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.
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.
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.
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...
A lot has been going on in the cutting garden since we finished our revamp last month. We've been planting up the beds with a mix of perennials, bulbs and roses leaving space for plenty of annuals - these have been grown from seed and are currently jostling for space in the potting shed and on my sunny windowsills until the weather warms up a bit.
We started by planting up the edges of all the individual cutting beds with small, low-growing perennials and bulbs. This gives the beds some structure and by restricting these plants to the edges, we still have plenty of space for lots of plants within the beds. We've chosen to line the central path with a mix of Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) whose acid-green, frothy flowers make a great back-drop for showier flowers, Lavender 'Munstead' a dwarf lavender, and a range of Primulas - drumstick primulas (P. denticulata), Primula 'Gold Lace Dark Red' and Primula cortusoides 'Primadiente' (Siberian primrose) an alpine with dainty pink blooms.
Primulas are great for providing early flowers for picking alongside spring bulbs. They form small mounds that are ideal for edging beds. We've interspersed these with the bulbs of Iris reticulata, Tulipa turkestanica, Ranunculus, Triteleia and dwarf daffodils. All these spring bulbs have small or strappy foliage and so are ideal for edging cutting beds. Lots of large, untidy foliage can get in the way when you want to plant annuals within the bed. With all bulbs, you need to let the foliage die down naturally so that energy goes into the bulb for next year's flowers so you do have to consider this when planting bulbs in cutting beds.
So far, we've planted three different shrub roses. We've gone for varieties that have beautiful flowers but also have other important attributes: i) high resistance to disease, ii) must be repeat flowering varieties so that we have flowers to pick throughout the summer and iii) must have a strong scent.
We've chosen 'Munstead Wood' with sumptuous, deep velvety crimson blooms and a strong Old Rose fragrance, 'Gertrude Jekyll', twice voted the nation's favourite rose, with beautiful, rich pink rosettes and superb fragrance and 'Comte de Chambord', warm pink, full-petalled flowers, opening flat with a delicious Damask fragrance.
The perennial bed has been planted up with Hellebores, Salvias, Achillea, Poppies 'Patty's Plum' & Pavaper rupifragum 'Orange Feathers', Briza media 'Limouzi', a grass with delicate flower heads, and Guara, all interspersed with self-sown Nigella seedlings which have been carefully transplanted from the old raised beds.
Another bed houses plants especially valuable for their foliage or for their small flowers that act as fillers (a backdrop for larger, showier flowers) - Euphorbia oblongata, Dill and some Autumn-sown Ammi majus.
We've added 2 chestnut pyramids supports for the sweet peas to clamber up, incorporating manure into the soil as these plants are hungry for nutrients.
Honesty and Stocks are both in flower and the Sweet Williams are just forming flower spikes. These biennials were planted out last September into our old raised beds and have been carefully transplanted into their new positions in the new beds. These plants are valuable for providing flowers before the annual flowers appear and after the tulips and spring bulbs are over. Others you could try are Sweet Rocket and Wallflowers. Sow seed for these biennials in June for flowers the following year.
The tulips have been about 3 weeks earlier in flower than this time last year. Usually, by choosing a mix of early, mid and late-flowering types, you can be picking tulips until the end of May but we may struggle to get past the first week of May! I've planted tulips in the beds where we will either be growing Dahlias or later flowering annuals like Zinnias so that the tulip foliage has time to die down before these plants get going.
Although it is nearing the end of April as I write, we've had a hard frost and numerous hail showers so don't be tempted to plant out too early! When the weather warms up a bit, I'll plant out my hardy annuals and once all risk of frost is past (towards the end of May), I'll plant out the frost-tender half-hardy annuals and the 9 varieties of dahlia which are currently sprouting in pots under cover. More about that next month, but for now here is a list of the annuals I have grown this year so you can see the abundance of flowers to come:
After a long Summer holiday, my children have gone back to school, so let me fill you in on what has been going on in my cutting garden over the Summer and what I'll be cutting this month as we proceed into Autumn.
The hardy annuals, which were flowering so well at the beginning of the Summer, are still producing a good number of blooms but are showing signs of slowing down. In a couple of weeks, I will clear these annuals and plant out my Sweet Williams which are growing on well in the potting shed. These include Cornflowers, Amberboa muricata (which have suffered a bit of mildew on the leaves but are still producing useful blooms) Lupins and Malope trifida. My Larkspur have already been taken out as they were looking very weedy and yellow.
The real stars at this time of year are my Cosmos and Scabious. I have a mix of Cosmos 'Click Cranberries' and 'Rubenza' which, while I love the colour of the flowers, have seemed a bit weedy in comparison with Cosmos 'Purity' which is romping away. It could be that they are being overshadowed by the taller growing 'Purity' so I will grow them in separate beds next year. My Zinnias should be doing really well, but have been a bit disappointing, with some plants failing completely and some just producing the odd flower here and there. They are bulking up slowly so I may be rewarded with more flowers later this month. Zinnia seedlings dislike root disturbance and can sulk if you grow them in pots and then plant them out. This is what I did this year, so next year I will try sowing them directly where they are to grow and see if I can produce better plants.
It's not all doom and gloom though. The big successes this year have been my Scabious 'Black Knight' which I love, with its large dark red, velvety flower heads. In contrast, the less showy but very elegant, Scabious 'Tall Double Mix - white' is a small, pure white, pincushion flower which looks lovely dotted throughout an arrangement. My Didsicus (Blue Lace Flower) have produced lots of lovely lacy flowers and they continue to look good once the petals have fallen off. I have been leaving a lot of them on the plant until they reach this stage as the spidery flower structure is stunning.
I've grown Panicum grass for the first time this year and really like the frothiness of the flowering seed heads. I also have some late-sown Salvia viridis and Ammi majus starting to produce useful foliage and filler material in my cutting beds. I planted these out after taking out the Larkspur and some Bupleurum seedlings which had failed. It's really useful to have some replacement seedlings on hand to replace any plants that fail to perform or fill any gaps. If you sow a few extra annuals when the first batch of hardy annuals are just coming into flower, they should be ready to plant out when other annuals may be going over.
Other annuals worth a mention that are now appearing in my arrangements, are Coreopsis 'Incredible Tall Mix', with its almost Helenium-like flowers in a range of yellows and reddish-browns, and Rudbekia 'Cherry Brandy'. I didn't have much germination success with my Rudbekia, with only one seedling coming up, but I absolutely love it's dark cherry-red blooms and it looks great with the Coreopsis.
I've had a bumper crop of Dahlias this year. I've grown them all in pots and have watered them almost daily when it has been dry, but we've had a lot of rain over the last few weeks so this means less watering. I also give them a liquid feed every couple of weeks as they are hungry plants, especially if grown in pots. Elsewhere in the garden borders, I've been cutting lots of Fennel and Oregano as filler and foliage material, Knautia macedonica, Lavender, Mallow, Verbena bonariensis, perennial Scabious, Heleniums and Japanese Anemones.
I'm looking forward to my Sedum 'Autumn Joy' flowering later this month. The plants are small, as they were planted in the Spring, but I love the form of them and they are great for some Autumn colour in the garden.
Jobs for September
Keep picking, dead-heading and watering where necessary. When annuals start failing - typically the hardy annuals you planted out first - like Cornflowers, annual Lupins, Amberboa and Larkspur, pull them out and compost them and replace them with any bi-ennials that you have grown or can buy from the garden centre. I've got some Sweet William 'Sooty' - a dark maroon/chocolate form and Sweet William 'Single Mixed' with a range of different shades from pale pink to red. Other bi-ennials that make good cut flowers include Sweet Rocket, Foxgloves and Wallflowers.
I will start sowing some hardy annuals (Cornflowers, Ammi and Sweet peas) to over-winter for planting out early next spring once I've planted out my bi-ennials and have more space in the potting shed.
You can also start planting spring bulbs such as Daffodils, Crocus and Muscari, if you have space in beds and borders. Leave any Tulip bulbs until November as they will be less prone to Tulip Fire if you plant them later when the weather is colder. Tulip fire is a fungal disease caused by Botrytis tulipae, which produces brown spots and twisted, withered and distorted leaves. It is so named because plants appear scorched by fire. I've been pouring over the bulb catalogues and it is easy to get carried away but I've been trying to visualise how the flowers will look in the vase together before making any final decisions. I'll cover more on bulbs in my next post.