Gardeners are always looking ahead, so while we enjoy the delights of the season’s current blooms, we’re already thinking about crops and blooms for the future. Make sure you cater for wildlife, too, by keeping food and water supplies topped up: watching them visit is part of the fun of the garden.
Five things you should plant
Bulbs that flower in autumn add extra colour just when we need it – and Meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale) should be added to your list if you like something a little unusual. The flowers come up first, and look like large crocuses, except there are no leaves. This is not the species to grow to produce your own supply of the spice saffron, though – for that you need Crocus sativus, which you can also plant now. Avon Bulbs have a good range of colchicums and they sell saffron bulbs, too.
Rather than a single spire of flowers, foxglove “Pink Panther” produces several, and branches out to keep the show going for longer. This cultivar is sterile, so you won’t get seedlings popping up around your garden; it’s up to you whether you see this as a plus or a minus. Keep them well watered so they can establish a sturdy root system before winter arrives.
If you want to show off your growing credentials, make it your goal to present a Christmas dinner featuring your own homegrown new potatoes. Start now by ordering late season potato tubers (also called cold stored potato tubers) – “Maris Peer” and “Charlotte” are a good choice. Plant tubers in tubs (large builder’s buckets are good) or sacks at least 30cm across, three per container. Move them to somewhere frost-free come autumn so they can keep on growing.
Whether you’ve sown them yourself or bought plug plants, now is the moment to plant out brassicas in their final cropping spot. Make sure the soil is damp before you start, and protect them from birds, butterflies and slugs. Cut down the work in future years by opting for perennial brassicas – Incredible Vegetables sell a good range.
The lacy flowers of Daucus carota “Dara”, a claret-coloured form of the wild carrot, are a summer favourite of mine, and the pollinators love it, too: direct sow them where you want them to grow now, for a display next summer. They self seed so you won’t need to sow more than once.
Five garden maintenance tasks to complete
If you want the display of flowers to last as long as possible, regularly deadhead flowers such as roses and dahlias. But it’s worth leaving some seedheads behind, as birds love to harvest the seeds of certain species. If you’re looking to attract more birds to your garden, sedum, teasel, rudbeckia and echinacea seedheads are particularly favoured.
If your perennial herbs are looking straggly after flowering, give them a haircut to prompt a flush of new growth. Wait until the likes of sage, marjoram, mint and lemon balm have flowered, then cut them back with a pair of secateurs. Leaves in good shape can be used fresh or dried for storage; add the rest of the trimmings to the compost heap.
Check your strawberry plants – if they have put out runners, you can easily make new plants. Each runner – a long whippy stem – will grow a new plant at its end, and once these have rooted, you can snip them away from the parent plant and pot up or plant elsewhere. If you have more runners than you need, snip away the excess stems, to stop your strawberry plants wasting energy on producing more babies.
If you’ve been letting the grass grow long around fruit trees, now is the time to strim, scythe or mow it back: this makes spotting the first windfalls so much easier. When these appear, you know the time to pick is approaching. If you have too much fruit to use yourself, find a local abundance group to share your crop with, or offer on local zero-waste groups. No fruit trees of your own? Check Falling Fruit, a global crowdsourced map of urban fruit trees.
Once lavender flowers are dry and no longer covered in bees, you can snip off the flowering stems, making sure to avoid cutting back into woody growth, as lavenders will not regrow if cut too severely. Hang the stems to dry and you can use the scented flowerheads in baking, display them in a vase or make lavender cushions.
Five further ways to enjoy your garden
Keep wildlife coming to your garden by providing dishes of water, at ground level and in birdbaths. Avoid the spread of disease by regularly scrubbing out bird feeders and baths with hot soapy water, then rinse and dry.
Camellias flower in spring, but it’s now that their flower buds start to form. If conditions are too dry, you may be disappointed with next year’s display. Give your camellias water (“grey” water from your washing up bowl is fine) and once the soil around them is damp, mulch with a thick layer of homemade compost or green waste compost to lock the moisture in.
If tomatoes are failing to ripen, make sure the fruit is receiving maximum light by removing any leaves that are shading them. Water regularly as erratic moisture levels can cause problems such as split fruit and blossom end rot, where dark, sunken patches appear on the tomatoes.
Going away for a few days and don’t have anyone to water your garden? The best solution is to move containers and hanging baskets to your shadiest, most sheltered spot outside, place them in a huddle and soak everything well before you leave, placing saucers underneath to catch the excess: the plant can then suck that moisture up as they start to dry out.
As you harvest crops, cover the bare earth as soon as you can to prevent weeds taking hold; either sow a speedy catch crop such as radishes, salad rocket or salad leaves, or a green manure such as Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia). You can enjoy Phacelia’s frothy lilac flowers, then chop down the plants and dig them into the top 25cm of the soil where they will break down and help to improve the soil structure, as well as boosting nutrient levels.