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The gardens in September and October

The start of Autumn

In many ways, the gardening team are even busier now than they were in August and September! In general terms, we do more physical work in the autumn and winter; cutting back borders, digging up plants, spreading compost/wood chips and so on. At least it keeps us warm! The nighttime temperatures are starting to dip below 10 degrees Celsius, and it won’t be long before the clocks change.

Nearly all the wildflower areas have had their annual cut back, and soon we’ll be starting on the hedges. Our turtle doves have now departed for warmer climes, and fingers crossed, they’ll be back next year. Large flocks of migrating swallows and house martins have been seen overhead, and warblers can be heard calling as they pass through the gardens on their way south. Tawny owls can also be heard at night as they establish their territories for next year.

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The walled garden

In the walled garden, many of our herbaceous borders still have plenty of flowers. Over the last few years, we have renovated/redesigned borders and introduced many more plants. This was done partly to extend the flowering interest from May all the way through to mid-autumn. Asters, roses, sedums, rudbeckia, helianthus, and repeat flowering penstemon are still going, and these are complemented by many varieties of dahlia.

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In October, we start cutting back herbaceous borders that have finished flowering. As we have so many borders, we make a start now, which gives us the opportunity to split and move herbaceous perennials. The autumn months generally means wetter conditions, and soil temperatures are still on the warmish side, so we’re able to easily move/split perennials without an awful lot of aftercare. If you’re digging up plants and rearranging a border before it’s cut back, you have the advantage of assessing the heights of the different plants and how they work together.

Perhaps counterintuitively, we take many greenwood cuttings in September and even early October; it’s one of our main propagating times. This is mainly because the wetter conditions allow us to take lovely, fully turgid cuttings that seem to root better. Surprisingly there’s plenty of new growth to take cuttings from (especially when you do a little gentle cutting back in late summer to trigger new growth). Right now, the greenhouse is full of many pots, each with 20/25 cuttings. We save space in the greenhouse by not potting these on until the spring.

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into the greenhouse

Many plants are ‘migrating’ into the greenhouse for the winter! These may be exotic plants, such as our Abyssinian Banana, or succulents, such as Aeoniums and Aloes. These require different watering regimes over autumn/winter, so they are best stored/arranged in the greenhouses with that in mind.

All summer long, we’ve had a collection of scented-leaf pelargoniums growing outside the greenhouse. Many had doubled or tripled in size and were still flowering in September. After taking lots of cuttings, we have now cut them back hard and re-potted them. Again they will be stored in the greenhouse and shown a watering can every now and then! The greenhouse has been tidied and swept before plants are moved in for the winter.

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We don’t generally wash any pots or trays before we re-use them; neither have we ever washed nor sterilised the greenhouse (we may clean the glass to maximise light levels). Spores of fungi are always prevalent in the air, so there is little reason to do any of these thankless jobs. What is important is to minimise stale or overly damp winter conditions in a greenhouse. These are often created by over-watering or over-sowing, or not ventilating the greenhouse sufficiently, which provides ideal conditions for fungal infections.

Autumn is also a good time to plant some edible crops in the greenhouse or polytunnel. We grow many winter salad crops (lettuce – Winter Density, radish, beetroot – Boltardy, spinach, mizuna, pea shoots and mustard Red Frills) in the polytunnel for cropping over the winter and especially in the spring. Sowing crops such as spinach in late summer/early autumn means it will crop for a lot longer, normally stopping in May/June when it runs to flower. We plant spinach and other salads in the long rows earlier occupied by tomatoes.

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