October: What To Do Now

Fennel seedhead

The bottom of my garden smells of fennel today. Seven-foot stems, covered in feathery leaves, are holding up dried seedheads at just the right height for me to get a good sniff as I walk past. And there are still so many jewel-coloured flowers out: roses, sedums, mallows, hardy fuschia, verbena bonariensis. Some flowers are only just coming into their best now. My gladioli are blooming impressively (I’ve staked them as the tall stalks were falling down with the weight of the flowers). The aster laterifloris ‘Lady in Black’ that I mentioned in this post is finally starting to open its buds. Soon its dark stems will be densely specked with tiny, pink stars. The other aster from that post, aster amellus ‘Rudolphe Goethe’, is now covered in gorgeous fluffy seedheads, which I like almost as much as its flowers.

Despite the cooling temperatures, the garden is a lovely place to be in the low autumn sun, and there are lots of jobs for me to be getting on with to prepare the garden for a new season. My October to-do list actually includes some fairly unappealing tasks…

I need to clear out some manky, blight-ridden tomato plants. And I should clean the greenhouse, so the blight fungal spores don’t hang around to infect next year’s crop. I ought to dig up and dispose of the courgette plants, which have all got mildew now and are no longer productive. Then I should sow a green manure to put some nourishment back in the soil. There’s cat poo in a couple of the raised beds to deal with (yuck!) – I need to put some work into cat-proofing the beds with holly branches over winter. And soon there will be thousands of soggy leaves to be raked up off the lawn and collected from the borders. These are not immediately rewarding jobs, so I’m finding it hard to motivate myself to get them done.

I admit that gardening is not always fun. Sometimes it’s just work. But this dull work is preparation for a new season, and if I do it next year’s garden will be much better for it. Collecting up the leaves will prevent the border plants from being smothered and rotting away in the winter wet, and will keep the lawn green and healthy. Cleaning the greenhouse will improve next summer’s tomato crop. Tidying up the raised beds and sowing a green manure crop will improve the soil and mean better veg crops next year.

The good news is that the weather has got a bit drier, after the unseasonal heavy rain we had in September. I’m going to knuckle down and get the crappy jobs out of the way, and hold on to the thought that I’ll reap the rewards sometime next year.

Here are a few more pleasant jobs that you might like to do in your garden this month:

Sow a bed of garlic

I’ll be using two garlic bulbs that I harvested earlier this year. It’s a satisfying thought that we could be self-sufficient in garlic! I’m going to choose the largest bulbs to break up and plant, as they should, in turn, produce large bulbs next year. You can use supermarket garlic but it won’t be as productive as garlic that is suited to grow in our climate. Garden centres will have bulbs to buy and plant now.

Grow purple sprouting broccoli

This is such an easy winter crop. I bought and planted plug plants at this time last year, and barely had to do a thing to them once they were in the ground, just some occasional weeding. If you grow broccoli or cabbages over winter, you won’t experience the common problem of having your brassica greens eaten by caterpillars because all the butterflies are hibernating.

Create a winter hanging basket

There’s no reason why hanging baskets have to be restricted to summer. I’ll put away the tender fuschias that are in my hanging baskets soon to over-winter in the greenhouse, and plant up a winter basket to hang by the front door. I’m going to use violas and I’m not sure what else. I’ll see what takes my fancy in the winter bedding section the next time I’m at the garden centre. It will be very cheering to come home to flowers on grey winter days.

Plant a fruit tree

This is a great time of year to plant a tree. The soil is warm and moist enough to give a new tree a good start. It can establish a strong root system in autumn and then growth can take off in spring. I recently planted a pretty Cox’s Orange Pippin apple tree in a client’s garden. I enjoyed the moment as I was heeling it in, knowing how much pleasure it would bring for years to come. If you do want to plant an apple tree, go for a self-fertile variety to ensure you’ll get fruit, unless you already have apples or crab apples in your garden or close by. And water it well and regularly for the first year. I noticed lots of fruit trees going cheap in Homebase recently, and the supermarkets often have bargain trees in autumn. Our Morello cherry tree came from Tesco and only cost £8!

I think the best thing about working in the garden in autumn is the lovely sense of achievement you can enjoy when you’re back inside. After some hard graft, I like to snuggle under a blanket on the sofa, with a hot cup of coffee and a biscuit.


Aster amellus ‘Rudolphe Goethe’

Aster laterifloris ‘Lady in Black’

Sedums & verbena bonariensis

Maple leaf