Clematis tangutica ‘Bill MacKenzie’ doing its best for the autumn colour display.
I have always followed the rule I was given when I first started gardening – autumn is THE season to do anything major in your garden, and no other time.
Change any plantings, divide perennials, move shrubs, plant new plants, and get your bulbs in the ground in October/November when the ground is still warm and the plants are dormant. A bit later in December, when it’s frosty and even snowing, is for planting bare root roses. Exceptions to the rule are non-spring-flowering bulbs (which need to be planted in spring itself) and grasses (which prefer to be divided or planted in March, when their cycle of show and display is finished and ready to start again).
Vitis vinifera purpurea turning red in the early morning sunshine.
Once you are committed to this traditional way of organising your gardening year, it is actually liberating rather than constraining – you are not duped into believing you can pop any plant in whenever you like (like a piece of furniture in a room) and expect it to thrive. You really can’t. I only ever had one year when I thought I would plant a few things at strange times, and it was a disaster – what could I have been thinking of?!
Also, by following ‘the plan’ you are taught that most important of all gardening attributes – patience.
Crocosmia ‘Babylon’ still flowering in late September.
It’s all about thinking ahead to autumn and what you’ll change, add or subtract from the ongoing picture composition that is your garden and your unique combination of plants. In reality this means a year of studying how your plants are doing, writing things down a lot (notes of plants to avail yourself of in the future are very important) and because you’ve got a whole year, plenty of time to think properly about your choices.
Wild geranium turning crimson.
So, whilst gardeners glory in every change of season, loving and nurturing every highlight as the gardening year sweeps by, at the back of their brains ‘the plan’ is hard-wired to keep rolling on from one October to the next, waiting for the much anticipated moment when we can finally step out on a nice crisp, sunny October day and really become ‘at one’ with our borders - assessing, moving, re-organising and relishing the freedom to dig up and split perennials, knowing we are improving the overall picture, multiplying our plants and having a hands-on, close-up moment with our precious charges.
Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’
Dan Pearson was writing in the Observer last weekend about how gardening is a cerebral, as well as a tactile experience – your ‘to do’ list is always flickering away in your head, whilst you are enjoying getting your hands dirty. I agree that both sides of the activity are so important. Although I spend a lot of time writing about gardening, there’s nothing quite like the actual doing – being outside in the fresh air and engaging with the soil is the most wonderful thing, and the buzz you get from a day’s hard graft in the garden is like nothing else.
Sedum ‘Matrona’ just beginning to turn.
So, you may say, what if I feel a year is just too long – what if I am ruled by the ‘I must have that now’ attitude? Well, you have to unlearn that feeling of instant gratification that is so 21st century, and learn the gentler art of waiting and planning – it’s much more satisfying in the end and so much better for your plants too.
I have been working on my plan all year, and over the next fortnight I will be putting it all into action, as September slips into October, and I’m so excited about getting out there and enjoying all the hard work.
Unidentified Acer turning from summer lime to pink on the way to crimson.
I have three main beds in my back garden, my shade bed (which requires no specific changes this year), my new bed, which needs complete root and branch re-planting and re-thinking, especially focusing on plants that need baking conditions, and the long bed (though it’s not really very long, except to me!) which is being augmented rather than changed. My tiny front garden is also due for additions. Then there’s the allotment which requires a vast amount of weeding and tidying (after much neglect this summer), irises to be retrieved, and garlic to be planted.
So, there is a great deal to get done, as ever.
Lots of lovely new aquisitions awaiting planting! On the left Cornus Alba is starting its fiery display.
I have been coveting many planting intentions for a whole year, culled from extensive reading and admiring, and now the scraps of paper and scribbled notes have become a list, and all the plants are sourced and awaiting planting. So watch this space …they’ll be in situ very soon now!