October is a favourite month. Of course, the weather can be foul (when can’t it?) but we can have delectable spells too and the golden light makes everything glow. Nights usually have a chill but, by day, we can relax in appreciation and forget the winter ahead.
October is a busy month for the keen gardener. Classically this is the month to busily tear the garden to pieces: end of season tidy-up for winter etc. It is also the very best month for planting new permanent perennials, shrubs and trees.
But, before you start, walk round your garden and enjoy the last of the summer colour, the mature bedding, dahlias, asters, decorative grasses, fuchsias, and late roses. With luck, the cooler weather has allowed them to recover from the stress of the heat and drought of early summer. Your lawn has probably not recovered from the drought; ours is a terrible mix of brown crisp desiccated grass and bald patches leavened by a few optimistic green areas. Reminds me of military camouflage: not proud of it.
Schizostylis coccinea is a real autumn flower, but it is hard to predict when its season will start. Early September is ideal because it then flowers for a couple of months, giving a steady trickle of pink and red flowers that light up a dull corner and last well in a vase. The spikes of bowl-like flowers above iris-like leaves show its relation to the gladioli and crocosmias. But, if it becomes established, it can be invasive and even difficult to get rid of.
The kniphofias (‘Red Hot Pokers’), come in many colours and sizes and, as natives of Africa, they have not suffered in the dry, hot summer. They make solid clumps of spear-shaped leaves producing a steady trickle of fat-stemmed flowering spikes; never masses. The colour palate used to be restricted to orange and red but intensive breeding has added clear yellows and fresh lime greens. The larger fat-flowered yellow and the smaller green-flowered varieties have given us a generous supply of flowers despite total neglect and poor dry soil. Perfect for the newer gardener (or the lazy one!).
It is worth re-emphasising that October is the very best time for planting shrubs, trees, fruit bushes, roses and all woody plants. The explanation is simple and obvious to the generations of old gardeners who gardened before pot grown plants took over the nursery trade 40+ years ago. Once we have had our first decent autumn rainfall, the soil is moist and still holds its summer warmth. The above-ground plant slows down and makes no demands on the nascent root system, which allows the roots to grow, spread and penetrate the soil in ideal (warm and moist) conditions. Voila! Your new shrub is settled and established before the dormancy of winter and well before the growth spurt of spring.
Perhaps the best advice that the experienced gardener can give the novice is to work with the weather and seasons. Sow, fertilise and plant when rain is expected; it really helps.
Happy Gardening, Giles Derry
Dates for your diary
Tuesday 9 October. 7.30pm in the Village Hall. Garden Wildlife in Berkshire. Simon Barnett will tell us about all the wonderful wildlife we can see and hear in rural Chieveley and the surrounding area. He will also tell us what we can do to help and protect these precious visitors to our gardens. Well, perhaps, not slugs, wasps and moles. Guests and non-members are always welcome.
Tuesday 20 November 7.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. Annual General Meeting followed by wine and nibbles. Do join us to hear about what we have done this year and our plans and ideas for 2019. We also need stimulating with new ideas for next year: talks, visits, workshops etc. We are not too proud to copy the ideas of others!