Winter is approaching - we've had the first frosts which have blackened the Dahlia foliage and killed off the half-hardy Zinnias. My Cosmos seem to have escaped this fate owing to their height (over 6 ft this year!) and are still in full flower.

Comos 'Dazzler' in late October
Comos 'Dazzler' in late October with double rainbow

Once dahlias have been blackened by frost, it's time to cut them down and either dig them up for storage inside over the winter or to apply a thick mulch to protect them. Annuals which have given up the ghost should be removed and composted and empty beds given a covering of organic matter - compost or manure. It can be left on the soil surface for the worms to drag down and enrich the soil over the winter. Where I have planted out biennials, I just mulch around them.

November flowers
Cosmos, '10 Week' Stocks, Chrysanthemums, Rosemary & Sedum in a jam-jar arrangement made by a student attending a workshop in November.

As an avid watcher of predicted overnight temperatures, I dug up my frost-tender Chrysanthemums before any danger of frost. Late-flowering Chrysanthemums like the elegant 'Avignon Pink' don't start flowering until the end of October and will flower up until Christmas. You can either grow them in pots which can be brought in under cover or plant out over the summer and then carefully dig them up with an intact root ball and place them in large pots in a greenhouse/conservatory or potting shed. I find them really useful additions to fresh Christmas wreaths as they are very long-lasting flowers once cut.

Chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums snug and warm in my tiny potting shed.

I sowed some hardy '10 week' Stocks and Chinese Forget-me-nots late in June and these are still full of flower, so along with some Borage and Feverfew still in flower, a suprisingly summery jug of flowers can be picked even in November.

Chrysanthemums in November
Chrysanthemums 'Avignon Pink', 'Tarantula Red' and 'Pandion Bronze' with Rosemary and Viburnum tinus.

Viburnum tinus is a shrub that is overlooked for a lot of the year but come October/November it is flooded in fragrant white flowers. These are invaluable just when the herbs that I use for foliage/filler material in a vase (like Borage, Mint and Feverfew) are coming to an end. The baton is handed to this evergreen shrub for most of my winter flower displays and trimmings look good in a fresh Christmas wreath.

Fresh Christmas Wreath
Fresh Christmas Wreath with Chrysanthemums
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Autumn is my favourite season and although some flowers in the garden are going over (I have just dug up my exhausted Larkspur and Calendula) the half-hardy annuals like Cosmos, Zinnias and Helichrysum are producing buckets of flowers.

Dahlia
Dahlia 'Pink Silk' with Sweetpeas, Feverfew and Zinnias.

I must admit that I was heartened to hear that Monty Don's dahlias hadn't fared well this summer with very few flowers being produced. With the exception of my vigourous yellow waterlily dahlia called 'Glorie Van Heemstede' which has been in constant flower, my other dahlias have either been slow to get going or have looked on the verge of giving up. My previously reliably flowering 'Sam Hopkins' has this year so far produced a grand total of 3 flowers (and one of those was ravaged by earwigs!) The other dahlias do all look like they might be taking off now so perhaps I will be rewarded with some late flowers, providing they survive the current high winds battering the garden.

Zinnias
Zinnias

Although it is sad when an annual comes to an end, the space that is created once you have dug them up and composted them, is an opportunity to plant biennials which will establish their roots and then overwinter ready to flower early next year. I don't like to have bare ground in my cutting beds, so the early flowering annuals are replaced either by binenials such as foxgloves, wallfowers, sweet williams or sweet rocket or with some late-sown annuals which will flower from now until the first frost.

Foxglove 'Sutton's Apricot'
Biennial Foxglove 'Sutton's Apricot'

Back in June, I sowed a few pots of Chinese Forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum) and '10 week' Stocks and they are now both about to come into flower so I have some more annuals to take over the baton from the Larkspur and Calendula and to create a fresh look as we travel through Autumn into Winter.

Also just starting to bloom are a variety of Chrysanthemums  - more in the next blog post...

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I love September. It has an air of new starts and possibilities, more so, I feel, than in the New Year when the weather is a bit bleak and I feel like hibernating under the duvet rather than embarking on new projects. I really enjoy tidying up spent plants, collecting seed, leafing through the seed and bulb catalogues and planting out biennials and bulbs in anticipation of spring flowers. Or could it just be that I'm relieved that my children have returned to school, after the long summer holidays?..

september-flowers

Its not all about planning and planting for next year though - there are still lots of flowers for picking in bloom in the cutting garden. Cosmos, Zinnias, Dahlias, Scabious, Heleniums, Echinacea, Rudbekia, Asters, Chrysanthemums, Panicum grass, Roses and Verbena bonariensis are all looking good.

Earlier flowering annuals such as Cornflowers & Sweet peas have done their thing and can be removed to the compost heap, freeing up ground for planting either biennials, bulbs or for direct sowing hardy annuals.

Cosmos
Cosmos & Zinnias

Before clearing annuals, collect any seeds from your plants for either sowing in spring or for sowing now. Sowing hardy annuals in September will give you a head-start in the spring and you should get flowers up to a month earlier than if you sow them in early spring. I sow a few hardy annuals directly into any spaces in my cutting beds and also sow a few in pots in the potting shed. I'll then also sow a lot of seeds in the early spring as I like to hedge my bets. Autumn-sown plants do have to withstand slugs and the vagaries of winter weather so you do have to keep an eye on them. Last winter was so mild that the slugs were still out munching for most of it so you can easily find that all your lovely seedlings have been nibbled to the ground. More on seed-sowing here.

Mixed tulips
Tulips in mixed border with Forget-me-nots and perennials.

September is also the time to start planting spring flowering bulbs (all except tulips which benefit from going in the ground later on in November). I love nothing more than poring over the bulbs catalogues looking for new and interesting Tulip varieties for my cutting beds. I always plant up some small pots of Iris reticulata at this time of year which can be brought into the house for flowers during the winter.

During this month, ensure that you keep on top of watering and feeding plants and don't skimp on dead-heading. With dead-heading your Dahlias, Cosmos etc will go on flowering right up to the first frosts which hopefully are a few months away as yet.

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