Spare a thought for poor John Keats – how could he have foreseen, when writing his Ode to Autumn that his line, which he probably felt quite chuffed about when he came up with it, about it being the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness would become a tooth-aching cliché to be trotted out annually by lazy journalists and dullards the world over. This year I am seeing less mist and mellow fruitfulness and more sunshine (yay!) and disgraceful messiness. I don’t know what it is with me – every year I spend January in a state of frenzied anticipation and excitement, fussing over early hellebore and photographing every new bloom. Spring is my favourite time of year in the garden, a triumph of hope and expectation over years of bitter experience. By early summer I am still gung ho and thrilled by each new emergent crown and bud but by August I am bored – bored, or bawd, bawd, bawd as Adrien in the Young Ones would say. Either the weather has been such a washout that it has put me in a terminal huff, or the weather so good that I have been idling by the sea, but the gloss somehow goes off the garden and my interest wanes. This is fatal as a couple of weeks of neglect in late summer means a hellish autumn clear up. I can honestly say that I have never, ever seen such enormous weedy euphorbia in the garden as this year, and each herbaceous plant I cut back reveals a mass of couch grass and other weeds, not to mention slugs and snails, making themselves at home around the base of the poor benighted plant. The plus side to the chaos is that my interest in the garden is always re-ignited at this time – I am full of plans again and keen to put manners on nature, plant bulbs, re-do the window boxes and make a literal clean sweep of the place.
I shall be doing some of the following and you might like to too:
- Give shrubs a light autumn prune
- Plant up autumn window boxes to last until Christmas. Try using evergreen perennials like heuchera, which now come in a huge range of colours from deepest plummy black to garish orange and yellow. Some that I wouldn’t let near a bed look amazing in containers. Mix with ornamental cabbages for a funky display.
- Buy bulbs as soon as possible to avoid disappointment – I completely forgot last year and when I went looking all I could find were a few really awful dwarf varieties of tulips and some soft, soggy rotten bulbs that were no use to anyone.
- Divide herbaceous perennials. Throw out the old, worn-out centres of plants and create fresh ones from the outer, newer growth. If you can’t use or don’t want any divisions, wrap them in damp newspaper and give them away to friends; put a notice up on social media and I guarantee you shall find homes for all.
- Collect and sow seed from perennials and hardy annuals. Store in plain brown paper envelopes and remember to label! Keep your seeds in an old biscuit tin or similar dry place.
- Cover ponds with netting if under or close to deciduous trees to avoid them getting clogged up and becoming stagnant.
- Clean out and disinfect cold frames and greenhouses so that they are ready for use in the autumn
- Start to plant spring flowering bulbs – leave tulips ‘til November or even December.
- Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly and collect to make lovely leaf mould.
- Cut back perennials that have died down.
- Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse.
- Prune climbing roses – be very firm, I was far too timid with my pruning for far too long and the resulting ugly, thorny mess was very difficult to fix.
- Order seeds for next year.
- Give lawns a last mow, patch up bald spots with turf and if the weather is warm enough, do one last spot zap of lawn weeds.