September delights

Spectacular rose hips provide Autumn colour - and food for birds
Such a wonderful time of year is September, when the fruits of our labours are increasingly apparent, and we can turn to thoughts of the months ahead. The farming year always runs from harvest to harvest; as soon as the grain is in, ploughing and re-sowing. It coincides with the educational year and new beginnings (and that was always related to farming and post-harvest). Right now in our garden, I am pleased that shrub rose hips are in bright abundance; although I might pick a few sprays to display indoors in a pewter jug, most will be left for the wild birds to forage seeds in the coming winter. The shrub itself will not be pruned other than to remove straggly growth – and that not until just before new bud burst.

Long-lived Iceberg flowers even on Christmas Day
Floribunda roses are a different matter, and my Iceberg (planted in memory of a dear friend back in the early-70s) has flourished for 40 years with little attention. It flowers almost continuously if dead-headed as each flush of bloom fades; once the petals fall from these – photographed this morning – a spot of light Autumn pruning will mean fresh growth and new flower buds so that we can pluck a flower of two on Christmas Day. Roses indeed are a continual joy; and species and shrub roses do not suffer from the problems so often encountered with hybrid teas.

Bulbs in pots fill odd corners of the garden with Spring fragrance and colour
And so to thinking about early Spring colour, and particularly bulbs, planted now direct in the ground, either formally in borders or naturalised in grass. Tulips and taller daffs look spectacular when massed in groups – select varieties that will flower early, from February, through mid-season (March and April) to late, right through until the end of May: take a look at this four-month daffodil/narcissi mix, or the colour-themed mix of tulips. For naturalising, or where space is at a premium, select species – miniature narcissi and daffs, crocuses and multi-headed or dwarf tulips which are delicate and quite spectacular. Alternatively, plant in pots which can be moved once the bulbs have flowered, allowing them to dry our and ‘ripen’ before re-planting. My potted bulbs are replanted between shrubs and continue for years. Money well-spent. If planting in pots for outdoor use, use a deep pot with drainage holes, crock with stone, pebbles or broken flower pots. Then add a layer of potting compost and position the bulbs so they are almost touching and fill to the brim with more compost. If birds or squirrels are likely to be a problem, cover with clippings from holly or thorn, or an upended hanging basket.

Consider protecting vegetable and salad crops before heavy frosts
In the veg plot, it’s time to think of protection to keep crops from frost or excess wet – and to extend sowing and growing time. Frames are always useful, but as I garden in raised beds, I tend to favour ‘layering’. Cloches over which I position fleece and even mesh which is easy to remove on warmer days. It’s hard to find frames which fit standard-sized raised beds, but it is easy enough to construct formers which hold the fleece  - just a cross-bar nailed to two uprights, pressed into the soil at regular intervals. Failing that – if you are not handy with saw and hammer, pop a flower pot over each post and stretch the fleece over those.

An award-winning Malvern show-garden within sight of the spectacular hills
Inspiration: people travel from far and wide every year to the Malvern Autumn Show which gets better and better and is a continual source of information and challenging ideas – or just a grand day out, for all the family. Organised by TCAS (Three Counties Agricultural Society) on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th September, 2012, at the showground in the lee of the beautiful Malvern Hills, there is still time to obtain tickets. Click here for tickets and more showground details, or to read a longer account of what’s on, go to my Traveller’s Tales blog

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