Winter over the horizon

The garden has turned. What looked, until a few days ago, still green and alive has now gone over into yellows, ochres and browns. Light levels have been low for several days, because of the season, but also because of the persistently dingy weather: layer upon layer of weak cloud, mist, drizzle. This has finally put paid to any thoughts of a bright autumnal bloom. Winter is on its way, and the best we can do it to keep ahead of its onward march. 

Sunday was a busy day in the garden at home, starting the winter preparations. I moved lots of things into the – currently unheated – greenhouse. This is as much about stopping them getting too wet for the moment as it is about protecting them from the cold: we have only had one frost, and that a mild one, so far.

Pots of Agapanthus, which never did very well this year, have been safely stowed and mulched with potting grit. Likewise, pots of herbs – parsely, thyme, sweet marjoram and sorrel – which will provide some green on the plate in coming months. 

A few weeks ago I sowed Watercress seeds in a large pot which does not have drainage holes, and compost which remains permanently damp. They have done very well indeed, and offer a nice peppery garnish for meals and sandwiches. What I failed to do was to follow-up with a second, successional, sowing, so the crop will not last for ever. But that makes it all the tastier for now.

I have also brought lots of small perennials under cover. These have been grown variously from seed, cuttings and plugs, and are stock for next year’s plantings. But they are vulnerable to getting too cold and wet if left outdoors. Keeping them in the greenhouse allows me to keep an eye on them all in one place, and to keep the watered but not too damp. 

Finally, some lovely Pelargoniums (courtesy of Sarah Raven’s nursery) have been brought in for protection. They didn’t flower all that much in this, their first, season, but have grown into handsome plants, and I look forward to a good display next year, They are ‘Venetian-flowered’ types – Lord Bute, Mystery and April Hamilton – rich and velvety in hue. 

Sweet Peas, sowed in root-trainers a couple of weeks ago, are doing well under glass. I pinched the tops out to promote sturdier growth, especially as the light fades and they might straggle upwards otherwise.

On Friday I received a packet of plugs – Hollyhock Alcea Halo Mixed – on trial from Thompson and Morgan. I potted them out into a home-made compost/vermiculite mixture, and they are having a few days outdoors for now while they get established. I have grown these before myself, but it will be good to watch more carefully and precisely how they get on. I am, after all, duty-bound to report back on their progress to the ever-helpful Marilyn at T&M.

Allotment-wise, I have sown a mixed Green Manure on some of the raised beds: the first time I have tried this. As of last week, it was showing good growth, although so were the weeds – couch grass being the worst and most persistent offender. A load of well-rotted compost arrived too, so that it being applied to the empty beds after I have cleared them and given them a thorough hand-weed. It’s lovely warm and rich stuff, from a supplier I’d not used before – and he gives a discount to members of the local Allotment Association to boot.

Finally for today, I am thrilled to see that Monty Don’s first book – The Prickotty Bush – is to be reissued in December by Harvill Press. In her interview with the Don a couple of years ago Kate Kellaway described it as one of her favourite gardening books, and ripe for a reprint – well her wish has come true! And for me, as well as offering the delight of reading more of the Don’s excellent prose on winter evenings, it will complete my collection of his published works.

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