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Autumn bulbs

At this time of year we are all looking forward to the imminent arrival of spring and all the flowers that will burst forth to lighten our days. But how many of you are looking forward to Autumn and how we can improve the garden display before next winter?

There are a number of bulbs which you can buy now and plant when the frosts have passed which you might enjoy and will certainly add colour at the other end of the year. Beside the fact that there are now enough species of snowdrops to provide flower all year round (except for some reason the month of May), there are some less well known but equally beautiful additions to the borders.

1. Autumn Crocus or Colychinum.
A stunning plant, that is actually not a crocus. Plant underneath a tree or similar area to prevent it from suffering from too much rain.

2. Dahlia.
An excellent cut flower and so many to choose from (although it makes the water smell very quickly), this is a must have addition to any border.

3. Crocosmia.
The new name for 'Monbretia', one of my personal favourites and again a beautiful plant for the flower arranger.

4. Nerines.
These pink flowers are so recognisable, yet are much maligned. A personal favourite. Treat yourself.

And if you really want to push to boat out and think of NEXT year, try sourcing some winter flowering aconites 'in the green' and cyclamen. Marvellous for that very early spring colour. Oh, and if you want the 'all-year-round' snowdrops, be prepared by taking calm breaths and be ready to empty your deep pockets of any loose change. One rare bulb recently sold for £750!

-- Guy Deakins

Don’t forget the birds this winter


If you want to help birds over the winter months, then a few careful considerations on planting will do just the trick. To encourage birds into the garden, plant a mixed hedgerow of native species plus some standard edible trees, bushes and berry-bearing vines. This can include rowan, holly, whitebeam, spindle, dog rose, guilder rose, elder, hawthorn, honeysuckle and ivy. Cotoneaster, pyracantha and berberis are especially good forage for a wide range of birds. Pyracantha makes a lovely show of red berries which are only palatable after hard frosts.

Winter is a good time to plant trees, shrubs and hedgerow plants. Nest boxes put up in time for spring may be used by birds as a warm refuge in colder weather.   I also put feeders out full of high energy seed mixes and peanuts. Fat balls made from lard and seeds provide a valuable energy supply too. Keep your bird baths ice free too, so that birds can still take a drink. Activity in your garden will soon pick up and wildlife will become more visible as winter’s grip gets looser and the shoots of spring start to show through.

-- Rob Amey


What a year 2013 is going to be in the garden!

With all the recent precipitation, your soil is by now pretty much devoid of air and more importantly the nutrients have been leached away to the nearest river or down the drain, so action must be taken. In this, the month of fervent garden catch-up, we can do many things in the garden to prepare for the coming burst of colour in just a few short months to come. The first thing to do unfortunately involves the outlay of money, which is never a welcome thing to do after the excesses of Christmas.

What you will need to do, depending on the size of your garden , is simple. For a small garden, say 30 feet by 30 feet, buy 3 large bags of compost, one bag of '6x Natural Fertilizer' (if you can't find '6X' try Vitax Q4) and a box of bonemeal. Find an area to mix all the ingredients together well and get your hands dirty. Enjoy the moment, feel the textures and learn to love the soil.

If you don't like your hands getting dirty, buy a pair of Town and Country light duty gloves such as those in the Aquasure or Weedmaster ranges.

When you are satisfied that you have mixed the ingredients thoroughly, walk through your plot sowing the bounty liberally, on your lawn and through your flower beds as if you were a medieval farmer, sowing his furrowed field. Once you have enjoyed yourself, go over your garden with the fork and a cultivator. Spike your lawn as you would every autumn, and lightly turn your borders with your cultivator, being careful to avoid the daffodils and other bulbs rising to the light. If it is very wet, push your fork into the bed and wiggle it lightly – after all a plant needs air as well as water to grow!

When you are satisfied that your garden has been tended, go back indoors, put the kettle on and sit back, smug in the knowledge that you got a march on 'Gardeners World', which doesn't start again for another few weeks. The amateurs!

-- Guy Deakins

Make a wreath

So Christmas is approaching and I am sure, being the thrifty and creative person you are, perhaps you are looking at making your own wreath to adorn your front door.

For a start, buy a decent pair of gloves. Warm and robust. A pair that will hold back the most fearsome holly thorn. The Town and Country Premium Leather and Suede gloves with fleece lining are exceptional if I do say so myself.   Next, decide what you want to achieve? A small garland or a huge planet sized object forcing you to use the back door for the season?  

Materials needed:
  • 1m of narrow gauge chicken wire or a 30cm foam ring.
  • 1mm metal wire, florists binding or garden twine.
  • Greenery / Flora.
  • Ribbon or other decorative materials.
  • Imagination.

  Once you have decided, start to create!   If you are using chicken wire, fold it into a size which will work for your design, making sure it is not impassable for the stems to pass through, but tight enough to hold the material. The beauty of using chicken wire is you can shape it. Perhaps a bell shape, or a snowflake, or the traditional circle. Make a loop of wire and attach it to the back of the frame. This will be the place to fix it.   Now comes the fun part. Choosing your greenery.   Go into your garden, or into the nearest area where there is a multitude of flora with your secateurs (making sure you have asked permission from the landowner).   There are thousands of evergreen shrubs surrounding us, but there is also a plethora of coloured plant stems. Ilex (Holly), Tillia (Lime), Hedera (Ivy), Skimmia, Luarus nobilis, Euonymous, Jasminum, Osmanthus, Viburnum, Lavender, Santolina, not to mention all the lovely varieties of fir tree. And if you are feeling really experimental or brave, try some citrus fruits or apples, horse-chestnuts or oak apples – and maybe even feathers and seashells if you are that way inclined.   When you have chosen your material, prune long lengths if you are using the chicken wire, or short if you are using the foam. Always making sure you do not leave the host plant unsightly, bald or indeed beyond any chance of life!   Return home with your bounty and have fun.   The trick is to add small amounts at a time. Keep the design balanced, so evenly spread out the material. If you are having problems attaching the material use the binding wire.   Happy Christmas!

-- Guy Deakins

Look after your garden furniture



Now that we have had our first frost it is time to protect your garden furniture. Outdoor furniture that’s left outside in freezing conditions or in snow will suffer. Here are some steps you can take to prevent this:

  • Wooden furniture will expand if it’s exposed to moisture and freezing conditions. You can find treatments for your wooden furniture at a local DIY store. It will protect it from moisture and in turn prevent it from warping.
  • Purchase some waterproof furniture covers. They will stop water from getting to your furniture and also add a layer to stop the cold getting to them.
  • Try and raise your furniture from the floor. If you place each table leg on a brick for example, you will avoid the legs sitting in water.
  • If you have space in a shed, try and bring the furniture inside. This is the easiest way to avoid water and temperature damage.

-- Gemma Dray

Ash Dieback Disease - a warning

At this time of year I don't usually recommend the burning of leaves. Indeed I have to say that one of the most important things you do in any garden is to build a leaf pit. As described last year, there are a few ways of doing this, from buying the string bags, to using old pallets and corralling the leaves for a year of gentle rotting. Then, when all is going to sleep next year, you can use the leaf-mould as a vital mulch.

However, with the rise of leaf borne pathogens in specific trees and plants, I would recommend you collect and burn as many leaves as possible. The two trees which are most important in this respect are the Aesculus hippocastanum (Horse-chestnut) and Fraxinus excelsior (Common Ash).

At present we are looking at the destruction of between 50% and 90% of these trees in our fair country. Some of you may have noticed over the past few years that the Horse-chestnuts have browned very early in the year. This is due to an invasive leaf miner moth (originally from Serbia, Cameraria ohridella), which lays its eggs on the leaf and the caterpillar eats its way through the leaf. These leaves fall to the floor and the caterpillar overwinters in the leaf litter. It must be said here, that the moth does not kill the tree. But it does weaken it enough for a fungus to attack the tree itself and kill it. Thus collect up all leaves of the Horse-chestnut and burn them. The moth is not native and should not be here. For more information visit

The second tree under threat of a leaf borne pathogen is the Ash tree. Approximately 80 million trees are under threat of destruction from the fungus Chalara fraxinea. With the same care and attention, if you have one of these beautiful trees in the garden, again collect up all the leaves and burn them. For more information visit Whilst it is admitted both these diseases are now established in the UK, perhaps we can, with care, prevent them from destroying our valuable woodlands.

For a handy hint on how to identify the horrible Ash Dieback disease watch this Youtube video.

-- Guy Deakins

Bee Kind


At this time of year we begin to look at next year’s planting plan. What seed shall we try? How should our garden progress? Thus we grab those handy seed and plant catalogues with glorious plans in mind, sometimes admittedly on a limited budget, but we still want our garden to impress.

So spare a thought next year for our humble insect friends. Sadly, it is becoming apparent, that bees and bumblebees are in decline. Some species have already become extinct in the UK within the last 70 years. Einstein supposedly once stated that if bees died out, mankind would follow within four years. Whether or not Einstein did say this, the realisation is alarming if a little pessimistic.

Nevertheless bees in general are vitally important to the wealth of plants we have in the garden and in wider agriculture. They are vital pollinators as well as a welcome, familiar sound on a summers day. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is striving to halt this decline. According to scientists the only way we can reverse the current decline is to encourage farmers to introduce a 'mosaic of suitable habitat', from nest areas and hedgerows to wild-flower meadows. But at home we can contribute, growing many flowering plants to help the bumblebee. Choose plants which offer a high nectar content, such as, Bluebell, Clover, Scabious, Thyme, Lupin, Heathers and Hollyhock to name a few.

A full list can be found on the Bumblebee Conservation Trusts website. Also we can provide nest sites. There are a few differing designs, all of which can be found along with factsheets, again on the Trust website. You never know you may even win a 'BEE KIND' prize!

-- Guy Deakins

Easy mulching


Something I love about Autumn is when all the leaves fall to the ground. When they are dry, the brown, red and caramel shades look gorgeous amongst the green grass. However when they are wet, they are slippery and dangerous!

Now that your garden is beginning the process of dying down for the Autumn and Winter ahead, it’s time to think ahead to next years garden. Collect all your leaves., dry or wet. Put them in a mulch bin or a bin liner. Pierce a few holes into the bag around the sides, lightly water the leaves and then tie the top of the bag. Leave somewhere shaded and leave it to naturally mulch down. Leave it till spring/summer for a mulch or leave it a whole year for a great compost.

-- Gemma Dray

September is harvest time


1. It is time to lift the main carrot crop before the cold weather sets in. Cut off the leaves and store in sand or dry soil in a shed Keep the carrots well spaced.

2. Plant out pot grown rooted strawberry runners.

3. Rake out dead grass from your lawn with a spring-tine rake and aerate the lawn.

4. If you have grown more marrows than you can eat, then pick the best ones and gently cradle them in cloth and hang in a dry place where the temperature will not fall below 45 degrees F. They should keep you going until February.

5. Lift and dry onions and hang in nets in a cool, dry place.

6. Lift your celeriac when the bulbous stems are blanched. Remove leaves and store in the same way as for carrots.

7. September is the best month for sowing grass seed and repairing dead turf.

8. In order to have a continuous supply of vegetables and salads during autumn and winter, I think the large cloches are ideal. I have ones with four panes of glass with wire supports which are ideal for growing winter radish, lettuce and parsley.

9. Root cuttings of anchusa can be taken now.

10. Clear asparagus beds when the leaves turn yellow. Cut the stems to within a few inches of the ground.

11. If you’re left with any unripened tomatoes, pick them and wrap them in brown packing paper and they’ll soon turn their colour, or alternatively green tomatoes can be pickled or used to make chutney.

12. If you’d like to collect seeds from ripened tomatoes for next season, cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the pulp and seeds in to an earthenware bowl and leave for two days. After two days wash and strain through a sieve and clear the pulp way. Spread the seeds out onto a sheet of glass and leave to dry. Once dry, store in paper bags. A dry cupboard is the best place to store seeds.

13. Your maincrops of potato can all be harvested this month, as well as cauliflowers, leeks, broccoli, turnips, celery and beetroot.

14. When gladiolus leaves turn colour, lift and bring them under cover for a week, then remove the soil, cut off the stems about a half inch above the corms. Take off the old corm below the new and save the small offset corms to plant in boxes of peat in spring. Store in paper bags in a cool, frost proof place with a little dry sand over them and keep until planting time.

15. Clear away tired annuals.

16. Take cuttings of roses.

17. Transplant seedling wallflowers.

18. Order fruit trees and bushes.

19. Prune blackcurrant, raspberry, peach and nectarines.

20. Plant violets in a frame.

-- Rob Amey

Autumn is upon us

Well folks, September has arrived. Odd that, seeing as our summer hardly got going before the first signs of autumn crept into our early morning bones.

As I am sure I have said before, I love this time of year most of all. The weather is still mild, yet things in the garden seemed to have slowed. The last of the summer vegetable harvest is ready to be picked and the apples are sitting heavy on the boughs. I have already pencilled in my visit to Sheffield Park, the garden designed for autumn colour in the heart of Sussex and all is good in the world.

Time to sit back in the deck chair for one last warm snooze, whilst the light is still good? Not on your nelly! Now is the time, not so much of our discontent, but most definitely of much anticipated activity in the garden following the rather dull and monotonous tending of the garden in the previous months. Cutting back all those perennials that are rapidly passing their best is the first chore which must be done, not forgetting to leave some seed heads for the birds.

Pruning the climbing roses is another, as I described at this time last year in this very spot (check the archives if you don’t believe me). If your lawns have had a hard wear this summer, then now is the time to patch those glaring holes. The final sowing of winter green manure Phacelia is also a must for all those that want to return some goodness and compost to the soil later in the winter, not forgetting mulching is of vital importance too - trap the last of the warmth in the soil now and pay dividends later.

Sowings of winter and spring crops can still be made, such as cresses, carrot, turnips, mooli and endive; not forgetting onions sown now for spring. Now is also the time for taking cuttings from your favourite pelargoniums and verbenas. Under glass it is also time to prune you apricot, peach and nectarine trees, removing all laterals, tying in all those shoots that are required for next years fruit.

Finally, in that oh so special place we all have secreted in the vast expanse of the average urban garden, ‘The Pinery’; keep a genial atmosphere of between 70° and 83° among your fruiting plants. Water them with clear manure water, refraining from syringing those in fruit or flower. Not forgetting that pineapples are thought to grow better from fermenting rotting material beneath than from the use of hot water.

So, lots to do, before you clean your tools and shut up shop for winter, reverting to your welcoming armchairs besides the hearth. Just one last thing mind you. Don’t forget, above all other things, the second spring is coming. That curious moment offered by Mother Nature when all plants burn off the last of their stored food, producing a burst of growth reminiscent of early spring. So perhaps don’t down tools just yet.

-- Guy Deakins