Your October Garden

Nicotiana

Nicotiana look lovely, but keep them deadheaded for the best display at this time of the year.

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.

New raised beds

New raised beds, and yes, I need to cut the grass before I cover with membrane.

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.

Autumn leaves

Leaves keep falling on me ‘ead! but they’ll soon be in the wire basket rotting down!

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.

The starting of a hedge

The starting of a hedge, cotoneaster, mahonia, all we need now is the blackthorn.

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!

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

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.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

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Essential tools for the garden

primrose spades I am often being asked about what garden tools a gardener should have in the locker as a bare minimum.

It’s a difficult question to answer because there are so many tools out there and frankly some of them I really don’t understand the use for, and I have been gardening for a long time!

Take garden forks, as a starting point! There are digging forks, potato forks, hey forks and manure forks, and from a distance it is pretty difficult to see any difference between them.

So what would I never do without?

Spade – Obviously, a good spade is a must. Remember that a spade is not a carrying tool, but a cutting tool. It is there to slice through the soil, and turn over the earth, like a one man powered plough.

Fork – A good fork is a must, and I would buy a general purpose one, with a good strong shaft for serious digging work. Use the fork to loosen up the earth, to incorporate manure and compost and start the job of making a fine tilth of your beds.

Hoe – This leads me onto a hoe. This is a tool with so many uses, a cutting tool and a weeding tool. Remember it has two cutting edges, not one. One for the push stroke and another on the pull stroke. It is used with a series of two and fro movements, either working the soil or cutting through weeds.

Rake – There are two more long handled tools I wouldn’t be without, both of them rakes. First is a garden rake, which I use almost exclusively for making a fine bed. They are great for getting the little stones out of the soil – particularly important when it comes to growing carrots. I also wouldn’t be without my grass rake, which I need to gather up clippings of all kinds on the lawn. The garden rake is too harsh for this and the long tines of the grass rake are just the job when it comes to not damaging the grass.

Trowel – A good trowel is a must, for planting bulbs and general pottering in the borders, adding plants, pulling them up and keeping everything tidy.

Now, of course, there are lots of other tools you could buy, but this list is my absolute minimum. But there is one more point we need to make.

Take care of your tools!

When you have finished using your tools – no matter how much you pay for them, always give them a wipe down.

Once a month, give the blade a good wipe over with an oily rag, and once a year sharpen the cutting tools. This way you will get a lifetime’s service, and your tools will become old friends.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

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.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

The Fruits of Our (and Mother Nature’s) Labour

Allotment wilflowers
As the season of summer finally starts to show what she can really do (yes, summer would definitely be a lady), we begin to watch in wonder as the flowers and fruits begin to bloom. The previous owners of our allotment took pride in creating a small patch that they dedicated to growing wildflowers on. We have opted to keep this.

I think that some folk see allotments as those bastions of old men, surrounded by soggy crops, homing pigeons, the loud crowing of cockerels and hours of sweat and toil in return for mammoth-sized onions and cabbage. Don’t get me wrong – those types of allotments exist; I have seen them, but the freedom of a large (or small) plot can be so much more.
Allotment wildflower patch
We kept the flower patch. Amidst all the crops at the top of the allotment is the small country cottage style garden resplendent with wild and naturally occurring plants. My Nan would call them “angel comers” as they were planted by seemingly God’s own hand – in truth usually naturally propagated or seeds dropped from the mouth of a passing bird. I love the poetic idea that we are at the whim of something greater and despite our best intentions things will just grow where they wish. In fairness anyone who has tangled with returning weeds will certainly share that feeling!

Take a look – see what you think. In amongst the flowers grows two or three varieties of mint, every hue and shade resplendent in colour. Some of the purists would argue that they serve no purpose – but equally the same critics would care little for making their own garden burst with blooms.
Craig's strawberry harvest
We did get the ultimate taste of summer this year – a bumper crop of wild strawberries. Our boy spent hours picking (and eating!) the best of them. Despite being told he had to save some for the rest of us he was un-thwarted and did his best to consume as many of them as he could! And whilst I would disapprove of such gluttony on French fries or burgers, the produce of our allotment is a very different matter.
Courgette blossomsPink flower
As you can also see, we are looking forward to a bumper harvest of tomatoes and courgettes – we seem to have been over-run in both of our greenhouses. We have already had several of the young vegetables, simply skewered, drizzled with olive oil and grilled – they were amazing! It is fair to say we will be looking for plenty of recipes that use tomatoes and courgettes. Have you got any ideas? I would love to hear them, cook them and then let you know just how we get on.

Cheers!
Craig

Creative Watering on the Allotment

Watering through a pipe trellis

As I mentioned before, we share our allotment with some good friends who also happen to be our neighbours. Our plot is no more than 150 yards from where we all live and this allows us to visit daily without any great inconvenience. We find that we are able to each do our bit and there are no cross words as to who does the most. If nothing else we work as a team and are all looking forward to seeing a good crop this year having started most things from seed way back in the depths of a cold March.

Those puny looking threads of green we saw poking their heads tentatively out of the dark earth are now starting to stand tall. We are inundated with tomato plants, many varieties from Cherry to Beefsteak and I am looking forward to a good summer harvest. We should be taking our first ones off within the next four weeks — exciting times ahead.

One of the many challenges we, like many gardeners face, is getting the balance right when watering our crops. During the recent hot spell, we had to water the greenhouse plants twice daily; they were crying out for as much refreshment as we could give them – not unlike ourselves, having spent any time under the hot glass panes! However, where our thirst could be quenched with one or two well earned cold beers – our little friends need more than that.
Craig's Water Butts
So, as they say – desperate times call for ingenious solutions. Or something like that. As I often say, the keen allotment keeper is akin to a scrap man – always on the lookout for items that would be of some use. Our greenhouse is home to a selection of water butts and piping that has been gathered over the last few months. During the months of rain they filled nicely and we are now seeing the advantage of harvesting rainwater – we are able to freely fill our watering cans and keep of plants replenished.
Recycled pipe trellis to grow beans
One of the best uses we found for some old hollow pipework was to create triangular frames for our selection of broad, dwarf and runner beans. It is an age-old trick to create frames for climbing plants, so I am not professing any new revolutionary gardening technique. However, and here comes the clever part, we did find that the hollow pipe served a secondary purpose. We found that they held a good amount of water and by filling them up to the top they would slowly seep the water under the ground and directly into the bundles of roots that are beginning to take hold under the soil.

This in itself gave us another solution to the problem of how to avoid damage to plants when watering in full sun. Directly watering into the roots prevents any sun damage or burns occurring on the leaves and stems.
Watering through a pipe trellis
The next step could well be a remotely controlled or timed watering system and there are many of these available. We have certainly got the space to warrant that investment and we have the water storage solution so maybe…
Until we have decided, however, we will keep on using our initiative and turning one man’s rubbish into another man’s watering solution.

Craig

Allotment Parties

Craig's Allotment garden

Craig's Allotment gardenWhen we took over the adjacent allotment to our own, not only did we inherit some wonderfully rustic home made out-buildings and greenhouses, but also a modest decking and fire pit area. Now the previous tenants clearly had some grand designs, but due to relocating have left these largely unfulfilled. One of the things that struck us was that we could have plenty of space for planting, growing and keeping poultry but also a perfect (almost) ready-made entertaining area.

With some elbow grease to clean down the tired looking wood and some more ingenious construction (that probably wouldn’t pass building regulations!) we steadied the deck and dug out the cooking area. So what makes an allotment perfect for those long late nights that summer holds?
Craig's plants
Your allotment can be the perfect space for a few friends to share some food, drinks and chill out under the stars. Certainly for us with only a modest sized garden, it is a perfect place when we want to invite a few more than usual as our allotment affords us the extra space. It also gives us food, cooking facilities and the chance to show off our second home – in a busy season it certainly feels that way.Craig's plants
Firstly, be sure to check the terms and conditions of your tenancy. I would not advocate doing anything that is likely to cause you trouble. I think that most local councils would be reasonably relaxed about it, depending on the proximity to neighbouring houses and the potential for noise pollution or damage.

Some useful pointers to ensure that you make the most of your allotment party –

· Check you are allowed to have a social gathering in your agreement
· Ensure your guests respect yours and others property
· Don’t annoy the neighbours – music, noise, and littering, wilful or accidental damage
· Keep the guest list select – don’t invite hundreds
· Be careful with any fires lit
· Keep the party area well lit, don’t want clumsy feet walking on those plants!
· Clearly fence off areas that are no-go’s
· Make sure all fires, candles and naked flames are extinguished before leaving

On a cold but clear April night we stoked up a fire and got a feel for what those long awaited summer nights would hold for us. It was blazing success. A perfectly clear night allowed us for some unrivalled sky views of the stars and planets, the fire pit roared to life and somehow the food tasted all that better. We are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to partake in our next one now that the temperatures have risen and the nights are just that bit longer. Whilst allotments may not be chic, and some may be a little shabby – they hold great promise for not only the raising of seeds but of glasses too.

Craig