Clearing leaves and tidying up in the garden can be quite time consuming but it does give you the chance to ponder things you may be thinking of trying or changes to parts of the garden. I often find myself daydreaming about planting combinations or features in the garden I am not happy with, particularly on a warm autumn day as the sun shines through the trees casting shadows and highlighting the incredible colour combinations of leaves and stems. As the rich cloak of autumn begins to fade the dramatic naked structure of trees and shrubs dominates, revealing the bare bones of the garden. It’s at this time of year when you can truly see the shape and scale of your plot and work out where areas are lacking or where a new feature can be introduced.
I have always been quite inquisitive searching out new ways to grow or display plants and like to read up about all the new ways of gardening. ‘Dig’ or ‘No-Dig’ is just one of these more recent principles whereby certain gardeners are saying that there is no need to dig and in fact it is better not to. The good thing about gardening is that rarely do these debates result in conflict, merely a difference of opinion. In most cases gardening is a practice that has no one solution and for me despite the evidence that ‘No-dig’ does produce results I myself have been brought up with digging, not just to cultivate the soil but see what is going on below the surface and providing me with valuable exercise to keep me going. The ‘No-Dig’ principle is however well established and I would not discredit it in any way, but there are a few rules that ensure success. Firstly this approach generally applies to areas that you may traditionally dig every autumn namely the vegetable and productive areas of your garden. It can be applied to any type of soil providing it is not waterlogged or over compacted. The process involves applying a thick layer of well rotted organic material such as garden compost. Beds are set out and ideally edged with timber to stop the compost falling onto the paths. One important point is that the beds should be narrow enough to reach across from both sides, avoiding the need to walk on the bed to weed or plant. The organic garden website is a great source of information of how to apply the ‘No-Dig’ principles or call in at your local library many of which, hold a good selection of gardening books.
I have grown quite a few Dahlia’s this year, mainly to provide cut flower, but a few for garden display. Flowering mid to late summer into autumn they provide valuable colour late into the year. Sadly the sharp frosts in autumn bring an end to displays and are a sign that it is time to lift and store the underground tubers. In very sheltered gardens I have heard that you can leave them in the ground, perhaps covering the crown with a thick mulch of garden compost, but it is fairly cold up north and I lift the tubers and store them in a frost free place over winter.
I wait until the foliage has been blackened by the frost then I lift them carefully with a garden fork, Push the fork in about 8-10 inches (20 – 25 cms) away from the main stem to avoid stabbing the tubers. Cut the stems down to about 2 inches (5 cms). Remove as much of the garden soil as possible and place upside down on a bench in a frost free place, shed, garage or greenhouse. Once they have dried out ( normally in 7 to 10 days) remove any remaining soil and place in a wooden crate or tray deep enough to allow you to cover the tubers with dry compost or grit sand. Don’t forget to tie a label on each tuber before placing them under a bench in a frost free place until spring. Check the trays about once per month to make sure there is no mould or tubers rotting. I usually give a light dusting of sulphur ( available from Garden centres or nurseries) after I have boxed them up, this helps prevent fungal attack.
How often have you been half way through preparing a meal and thought I wish I had some fresh herbs? Accepting that in most cases supermarkets offer freshly grown herbs ( hopefully British grown), there is nothing quite like growing your own to pick fresh from the garden. I grow most of our herbs in containers which makes it easier to move them around and to give perennial herbs protection throughout the winter months. November is the month when I clear out my greenhouse and wash it down with a garden disinfectant, removing the remnants of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers and assigning them to the compost heap. I use my greenhouse to protect tender perennials and herbs, although many herbs are quite hardy their leaves do take a battering from the winter weather and remain fresher if the plants can be moved into a greenhouse. It doesn’t need to be heated. Before moving them indoors I trim off any damaged or dead leaves, removing any slugs that might be lurking under the container. They will need a little water throughout winter but only when the soil looks a little dry, maybe once every three to four weeks. You can try growing annual herbs such as Basil, and Dill, sow in a pot on a warm windowsill, take care with watering as they do not like it too wet.
Next Month, dealing with garden rubbish (prunings and leaves), winter brassicas and growing Hippiastrum’s (a Christmas favourite).