James Wong (botanist and BBC broadcaster) recently wrote an article in The Guardian, “Autumn is for beginnings”, in which he laments the autumn phrase:
putting the garden to bed
His argument is that autumn isn’t a time to resign your gardening activity to a final tidy-up in preparation for months of nothingness. Instead, it’s a turn in the page and the start of a new cycle… I agree. He goes on to recommend that gooseberries and blackcurrants are particularly good to take cuttings from now. Mine are too young and not quite at the stage to take cuttings yet… But my kitchen garden beds are currently 90% full of vegetables to harvest through the autumn and winter , and into spring next year.
So no “putting to bed” here.
It’s a bit at the mercy of the weather, but I’m seeing if I can get any fresh growth out of these celery stumps before hard frosts arrive. I’ve covered them with a glass ‘tent’ and then a second cloche over the top. Last year it was so mild that I had things growing well to the end of November.
On the other hand, I do think that this IS a very good time of year to have a tidy-up. British Summertime ends on the 30th October, with the clocks going back an hour. Anyone who works full-time will be coming home in the dark. So there is a certain amount of “bed making” that is well worth doing this weekend and next.
Here, the runner beans and an assortment of languishing poles and canes have already come down and been put away for the winter. But I’ve also put some canes up around the brassicas, and tied them in to the metal frames that I make to hold the butterfly netting. This has made the cabbages sturdy so that they don’t get rocked about by the wind, break free of their moorings and fall over. Where I’ve got cabbages and cauliflowers growing in pots I’ve topped up with compost, and firmed them in so that the plants are more stable there too.
I’ve utilised the ultra-rich compost from my two wormeries (whilst it’s still warm enough for them to repopulate), mixing it in with the ‘spent’ compost that I kept back from the potato bags. That makes a nice crumble and is easier to distribute. With a top mulch everything instantly looks much healthier. I’ve also been cutting back the flower borders, clearing out over-growth so that herbs have some air around them and, hopefully, wont get damp and rot. I’ve kept plenty of dried stems and flowers in place though, so there are lots of nooks and crannies for insects to hibernate in over winter. They will be going to bed, and need plenty of hostelry options.
With the overhanging foliage removed, it’s also a good time to clean and clear any leafy, greasy stone or wooden paths so they are not slippery. I use a long-handled stiff brush, the hose set on a power-spray and plenty of elbow grease. I’ve given the grass a final cut and that makes a huge difference.
Neat beds, borders and paths make the dried flowers, leaves and stalks much more attractive. The contrast looks purposeful rather than slothful. That’s important to me when I’m doing the dishes and I look out on the garden from the cottage. And I feel ready for late autumn in a practical sense too, knowing that I can dash out to harvest herbs and veg in the dark and rain, without poking my eye out on a cane, or breaking a leg.
It’s also a last chance to tidy up any paint work to protect woodwork from the worst of the winter. I’ve been very happy with the eco-stain from AURO that I applied to my beds back in April 2015, and they don’t need touching up at all. But I do have some new beds in mind and, as it’s quick drying, I’ll keep my new pot easily accessible at the front of the shed for any dry and sunny opportunities ahead.
So, although the garden hasn’t been ‘put to bed’ as such, it’s got hospital corners and starting to get a structure you could ‘bounce a coin off’. Winter gardening? Bring it on!