Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'

Above: Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff"

Garden diary: August

Sunday 23 September 2007

Autumn equinox - bulb planting

I planted some bulbs earlier this month, but had a large batch to plant today. More narcissi, dwarf iris, crocus, puschkinia and hyacinth, have gone into pots. Each autumn I buy new bulbs, and pot them up, while the previous year's bulbs are planted in the garden somewhere.

It might be because I don't feed them enough when the leaves are dying back, or because I tend to stick the pots in a gloomy corner after flowering, or simply that they're in pots rather than in the ground, but I find often that the display from bulbs the second year isn't as impressive. Buying new stock each autumn should mean a reliable display in spring.

I think too that planting bulbs is one of those seasonal tasks important to gardening. There are other tasks that come a little earlier - like taking down the exhausted sweet peas or runner bean plants - that feel rather sad, a marker of the end of the summer. Planting spring bulbs is far more cheering.

Hyacinth bulbs are objects of beauty in themselves, even before they flower. They're all purple and shimmering and iridescent.

A surprisingly pleasant task today was cleaning up the old tulip bulbs. Tulips are I think my favourite bulb for spring, and I've got a few newly-bought ones ready to plant, later in the autumn (as of course later planting for tulips is recommended - it lessens the risk of virus problems). As well as the new bulbs, I had in the shed a few lots of grubby, dried-up tulip bulbs that flowered this year. After the leaves had died back, I needed the pots they were in, so took them out and left them to dry.

They were as I'd left them, and as today I wanted to get things a little more tidy and organised, I thought I should clean them and bag them up, labelled, ready for planting later. The heaps didn't look promising - dried-up roots, dry soil, and dark-brown flaking-looking things.

Pulling off the dried-up parts and the old roots revealed underneath some healthy bulbs, shiny and plump and a lovely russet brown, just as they look when you buy them. It was a very satisfying task, to rescue these promising-looking things from all the debris. Many of the bulbs looked too small to flower next spring, but there were a few in each batch that seemed big enough.

Having thought I'd got all organised for tulip planting, I realise I might need to now buy some new large plant pots to put them in. Though after my enthusiastic bulb potting-up session and the number of pots lined up as a result, I'm in danger of having so many pots of bulbs that walking around the garden is impossible without constantly kicking them over.

Autumn equinox - garden tidying

I've been out in the garden for most of the day today, from around 10am until dusk. Today is the autumn equinox, and it seemed appropriate to be marking it by planting bulbs and tackling other autumn tasks.

It was a very dull day, with a bit of light drizzle every now and then, and it could have seemed depressing for anyone out shopping in town, or sitting inside looking out on it. In the garden, bulb planting, it seemed just right, with the smell of damp earth, and everything rather still, with no wind. A robin starts to sing once the summer turns to autumn, and he was around a little today, with his rather sad, though beautiful, autumn song. At one point a frog made a few low grumbly croakings from the edge of the pond.

I was a bit disappointed with the garden earlier in the summer, after the peculiar weather, and a lack of flower as a result. Recently though the weather was better and the late-summer flowers like dahlias and heliotrope have been looking good.

The garden looks healthier now after some rain. I didn't expect to be hoping for rain, after the incredibly wet early summer, but things soon dried out over August, when the weather was at last warm and sunny. By early September the earth was bone dry to many inches down, as I noticed when planting 'Pheasant's Eye' narcissi in the flowerbed in front of the golden-leaved mock orange. Luckily there was a patch of bare ground there, in what seemed like a perfect place. There's not much bare ground at this point in the year, as everything has spread around rampantly.

I know from previous experience that once I get involved in autumn bulb planting and the like I'll end up wanting to do some tidying and cutting back, as some of the lushness of early autumn isn't that attractive, if there's been mildew and rust and other problems. A satisfying job today was cutting back a clematis. Not really the right time of year to do this, but I couldn't stand looking at the hopeless mildewed mess any longer.

My Clematis 'Princess of Wales' has been pathetic and disappointing, apparently affected by some nutritional deficiency, and then getting mildew later. A great mass of foliage produced only two flowers, and there was no sign of further buds. I'd draped it around the area near the pond, where it was growing up through a shrub. Today I yanked it all out and chopped it off about a foot from the ground. The whole garden seems to look better as a result. There's something really depressing about unhealthy-looking mildewed plants.

Tidying things up at this time of year isn't really necessary, and indeed in some ways a waste of time, as it's obviously heading to autumn and so everything will soon be messed up again with fallen leaves and the frosts will blacken the dahlias. But usually the garden looks reasonable until late October, and I always feel a need to smarten it up a bit at this time of year, by cutting back a bit and sweeping paths and rearranging pots. Otherwise it just sinks into a merged heap of foliage and messiness, all undefined. I find it satisfying just to tidy a few bits, so that a flowerbed has a visible edge, or the soil surface is free of leaves. Only a couple of very small areas have been tidied, and the rest of it is still a floppy jumble of dahlias, heliotrope, rudbeckia and sedum.

Back to September highlights and diaries


Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'

Above: Helenium "Moerheim Beauty".

Garden diary: October