Campsis cuttings

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

The Trumpet Vine. This exotic looking climber is perfectly hardy with us. It is easy to propagate as it climbs using aerial roots.

Now is a good time to take semi-ripe cuttings. You cut a woody but flexible length, trim to just below a leaf node and to just above the next node up so that you end up with about a six inch piece. Remove all leaves apart from one pair on the top node and stick into the edge of a pot filled with damp compost. Leave for the winter in a sheltered place and pot on in the spring. The RHS website has more details on semi-ripe cuttings.

Uneven lawns

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

We are restoring our garden and the bane of our life is the dips in the old lawns. Now is a good time to sort this out.

You will need a mix of sand, soil and grit to fill the holes. Half fill the dip, firm down and repeat. The soil will inevitably sink so if you can fill it slightly above level then do. Scatter grass seed on top. Don’t over seed. It is better to apply two lots of grass seed fairly thinly than to put on lots in one go.

You will also find that the grass underneath soon starts to find its way to the top. If it is exceptionally dry you may need to water with a sprinkler attachment.

Autumn advice from the past

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

Almost every garden writer has written a book of monthly activity.

The Victorian and Edwardian writers make great reading as their tasks are so varied. In September, H. Rider Haggard includes tasks such as ‘Weeding to the turf, Begonia cuttings, pricking out Delphinium seedlings, repotting freesias, breaking up and rolling gravel, setting Violets in frames, setting bench Carnations in pots and Chrysanthemums under glass.’ Mrs C.W.Earle in her memorably titled ‘Gardening for the Ignorant’ advises briskly ‘If you have any of the old-fashioned white Pinks or the so-called Mrs.Sinkins (still widely available) they should be pulled to pieces and each piece thrust into the ground where they are wanted to bloom.’

Copies of old books are available online or through second hand bookshops.

Pond clearance

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

The men in my family are obsessed with mini-diggers. They are relatively cheap to hire and will keep the boys happy for hours. The result will probably be a hole with a black liner in, that isn’t quite level, so the liner will always show when filled with water. Anyway, for better or worse you end up with a small pond that becomes an endless source of fascination. The wildlife value is huge.

Autumn is an excellent time of year to do maintenance work when there are less larvae or tadpoles about. Use a net to scoop out blanket or pond weed and leave it on the edge of the pond for water boatmen etc. to make a drunken return to the water.

Chopping back perennials

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

This used to be something that was done religiously in the autumn. Herbaceous borders were cleared right through so the bare earth was exposed throughout the winter. Now we prefer to be a bit more selective. Hollow stems make good places for hibernating bugs. Tall plants, particularly teasels or flat headed cow parsley type plants make beautiful sculptures if rimed with frost in winter.

Leaving foliage above can provide a micro-climate for less hardy plants. On the other hand, you may want to clear the ground as much as possible before applying a mulch. So the answer is, the choice is really up to you but I would advise clearing any foliage that looks diseased or is starting to rot.

Seed collecting

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

Hardy Annuals like Queen Anne’s Lace and Cornflowers are now setting seed. I collect old vitamin-type pots and margarine pots which stay in a cupboard most of the year. Now they move into my trug with a biro. I will be out planting bulbs or clearing beds on any day that is dry and bright; perfect weather for collecting seed. I have my pots with me so as a few Cerinthe seed drop off they go straight into a pot. Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ goes in as whole seed heads.

The pots are labelled and added to on the next gardening day. Remember the seeds will still be quite damp so at some stage you will need to spread them out to dry naturally.

Bring indoor houseplants inside

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

As the nights start to get colder you will need to bring tender plants indoors or into a greenhouse. Don’t rush this. Some pots can be moved next to a wall for some time before they finally need to come in.

A red brick wall will store a lot of heat during the day and protect your plants at night. Geraniums and Coleus should be brought inside early in September if you want to take cuttings. They require very little water and Coleus, in particular, must be kept as dry as possible all winter.

Plants should be checked regularly for signs of pests and yellowing leaves removed. If there is a warm break in the weather it will benefit your plants if you stand them outside for a couple of hours.

Moving plants around

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

To increase your stock of plants for next year and, in some cases, improve the vigour of perennials now is the time to split and move iris sibirica, hardy geraniums and any other plant that dies back during the winter. This is hard work requiring a spade, two forks and plenty of muscle to cut through big clumps.

At the other end of the scale some of the early hardy annuals like cornflowers, sweet peas or calendula may have produced seedlings. A warm autumn day with plenty of moisture is an excellent time to dig these out and move to where you would like them to flower next year.

Garden visiting

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

One of the best ways to get more out of your garden is to be inspired by someone else. We have been welcoming visitors to Easton all summer but by September, the schools go back and the garden is a little quieter.

This is a great time to visit some of our famous gardens. Last year I visited Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex, a study of the great art that can be achieved by a keen eye and decades of work. There was less distraction from roses or alliums shouting for attention so I could really look at how conifers add to the shape of a garden, how the skyline had been thought about years ago or how water works with borders. The autumn light through the leaves was beautiful too.

Colchicums

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

Colchicums are important bulbs for the garden because they flower from September to November. Now is the time to plant them. They are sold while they are trying to flower. The bulbs can be expensive but at least you can see exactly what you are getting. Once they are fully into flower, less knowledgeable customers may be put off so you can pick them up cheaply in a sale.

Plant them straight away under deciduous shrubs near the back of a border on in light turf where they can put on lots of foliage in the spring without being mown or disturbed. ‘Waterlily’ is a particularly good form with lots of rosy pink petals. They will benefit from sun for at least some of the day to prevent them flopping about.

Planting shrubs

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

Autumn is always a good time to plant shrubs. This year is particularly good as the ground has been so thoroughly watered by constant summer rain.

While it is still mild, dig a fine hole, larger than the pot your shrub has come in and, when you plant, fill it with a combination of the excavated soil and well rotted manure or peat free compost. If your ground is very heavy add lots of grit to the mix. If it is light and crumbles easily add slow release fertiliser pellets.

When you are choosing your shrubs there are lots that flower in late spring so try and use some shrubs that flower at different times of the year. Consider Osmanthus for early spring or Escallonia for late summer flowers (both of which make dense hedges)

Lifting Dahlias

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

Apparently, the pundits told us some years ago, we don’t need to lift them any more just give them a good mulch…mmm,right. In Lincolnshire, when the first frosts arrive they need storing. This is a time consuming business that you might not consider worth the effort. If so, do lift them so they don’t rot in your perfect flower bed, cut off all the foliage and put them in a box under a bench and forget about them. They may last, they may not.

To save varieties you love: cut down to six inches. Leave upside down for a fortnight to allow the moisture to drain from the stems then dust the tubers in sulphur and store in a dry medium (we use Vermiculite) in boxes. Crucially, you will need to keep checking them for signs of rotting. Don’t forget to name each bunch of tubers.

Easy pots for spring

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

If the slugs hammered your pots this year, you are not alone. Here is a suggestion for gardeners who love container plants but not the endless attention they often require.

To start, clean your pot of last year’s bedding. Buy a small plant support (hopefully now in a sale.) Rocket shaped rusted or distressed iron works well. Place in the middle of the cleaned compost.

Search for a specialist bulb catalogue like Broadleigh Bulbs or Pottertons. Spend some time inside on a dreary day ordering small beauties like Iris reticulata, Anemone blanda or species tulip bulbs to plant now and fill your pot in spring. They won’t get lost as the ironwork above will provide a structure which draws the eye down to the little bulbs. After they have flowered, transplant to your garden.

Rose ordering

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

Rose catalogues tend to be launched during the summer flower shows but this is a good time of year to be ordering bare root roses. Specialist nurseries should still have good stocks.

Most of our roses are supplied by David Austin. Top of my list would be: Rosa ‘The Mayflower’ for any application, particularly hedging, as it is remarkably free of disease and flowers at least three times without exhausting itself. Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’ is a good robust short climber with exceptionally beautiful pale pink flowers. Rosa ‘Mountain Snow’ we grow as a relaxed climber in light woodland where its open large single white flowers are ethereally beautiful.

For shrub plantings, use 3 Rosa ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ . Rosa ‘Queen of Sweden’ is the best rose I have come across for cutting.

Sow Sweet Peas

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

Autumn is a great time to order and sow sweetpeas. You will get bigger and stronger plants next year if you choose to autumn sow.

Plant into seed trays with deep cells (like Haxnicks roottrainers) but wait until the weather turns cold. From now until planting out you are looking for big roots not lots of top growth. This is achieved by keeping your young seedlings as cool as you dare. They will be fine out in a porch if they are covered with a clear glass or plastic shelter to keep the mice out.

You can find a good selection of sweet peas, heritage and modern at Easton. For really comprehensive sweet pea advice try Roger Parsons book ‘Sweet Peas: An Essential Guide’.

Planting little blue bulbs

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

I have a great affection for this beautiful group, collectively known as small blue bulbs. They include Scillas, Chionodoxa and Muscari. They can all be planted now. They flower between the snowdrops and tulips and work in light turf, pots or under deciduous shrubs. And they are small, meaning you can plant lots relatively quickly.

If you are ordering in 50s or more consider using a bulb catalogue that sells in ‘the spirit of wholesale.’ These include Peter Nyssen or Parkers bulbs. They are considerably cheaper but you will need to keep the quantity levels up. My favourites include Anemome blanda cultivars under deciduous shrubs, Chionodoxa for naturalising in turf and Muscari latifolium for pots and cut flowers.

Cutting a meadow now, clear it later

Words: Ursula Cholmeley

Pictures: Fred Cholmeley

It may be easier to cut a meadow area than to clear it.

Some years ago we were faced with this problem. We had to cut the Cedar meadow in August but then, other jobs like hedge cutting took over. We came up with this plan. We raked the cut herbage into piles where there were few wild flowers and left it. Over time the grass beneath the piles was deprived of light and died right back. In the autumn, when we had time, we cleared the hay. Bald patches were left on the ground. We sowed wildflower seed straight into them. The grass returned, as it always does, but not before the young wildflowers had a chance to germinate.