too hot was lovely. Mercifully we did not have a hose pipe ban in this area and so managed to keep a selection of plants ticking over. When I was holidaying with my family in Cornwall during the last week in August it was plain to see that the drier weather and hose pipe ban in the South West had really taken its toll on the tree ferns and hydrangeas in some of the lovely gardens my son and I visited whilst the rest of the family were paddle boarding, surfing and coasteering. There is something for everyone in Cornwall! With the Autumn approaching now is the time to cut down the tomato plants and make green tomato chutney – always a favourite in our family. October is the month when most of us start to take up the summer plants and refresh our hanging baskets and tubs ready for winter. However, do not be too tidy in the rest of the garden, piles of logs and leaves provide winter habitat for overwintering insects and invertebrates and leave as many plants as you can with seed heads for winter structure and food for the birds.
I have been repotting my auriculas in fresh gritty compost mix – teasing apart the “carrots” and planting up singly in the hope that next spring they will be an improvement on this year. I brought my amaryllis bulbs into the garage this week. The plants have been resting under the staging in the green house since their flowers died in the spring and I gradually reduced the watering during the summer months. The leaves are still green but over the next couple of months they will dry out completely and hopefully will have a good store of food in their bulbs so that they will produce brilliant blooms when I repot them after Christmas – I will let you know how I get on. I said that I would report back to you on the garlic spray recommended by a friend as a slug deterrent. Well – it worked partially – my hostas are certainly an improvement on last year but I had to resort to good coverings of grit alongside the regular spraying.
The nurseries and garden centres are filled with tempting bulbs for spring displays – and I have to say I have succumbed to the temptation to buy yet more. We also eagerly await the packages of bulbs ordered many months ago. However, although one can start to plant most bulbs in October, please do not plant tulip bulbs until late November at the earliest. Tulip bulbs are very prone to disease and will do better if planted when it is cold. When they arrive keep them in a cool, frost free place for as long as you can. I have even planted them a few days before Christmas and they were still absolutely fine.
Ornamental grasses really come into their own at this time of the year and now is a good time to plant them. They are so easy to grow and their soft foliage wafts in the breeze allowing glimpses of other plants beyond. On frosty days they provide stunning structure to the garden. Whether you choose Stipa gigantea, known as the golden oats, Miscanthus sinensis, with its fine silvery leaves and bearing masses of upright feathery, red-brown plumes which turn to silver in autumn or Hakonechloa macra with its yellow striped foliage, red-tinted in the autumn and good for containers, I am sure you will not be disappointed.
On many late afternoon/evenings during the last couple of months I have had a fascinating visitor to my garden. It resembles a huge bee but with wings that beat so fast it is impossible to capture on camera. It hovers over the salvia flowers on my patio and takes in the nectar with a very long proboscis. I had not seen anything like it before and when I described it to my daughter, who lives in Cambridge, she said that they had also seen one in their garden on numerous occasions, taking nectar from salvia flowers. We looked it up and came to the conclusion that it is a Hummingbird hawk moth. Has anyone else had this visitor in their garden?
As we travel into the real autumn days and nights look out for frosts, take in house plants, clear out the greenhouse and reduce the amount of water for plants that will stay in here over winter. Have a pond clear out, cut down the dead and dying leaves of marginal plants and cover the pond with netting to catch the falling leaves, but remember to leave escape routes for toads, frogs and newts and check regularly to make sure that any birds that have decided to bathe have not been trapped.