Mr Digwell in September

Here’s hoping for a pavement-cracking Indian Summer, where the weather causes us to sleep in the garden around mountainous flowers of every colour and aroma. We need a good rest in the garden after that summer, and are we going to get one? Probably not! Besides, there is plenty to do in the garden in September, and plenty to admire too.

For a start, our lilies are finally going to explode into bloom. It seems they have held themselves back over the last few weeks, staying in bed I suppose, and who can blame them?
Lily about to burst into flower
I always wait with bated breath for them to open, because they are so beautiful – even though I don’t like the smell. They are perfect in form, and I spend the whole summer protecting them from the rain and the lily beetle.

I find the best way to deal with the lily beetle, which nibbles its way through flowers and leaves and causes a mess, is by hand – looking out for them. But you have to be careful! One touch and the bright red beetles fall over on to their backs, leaving nothing but a jet black underside which is almost impossible to see.

When the flowers have finished it will be time to divide up the bulbs for next year. I grow my lilies in pots, and every third year I take them out and divide them up by simply pulling them apart. It’s an easy job – the new bulbs simply pull away from the old. You can either wrap them in newspaper and keep them in a frost-free place until spring, or pop them into new compost in new pots.

If you are growing them in pots, as with all plants really, you need to be sure they are not waterlogged in winter, and kept protected from frost. A pot is not so good an insulator as the rest of the garden, and a plant will not survive the same. I take mine into an unheated greenhouse, and maybe, if the temperature is minus 18 again as it was over the last two years, I might give them a little heat, just to keep the plants around 1 degree or so.

September is also a good time to attempt structural changes around the garden when the weather is still warm enough to get into the soil and there is not much chance of freezing to death out there. (That said, I bet we have snow! It was snowing on my birthday in 1957 at the end of September!)

I have finally sorted the huge holly bush that was taking away so much light, and threatening the roof of the house and the telephone line. If you are going to try to take large branches out of the garden, the thing to do is to tie them with stout rope to the next branch, or something sturdy. That way, when you have sawn through it, the branch will not fall onto something.

This whole area was covered in holly - soon to be an English cottage garden

This whole area was covered in holly – soon to be an English cottage garden


Never, ever saw at something whilst on a ladder, and if there is the tiniest amount of doubt you can do the job safely, get the professionals in to do it. The cost is well worth avoiding injury.

I now have a great space, vacated by the holly bush, in which I am going to plan an English cottage garden, but this takes time. So I will make up the beds – once I have cleared it of roots and stock it with winter bedding.

I am in a mind for delphiniums, agapanthus, flowering alliums and a few dahlias. Actually, it was a toss up between a cottage garden and an old fashioned dahlia garden, and I would love to hear from anyone who still grows dahlias in the traditional way. You can contact me via my Ask the Expert page.
Verbena - magical in the rain
September should be time for lawn maintenance, but this year, because of all the rain and therefore all the moss, I am hanging out a bit. If you scrape all the moss away in September, and this goes for this year only, you will only get more moss by the time spring comes along. So this year I am going to give the lawn a good cut (if it’s not too wet) and then a good spiking with a garden fork. Make holes half an inch in diameter and about six inches deep. This will improve air getting to choked up grass roots.

In the spring, give the lawn a good scrape with the grass rake, and over sow!

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 involved in an inner city program in Manchester which aims to encourage people to grow their own food whether they have a garden, an allotment, or even a balcony, as well as leading a co-operative initiative to train city dwellers to keep bees on allotments and gardens

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.

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Mrs. P the Mama Bird’s Story, Part 2

Mrs P - Aerial Shot

It’s the little things sometimes, isn’t it? I’ve been so pleased with progress so far in renovating my garden and sifting through all the ideas that keep drifting into my head, that I sometimes forget that it is the maintenance things that give the full effect. So I cut the grass! It’s getting easier now because the garden’s divided and some of it is barked and gravelled, so the whole task is much more manageable. It helps too when the strimmer behaves, which following the usual groan and burp noises that signify ‘the nylon broke’, strimmer and I settled down to re-nyloning the spindle. The little raised arrows gave me a clue and I’m happy to report that no more unpleasant noises were emitted.

But with the sun out you just can’t keep ignoring stuff, can you? Ironing, car washing, more ironing and cleaning the oven just don’t even scratch the surface compared to washing the fascias out the back. Suffice to say I did not iron, wash the car or clean the oven, I treated myself to a sponge wash up a step ladder to make the plastic trim shine again. I am just such an exciting person. It worked though, the garden needs a back drop that doesn’t irritate you when you sit down after doing your jobs or when you are just admiring nature’s work.
Solar post lights
Call me even sad but I then realised, with prompting, that rather than uprooting, re-digging and cementing a new washing line in, that I could revitalise the ones I’ve got with a tin of Hammerite. A very pleasing hours work with instant results and, unlike after fascia washing, I was not soaking wet. The neighbours probably think I’m sad too. I decided to put solar lights in the top of each washing line post so that at night it looks like I have two streetlights in the garden :)

To be continued…
Mrs. P

Operation Dandelion

Dandelion

Our next guest blogger is Charlotte, telling us about her struggle with everyone’s favourite little yellow nuisance…

I’m ashamed to reveal that my lawn contains a higher proportion of moss and daisies than grass. However, I can live with this; in fact I find the happy faces of the little daisies smiling at me rather pleasing as I wander down the garden path. Daisies and Dandelions on the lawn

It’s their dandelion companions that bother me. Despite my best efforts to eradicate the yellow menaces, every day when I open the curtains more have appeared overnight. Unable to tackle the problem alone I’ve enlisted the support of my sons with the invention of a new game – Operation Dandelion. With buckets in hand we each, on the count of 3, race around the garden, battling to pick the most yellow heads until the lawn is rid of them. We then count them out to determine the winner. Rather disconcertingly in the last game we each filled our buckets with over 100 flowers! And in spite of our determination the next day more had raised their heads as if to taunt us.Dandelion

The key to obliterating this weed seems to lie in removal of the entire plant. It has a long deep tap root which can be difficult to extract in its entirety and often snaps unless it is first loosened. It’s crucial that the whole root is removed otherwise the plant may regenerate.

A fluffy dandelion clock
Dandelions are one of our most common and recognisable weeds, largely due to their incredible method of seed dispersal. What child can resist blowing the beautiful seed head or ‘dandelion clock’ and watching as the seeds float away in the breeze? Even I cannot fail to smile at my toddler’s joy upon finding a stray flower which has survived ‘operation dandelion’ long enough to go to seed. I join in his pleasure as he gently holds the stem and blows, dispersing the tiny seeds across the lawn. All the while I try not to imagine them settling between the blades of grass ready to produce next year’s carpet of yellow.

Blowing dandelion puffs
However irritating, I can nonetheless appreciate that to many, the dandelion is considered a delicious and versatile plant. My guinea pigs certainly seem to enjoy munching them and I myself am partial to a cup of dandelion tea to cleanse the system. In fact I think that rather than fretting about their spread I should instead relax with a cuppa and enjoy the many apparent health benefits dandelions can offer.

Charlotte

Primrose also has a wide variety of weed control options, if ‘operation dandelion’ proves unsuccessful!