Autumnal shades of… blue

‘The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer’ – George RR Martin

The words of George RR Martin struck a chilly chord with me this morning as I opened up the kitchen doors to wander around my garden, as I do every single morning, year round. A distinct coolness around my short-clad lallies.

I mean September? How on earth can it be September? It was only Easter Bank Holiday last week, wasn’t it? Summer should get a speeding ticket!

The lawn, which for the last week has been glittered with dew in the mornings, dampened my flip-flopped feet en route to the greenhouse. Last night at just 7.45pm it was getting dark, and there am I sat inside, in my armchair, (not outside in a wicker garden seat), TV-ing, (not BBQ-ing) and drinking hot cocoa, not chilled Cabernet. And the final sear of sequinned agony…. Strictly’s back! Summer is over and we’re cha, cha, cha-ing towards Christmas. And I’m not ready for that; not yet!

I’m decidedly downhearted at the passing of another glorious summer and its beautifully long, sun-baked days; the sun beating down and burning my back; it’s too early to say goodbye to the reassuring whir of my lawnmower and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass. I can’t cope with the loss of my summer garden’s fantastic last hurrah of dahlias, sedums and golden grasses. How has it all passed so quickly? How can the season have reached its last chapter so soon?‘Come on Palmer. Shake yourself. Wallowing in self-pity is not you’, I tell myself, as Claudia Winkleman’s kohl-laden eyes smile across the room at me as she invites me to ‘keep dancing’. ‘No Claudia, I don’t feel like dancing. I want my summer back’.

So, the end of this beautiful season is approaching and winter is stood, shivering in the wings. But it’s not the end; oh no, there’s still plenty to do and get excited about in the gardening department. So by all means, put away your gardening shorts and t-shirts, your factor 30 sun-tan lotion and flip-flops. But, pull out a woolly jumper, a pair of cosy corduroy trousers (I’m joking…!), a pair of jeans and your waterproof gardening boots. There’s still work to be done.

Firstly, there’s bulbs to buy now. Tulips, daffs, crocus, alliums and more. I’m thinking plum and tangerine tulips in pots; white ‘Thalia’ daffs for the borders and rich, violet blue crocus for naturalising in the front garden. I’m dreaming of colourful winter containers with chocolate-coloured heucheras, the sparkling red berries of Skimmia japonica, bergenias with beautifully burnished foliage and sumptuous carmine cyclamen. It’s time to turn dreaming into doing. A visit to the local garden centre will be required, returning with a car crammed with winter wonders. In the garden, containers will need to be cleared of summer bedding, cleaned and topped with fresh compost. I’m already working up a sweat just thinking about it.

It’s bulb buying time.

And then there’s my multifarious, burgeoning borders which are crying out for a degree of consolidation. Too many times during the season I have looked at the garden and thought ‘that needs to be moved/is in the wrong place/doesn’t look right there’. A list of ‘things to do’ will be needed and I have a feeling this list will probably grow faster than the clematis montana scrabbling over the fence from my neighbour’s garden. The ‘ill-sited’ offenders will need to be assigned new homes in my garden, however, not before clearing the borders of jaded perennials. The once flaming phlox are now just vestiges of verdancy; once ebullient echinaceas now forlorn forms of autumn. So it’ll be off with their heads, their entire bodies for that matter and straight to the composter. There’s going to be loads to do!

The greenhouse and potting shed are desperate for a clean through and tidy up now. My excuses throughout the summer no longer wash (every pun intended)! It’ll be a days’ work to de-cobweb, dust, sweep, disinfect and clean the glass inside and out. The potting shed next. There’s that much compost on the floor I could plant a small garden in there. Another days’ work needed here and that’s not including a good clean of my gardening tools. Plastic pots and seed trays will need to be disinfected to use again, and again and again as we all embrace the perils of the plastic population growing at a rate of knots in our beautiful oceans.

I overwinter my potted dahlias in the greenhouse, so they’ll need to be cut back after the first frosts have blackened and felled them. Their pots will need to be cleaned and then lugged to the greenhouse from around the garden. I’m already wondering if I’ll have enough time!
Oh! Seeds for next spring. A wet October afternoon, a regular Latte and perhaps a slice of coffee cake at the local garden centre then a wander around the seed stands and make my selections. Also a great excuse to see what plant casualties are waiting for me to save them in the ‘reduced’ section.

And finally, I think, let’s not forget tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show need to be procured. It’ll be my birthday present to me! And Hampton Court Flower Show, or Flower ‘festival’ I think they’ve ‘re-branded’ it. Yes, it’ll be my birthday present to me…..! What…?!

Well I feel loads better now; there’s plenty to be getting along with.
And no, I can’t change the dark evenings, which will turn into dark afternoons after 4pm. I can’t stop the dark mornings, the cold, freezing, icy, snowy and wet, windy days of winter. But our gardens need that down time, just as much as we gardeners do. So let’s recharge our batteries, re-energise our aching appendages and enjoy a break. Heaven knows, it’ll soon be spring!

Author: Mike the Gardener

Freelance gardening writer, consultant and designer. Mike Palmer is a passionate and professional plantsman, offering services in garden writing, consultancy and garden design. Mike is also available for garden and plant related talks and presentations. Mike has been a professional horticulturalist for over fifteen years.

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