Sunday 15 September 2019

Diarmuid Gavin: The autumn audit - it's time to get busy with that to-do list

August is all go for gardeners

"It's a good moment to analyse how well your garden is working for you and how you might improve it"
Colchicum autumnale

Diarmuid Gavin

August is a busy month in the garden. Growth continues at a steady pace with long hours of daylight and warm weather helping plants to increase in size, produce flowers and fruit or set seed.

Our vegetable plot is heavy with produce waiting to be harvested and the lawn is requiring a cut every five days.

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As a gardener, it can be hard to sit and chill out in the garden because there is always something to do.

The very moment you relax and open a beer or make a brew, a plant will catch your eye and demand to be deadheaded, supported, tied back or even weeded out.

However, taking time to pause and observe is a must at this time of the year. It's a good moment to analyse how well your garden is working for you and how you might improve it. It might be something structural - you need an area for outdoor dining or some shade for midday enjoyment. Or it might be making decisions about moving plants in the autumn.

I have a Lobelia tupa, a gorgeous plant with fabulous red flowers, which is getting bigger each year. The problem is that it's tucked out of sight behind some shrubs, and every summer I vow to move it to a more prominent position in autumn and then promptly forget.

This year I've put a bamboo marker by the plant, eyed up a vacant spot for it and have put it on my to-do list.

You can do the same with plants that need lifting and dividing - either because they are congested or you wish to increase your stock to spread through the garden.

There's plenty of cutting back to do as early summer-flowering plants start to die.

Some perennials have attractive seed heads which you might leave in situ but others are best cut away.

When I'm cutting back aquilegias, foxgloves and poppies, I usually open the seed heads and give them a good shake to disperse the seeds around the garden. Nature will always find the really best spots to germinate.

I've been trimming the lavender after its ferocious flowering, ensuring that it doesn't get too leggy.

And I've also taken the plunge and removed some of the lower decaying tree fern fronds. Generally, I leave them on until they turn completely brown but this year they're beginning to look a little messy.

Not everything in the garden at home is rosy... My roses, for instance, have been a disappointment. I have them in pots grown in compost rather than soil and rich manure, and they're underperforming - lots of spindly stems and deep green foliage but no great overall shape and a real lack of blossom.

Photographing them now will remind me to take action this winter and either repot into growing media they like or put them in the ground. I'm planning on planting some bulbs next weekend. It might seem an odd time of year to do this but there are some beautiful autumn-flowering bulbs that need to get in the ground right now.

Colchicum autumnale, also known as naked ladies, is a lovely crocus-type bulb that will flower on bare stems in September. I'm also planting some autumn- flowering Crocus speciosus. Together, these will give some purple cheer for early autumn.

Grow-your-own enthusiasts will also be preparing for winter crops. There are a number of crops you could be sowing this month to ensure some winter greens. Spring cabbage is one - sow in modules in the greenhouse.

There's still time to grow some veg that will mature before winter - salads and other quick-growing crops like radishes can all be sown now.

Top Tip

The autumn garden is rich with seed heads. As an alternative to shaking them to release their seeds in situ, you can also collect the seeds in brown paper bags and store for later sowing.

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