How long will it last?
I don’t think it really matters. The still air, silvered light, some might think thin especially when it takes all day for the sun to appear over the trees, October is that cool evening at the end of the day, a time of rest and peace. And the best seat in the house is in the garden.
I love the October garden.
Yes, there are plenty of jobs to do, hedges and lawns to trim and cut, beds to clear, fruit to gather, but to sit amongst the insects sipping the very last drop of nectar from the nearly spent flowers, wings caught in the ethereal light is the nearest we get to a transport to another world.
The smell of far away burning fires reminds you that someone, somewhere, is doing some gardening.
The compost heap is a great place to start, largely because we have so much plant material about. Herbaceous borders we are clearing, cabbage roots, carrot tops, a million vegetables that have been pulled, preserved, stored or eaten.
I don’t compost potato vines or tomato vines because I might just infect the heap with fungal blight. I know the heap is supposed to be hot and this kills diseases, but you cannot always guarantee it’s uniformly hot etc. Besides, I worry about it. So I don’t compost it. What I do is burn it, and then the ashes go onto the compost heap.
Any really herbaceous material gets mixed with newspaper. This soaks up the liquid, particularly from material like grass clippings, that gets terribly wet. It’s good also to intersperse some woody material, anything that bulks out the material, and maintains a few air pockets.
Then, of course, it’s raining leaves! The paths, lawn, pavements and roads are increasingly covered with falling leaves. I sweep them into piles and give them a day to allow any wildlife to escape before popping them into a wire basket for a year to rot down. You get really wonderful seed compost from leaf mould.
The wire basket is important, being mostly wood, their rotting takes a great amount of air, even though it gets cold, it’s the air that does the job.
More than anything, October is garlic time. I am amazed how hardy garlic actually can get.
Planted in the teeth of the first gales of the year usually around the middle of the month, they sprout nicely and grow into pencil-sized plants that resist the worst of frosts, indeed they thrive on it, their best flavour coming from a good frosting.
Do buy good quality corms for planting in the UK. Avoid supermarket ones, which only work in very special circumstances. There are two types, hard-neck and soft-neck. Hard-neck garlic has a central stalk from which all the corms come. They are usually bigger, more robust in flavour, but there are fewer of them than soft-neck garlic which has no central stalk and smaller corms, but with more of them.
It is remarkable how summer bedding continues to do well deep into the month, and it is worth deadheading these plants, even if it is too late for replacement flowers. Something like a nicotiana throws out white and pink flowers, and looks lovely, so long as you remove the dead flowers. When there is a mixture of dead and new on the same plant, the garden looks as though the end of the year has come with neglect.
Do you need a low maintenance garden?
The very idea had always seemed to me to be spoiling my fun. After all, I like digging and weeding. But whereas age might not weary nor the years condemn, a heart attack certainly messes with your gardening plans. So for me, like so many, it’s time to make the garden easier to work with.
This has started with raised beds. We pulled out, well I started but my son finished, a huge hypericum, and the spare land this triffid was taking we installed some raised beds.
We made them from decking plants, treated wood, cheap and easy to use, but if I didn’t have a son-in-law who was not only handy with wood, but strong enough to carry the beds into position, I would have bought them. They will make life so much easier.
My next purchase is about 50 sq metres of ground cover material. Not just the flimsy stuff, but the really heavy duty material. It will cover a significant part of the garden so I can cover with more beds, and then for making paths between the beds, which will then be covered with gravel.
Where I live there isn’t a lot of garden theft, but I do like to cover the paths with something that makes a noise to deter anyone walking on them, so they might just give up and go somewhere else if they are up to no good.
With this in mind, the bottom of the garden needs a little attention. Fortunately for us it runs into a farm where two of the nastiest dogs you could imaging are constantly on guard, but I am a little worried about these gorgons getting through into ours, and now we have become grandparents, we would feel a little safer with a good hedge. So we are planting a mixture of blackthorn (not just for the sloes but the two inch thorns!) some Mahonia japonica and various other nasties that will keep man and beast at bay.
It is remarkable how fast and stock proof this combination goes, and you can eat the fruits of both plants – actually, ask me for the recipe for mahonia lemonade sometime!
So, how long will it last, this balmy early Autumn? So long as there is a garden to look at, to potter about in, or simply to sit in the shed with a warm mug, peeping through the door, gardening’s a great life!
Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.
He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.