It is sad to think that already we are thinking of autumn as the leaves of trees and shrubs are turning russet colour and berries are bright orange and scarlet. Perennial autumn anemones, often called Japanese anemones, make a great display at this time of the year in white or magenta pink blooms. They too are tolerant of dryish soils and can tolerate a fair amount of shade.
It will soon be time to clear out summer bedding plants as they finish flowering, or when the first frosts turn leaves black. Place all annual flower plants onto the compost heap and dig out as many weeds as possible. Or do as I often do, and dig the annuals and the weeds into the bed, and that way you are green manuring at the same time.
As most people found last winter, dahlia tubers do not survive harsh winters, and if they are to survive from year to year they need to be lifted now and stored in a frost free shed or garage. Dig up the tubers and knock off as much soil as possible with a blunt stick. Cut back the stem to leave just 15cm (6”) and turn this upside down so that all moisture drains from the hollow stem. Leave in an airy place for a fortnight to allow the tubers to dry off completely before dusting with sulphur powder and wrapping individually in newspaper. Place in a cardboard box in a frost-free position. Gladioli corms and begonia corms should be treated in the same way, as these too are subject to frost damage and storage rots.
In the cleared flower borders plant daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths and crocus early in October so they can develop a good, strong root system while your soil is relatively warm. To prevent these glorious spring bulbs from getting weaker and weaker each year feed the soil now so these new roots can absorb balanced nutrients throughout the winter. For maximum growth add a slow release plant food so that the plant can draw nutrients during autumn and again in the spring when growth is strong and the bulb is creating the flower buds that will form the blooms for the subsequent year’s display. If your soil is short of organic matter then digging in a good compost will provide a reservoir of moisture and nutrients.
Hyacinths are perfect for pots, their waxy petals are highly perfumed and need to be displayed close to the house so that you get full benefit from their beauty and heady scent. Likewise tulips that bloom in May are just a nuisance in flower borders as you may be itching to clear the bed ready for summer flowers just when they are at the peak of their show.
Because different varieties of tulips bloom at different times, mixing them up is not the way to achieve the optimum display. I like to plant up one variety per container and move the pots around so that those showing flowers are moved to the front of my patio. After planting your spring bulbs it is well worth topping off the container with spring bedding such as wallflowers, winter pansies or double daisies (bellis). These will not only provide a contrasting flower form but will also give some physical support to the tall stems of some of these tulips. So get out to your Garden Centre and start buying your bulbs!