I’ve always been a great believer in the adage ‘a tidy house, a tidy mind’. There definitely seems to be a correlation between how clean the space is around me and how clear my brain feels in order to get on with work. Perhaps that’s why I’ve noticed in the last few years the fog that descends on me in August as the garden takes on a slightly wild appearance and I realise that it’s in control and not me. It’s not that I want a garden which is pristine. I prefer a relaxed space with plants tumbling over paths and self-seeded plants popping up in unexpected places, but there is a line where relaxed becomes chaotic. I’m sure I’m not alone in the reluctance to remove or cut back plants which are past their best but still flowering. With autumn comes a release, the freedom to feel able to empty pots of their tired and overgrown bedding plants, to pull out those annuals which have seen better days. It all feels very therapeutic.
October will be a busy month and time in the garden will be in short supply so we’ve made the most of this brief Indian Summer to gain some control. Pots have been cleared and replanted with violas for autumn and winter cheer, hanging baskets have been dismantled, the compost heap has been emptied, the last of the tomatoes picked. Then there was the plot. Work up there is restricted to weekends now but at least I’ve got Wellyman helping out now that he has finished his degree. Apart from brief trips to pick flowers or collect some fruit and vegetables it had been over three weeks since I’d done any work on the plot. I felt a bit guilty it had been so neglected but there’s nothing like a spot of weeding and deadheading to give you the chance to mull over the year and think about what you’ve learnt, the successes and failures, what you want to grow next year and what isn’t worth devoting soil to anymore.
A few thoughts which crept into my head:
- You can have too many pots – they overwhelmed me and the patio this year. Many of them were for work so were a necessary nuisance. But it has shown me the need for space in a garden particularly if you don’t have a lawn. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you can have too many plants.
- It’s surprising how inconvenient it can be to have lettuce and herbs growing on the plot rather than at home. It’s only five minutes away but it might as well be the other end of the country when I’m mid-sandwich prep and realise I’m short on salad. It would make sense to have these in pots at home but I refer you to my previous point.
- The frustrating and unfathomable nature of nature. Wasps have plagued our raspberries this year. Apart from them adding a certain amount of frisson to the picking process – Russian roulette with a sting rather than a bullet – they have the annoying habit of eating a hole in the base of a raspberry and then moving on to the next where they do the same. If they all clubbed together and at least picked a berry and ate the whole thing I wouldn’t mind so much, we all have to eat, but no, they work their way through our raspberry patch nibbling away as if they’re at a food festival and want to try a bit of everything.
- I love growing potatoes. For several years I haven’t bothered with the humble spud but back in January we were in a garden centre looking for something else and ended up coming out with a few paper bags of seed potatoes. Perhaps I’ve loved them so much because for very little effort they reward you handsomely. I’m looking to double the amount for next year. Any recommendations gratefully received.
- I can’t get enough of dahlias. As with the potatoes these fabulous plants need so little attention and yet they just keep on producing the most exquisite of flowers. They’re happiness in a vase. If the bank balance will take it, a whole bed will be given over to them next year.
- Despite feeling like I can’t keep on top of everything I can’t bring myself to hand in the allotment. I don’t spend as much time up there now as I first did. But where would I grow all those potatoes and dahlias if I didn’t have my little patch of land.
- Nobody mentions storage when they extol the virtues of growing your own produce. We had over 60 apples from one small espaliered apple tree this year. Fabulous! That is until you have to find somewhere to store them all. I look at those beautiful wooden apple storage racks that appear in stylish gardening magazines at this time of year and wonder who has the space for them – I can’t get into my downstairs loo because it’s become home to a trug for the recycling, vases which won’t fit anywhere else and a collection of pots filled with ‘Paper White’ narcissi for forcing. Best I stick to early potatoes next year.
- I need to be more ruthless. We have three rhubarb plants – two is plenty. I’ve been meaning to get rid of one of them for a few years now but never seem to get round to it. It’s the same with flowers. I seem to grow some each year despite not really using them as cut flowers. I’m finding that my flower patch is a bit like my wardrobe – I have my favourites that I go to all the time and others go untouched. Fashion magazines talk about capsule wardrobes – does anyone ever achieve that, even the top stylists must have something lurking in their wardrobe that they thought was a good idea when they bought it but they’ve never actually worn it. Well I think I need to attempt a flower version of the capsule wardrobe with my cutting patch. I need to ruthless with flowers that are taking up valuable space and ditch them next year, then I can squeeze in some more dahlias.
- Last year I’d missed the opportunity to sow some green manure and I really regretted it. I don’t like to see bare soil over winter particularly after persistent heavy rain when the soil takes on a pulverized look. It can be tricky using green manures though. That desire to eek out plants for as long as possible (this seems to be a running theme) means that it can often be too late to sow a green manure so that it puts on enough growth at this time of year do actually do its job. Well, on Sunday any vegetables and flowers that had seen better days came out, the ground was cleared and raked and in went some winter rye grass. Hopefully by the end of the month it will have formed a tufty, green duvet to protect the soil over winter.
I’d love to hear what you’ve taken away from this growing year.