September, one of my favourite months in the cutting garden and a time to catch up with all those jobs that there has been less time for during the school holidays. I've been weeding, deadheading, watering and taking out some of the plants that have seen better days like the sweetpeas and wild carrot.
Recent days have definitely aquired a little nip of autumn chill in the mornings and evenings. I quite relish the thought of donning a cardigan after the hot summer days and the whole garden does seem to breathe a sigh of relief now it's not quite so hot.
I'm continuing to harvest jugfuls of flowers including large numbers of richly-coloured dahlias, gorgeous Panicum grass 'Frosted Explosion' with its 'firework' seed heads, purple Zinnias, electric-blue larkspur, Cosmos in shades of dark and bubblegum pink , gorgeous blue Chinese forget-me-nots, dark-red Scabious, lime-green Nicotiana and classic blue cornflowers.
While there are still an abundance of flowers to harvest, it is also a time of planning for next year. September is the ideal time to sow some hardy annuals ready for early flowering next year. I'll sow pots of larkspur, cornflowers, marigolds and Eschscholzia in the potting shed and keep them over winter before planting out in the spring. You can also direct-sow outdoors if you have space in your cutting beds (I don't have any space until the first frosts kill everything off so prefer to plant in pots).
Autumn is of course, also the time when spring bulbs start appearing in shops and this year I have lots of space for rows of bulbs up at my allotment. I grow them in the cutting beds at home in amongst the dahlias but have run out of space so I'm really excited at the prospect of planting even more tulips along with daffodils which I haven't grown a lot of thus far. I often wait until the tulip bulbs are reduced in price in November as they don't mind being planted quite late in the year. If you plant them before Christmas, you'll still have a good display come spring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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