First signs of autumn

Reminder of summer sun: The first perennial sunflower (Helianthus) bursts out. Below, A giant mullein, which was hidden by annuals.
Reminder of summer sun: The first perennial sunflower (Helianthus) bursts out. Below, A giant mullein, which was hidden by annuals.

I’VE always felt apprehensive about the approach of autumn – dampness, things dying, etc – a melancholy time of year.

Part of this has been due to what most people do – disregard the garden until next spring, even though I’ve been a gardener for decades.

It’s only this year, with a bit more time on my hands that I’ve been able to think about improving things for winter, spring and summer and that means preparation in autumn.

A bright, crisp morning, the sun taking its time to rise over the newly-cut hedge, watching late asters and perennial sunflowers coming into bud – even old favourite annuals like Calendula and nasturtiums germinating while there’s still some warmth left in the soil – these are things I used to miss.

As we’ve had a brief Indian summer, I spent most of last weekend outdoors, catching up with things.

Here’s how I got on:

WALLFLOWERS: After sowing Fire King and Cloth of Gold in July in an empty raised bed, the plantlets were a fair size (despite George or cat’s attempts to dig them out).

Normally, they would stay there to be planted out next month into their final positions, but I needed the space for other things.

I’ve potted each one up into a family-sized yogurt pot (handy and cheap), where they’ll grow on until the borders are cleared of their summer residents.

ANNUALS: The Calendula and sunflowers have fallen victim to both powdery mildew and slug damage, the result of a dry July followed by a wet August, stressing the plants.

I’ve dug up the worst and hacked back to clean growth any plants that are showing signs of coming away again.

All the Ammi are long gone – a poor performance. The Chrysanthemum Polar Star have pulled their socks up, with some life still in them and Cosmos Purity still look brilliant – just a bit of dead-heading needed.

There are violas flowering everywhere and I hate to disturb them, removing them only where absolutely necessary.

The Ricinus (Castor oil plants) are now very visible with the removal of most of the Calendula – unfortunately, they were hiding their very “bare legs” as they’ve lost their bottom leaves! Still, the dark red top leaves and strange flowers make up for it.

The Californian poppies have been turfed out, revealing the lovely Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow and Stachys.

HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS/SHRUBS: After clearing up the annuals, the Beth Chatto perennials I put in during the winter have been revealed again. Two giant mullein, Euphorbia wulfenii, two Kniphofia, two angelica and two Stipa gigantea seem to have settled in quite nicely, despite the competition.

I started clearing a bit of the bed nearest the drive, which had become overrun with lady’s mantle and Campanula carpatica.

Next to the Spirea, which is getting lovely dark autumn foliage, I planted the evergreen (or everred, as the lady from the nursery said) Coprosma Pacific Sunset.

Its small leaves are red and chocolate, but I’m disappointed to see it’s not that frost hardy (only down to -5˚C).

At least it’s in a sheltered place next to the garage, where the bubble wrap lives.

I also planted a female holly, the confusingly-named Golden King and a zebra grass.

Hollies are male and female so I need to look for a Mr Right for her (the equally-confusing Silver Queen should do the trick).

All in all, that’s not so bad. That’s the positive and uplifting thing about gardening – no matter what time of the year, you can always be planning ahead and looking to the future.

I’ve planted evergreens for winter interest, shaped up the perennials for autumn colour – and I haven’t even started putting my spring bulbs and overwintering veg in yet!