While some trees will retain their leaves to create a magical display of autumn colours, most will fall to the ground at the first signs of strong winds. Some like the Scarlet Oak, acers, maples and dogwood will produce brilliant foliage colour that make walks a delight for the whole family. Bright sunny days and really cold nights will herald the start of winter. The first frosts will soon put paid to the dahlias, tradescantia and all manner of soft-stemmed herbaceous border plants. Even though the stems of some hardier types won’t be killed off, the foliage will start to die back and most plants will be looking untidy at this time of the year.
Cutting back the stems of border plants such as peony, achillea, Russian sage and columbine to about 8-15cm (3 to 6in) before winter is good garden hygiene. Pests and diseases have less host material to over-winter on and the look of your borders will be much tidier. Compost all the material that is disease-free. Only when stems are carrying seed heads that are attractive to birds or visually pleasing is it worth leaving the stems of grasses, poppies, echinacea and other cone flowers. Bear’s britches (Acanthus) and liatris produce upright and sturdy stems that will remain attractive for many months.
Then we come to planting up with winter flowering bedding that will continue to bloom in spring; Primula, polyanthus and primrose are hardy enough in most areas to survive a few years, producing bright jewel colours whenever the weather is mild. Pansies are still one of my favourites and nowadays come in all manner of forms. The small blooms of viola are quite fashionable in a restrained sort of way. Some are simple single colours and others simple bi-colours bred from the wild pansy ‘tricolour’ that displays purple, white and yellow. ‘Ultima Morho’ is a bi-colour of yellow and soft violet and ‘Rose Shades’ are dark reds. They make great garden plants because they produce so many flowers and repeat bloom in all manner of weathers.
For tubs and baskets you should try trailing types of pansies which are relatively new, they provide an abundance of flowers and produce a great display. I`ve put them in window boxes and around the edge of large pots on the patio to trial and they were just great. Most seem to be from the viola family providing bright clean colours and plenty of blooms.
If you can provide a little shelter using a cold frame or plastic greenhouse its worth sowing seeds of broad beans to provide strong plants that can be planted out next spring for an early crop of these delicious vegetables. Because they grow in the hardest climates varieties such as ‘Aquadulce Claudia, ‘Imperial Greenpod’ and ‘The Sutton’ are reliable in all but the hardest of winters. Sow the seeds individually in pots of Seed & Cutting Compost as soon as possible and keep evenly moist.
Winter vegetables such as leeks, parsnips and celery should be ready to lift for the kitchen soon. Parsnips definitely taste sweeter once they have received a few hard frosts as the cold weather changes the carbohydrates in the stems to sugars. Many people’s leeks don’t look large enough for harvest yet as they took ages to germinate and even longer until they were big enough to transplant. Normally the small seedlings are ready for transplanting in May and June after digging early potatoes, but this year the cold, wet spring slowed growth to a snail’s pace. So be patient like all good gardeners and if the weather is kind they will keep growing
Last, but definitely not least, now that onions and garlic are such an everyday kitchen ingredient it’s worth growing your own. The trick is to plant this side of Christmas to provide correct maturing and ripening during the height of summer. Japanese onions such as Senshyu do particularly well and so do some newer varieties such as ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Hi Keeper’. Garlic doesn’t normally come with a descriptive variety name, so choose plump bulbs that haven’t started to shrivel, there should be plenty in your local Garden Centre or nursery.
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