September song: Pre-winter prep for your garden
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The sun is long gone, and our columnist is getting her garden ready for the colder months...
The days are starting to get noticeably shorter, and it’s fairly unavoidable to admit that autumn is well and truly on the way. It is at this time of year that we can become lazy about getting out in the garden - with the mornings and evenings noticeably cooler, it becomes very tempting to hunker down indoors. But you’ll regret not having done some pre-winter preparation whilst you have the chance during these final warmish days.
The annual life cycle of a garden is one of ups and downs - it’s a little like having children, or indeed pets. There are times when you will be having to do the nitty gritty - the jobs which nobody really wants to do, the gardening equivalent of changing dirty nappies, or picking up after the dog, or taking it for a long walk when it’s freezing cold or raining outside. These jobs in the garden are the ones that are tiresome - picking up the leaves as they start to fall, or - the job which awaits me in the coming weeks - collecting the fallen conkers in the garden, ideally before the team of squirrels set to and start digging up the lawn to hide them.
These jobs often feel like caretaking to me as you don’t see any immediate reward. Removing the fallen leaves from a wet lawn can often just uncover muddy and unkempt patches of grass, which didn’t quite get that final cut of the summer that you were always intending to do, but never quite got around to. Cutting back is a job that I love - when you prune back after the summer, you can really get a sense of achievement, and see what you have done. It makes the garden seem bigger somehow - like moving the furniture around in the sitting room before the arrival of an elderly relative, something my grandmother always used to make my grandfather do when the family were coming to visit. It gives the garden a slightly different air to that which it had before - a bit of a spruce up, like a new haircut.
It can feel slightly forlorn though - cutting back the dead heads on the lavender for example; the scent of the flowers still rubs off on my fingers as I’m cutting - the reminder of summer days happily spent in the garden. Now the dead stalks almost crumble into my hands as I gather them together for the compost, scattering as I bunch them into the trug. Although these jobs might not always be the most enjoyable, they are certainly worth doing. Planting bulbs is one of these jobs - but more on that next mon!
Owning and caring for a garden is really a big undertaking. It doesn’t matter what size your garden is - as soon as you start spending money, and investing your time in a garden, you’ve made the commitment to look after it. If you don’t enjoy doing it, or don’t want to spend your time looking after your plants, then the best thing to do would be to just put it down to lawn, or terracing!
Several years ago I took on an allotment - several people had told me that it would be a huge amount of work, and that in addition to spending time in my own garden, as well as a full time job, I would find it difficult to find the time needed to dedicate to tending it as much as it would need. Naively I thought that I would have the time, but sure enough, 12 months later, I was handing the keys back to the allotment association. The person coming after me would be lucky to receive a plot which had been thoroughly weeded (when I had taken it, it was like a jungle), well composted, and full of all of the nutrients and care that had gone into a season of growing. I knew that I couldn’t dedicate another year to it though, and it was almost a relief when I didn’t have to feel guilty about neglecting my own garden/and or the allotment any longer.
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I like to think that one day I will have the time to take on proper vegetable growing again, but for now, it’s probably a pipe dream. Biting off more than you can chew with your garden can be a bad idea if it puts you off gardening long term. For me, my passion for gardening was such that I knew I would still garden, just on a slightly smaller scale, whereas for some people, taking a garden which is bigger than they can manage can result in giving up on it altogether - which I believe should be avoided at all costs!!
So - over the next few weeks, do a few jobs that you need to do to make over-wintering easier - cut back those things which need pruning and keep mowing the lawn for those final few weeks. It won’t be long before the garden starts to slip into its slumber and you can relax a bit over the winter months. Make the most of the final summer evenings in your garden, and most importantly - enjoy what you have achieved in your own green space!
Jobs to do this month:
* Give your lawns a bit of TLC - over the summer, particularly if you have children running around, your lawns are likely to have taken some punishing. In our garden, the edges of the lawns become particularly damaged with plants overhanging the edges and going sparse and a bit muddy. This month is a good time to repair those edges whilst the ground is still warm, as it will help the seed to germinate. If you are wanting to take the turf option instead, this is also a good time to lay it before the winter. If you want to give your lawn a really thorough makeover before the winter - now is the last real chance to do any scarifying, and removal of moss.
* September is a good time to cut back your lavender bushes. If you leave most of the growth from this year; it should prevent the plants from getting too leggy. In our garden, we have an enormous lavender - when it’s been in full flower, it seems to take up almost half of the garden, and when it’s cut it makes a huge difference to the whole side of the garden.
* Remember to keep deadheading your roses - this will make for stronger plants, and will keep the garden looking tidy. It feels like a endless task at the moment, removing the petals from “blown” rose heads after it’s rained, but the scent which comes from them makes the job almost worth it!
* Start thinking about buying your bulbs for spring. Most bulb catalogues have been out for a while now, and you can be making lists/ordering what you want to buy for planting next month.