AUTUMN is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness to quote Keats, and it really is my favourite time of year, writes James Iles.
As the famed poet’s immortal lines suggest, while there is more of a nip in the air as the nights draw in, the prospect of stunning hues on trees is upon us, the bees are still buzzing around late summer flowers and, best of all, it is harvest time.
And while farmers reap their harvests across our green and pleasant land it is time for us to take stock of our own gardens and not just in the sense that fruit trees and vegetable crops are ready to be picked and stored.
Putting the garden to bed
Autumn is the time to bed down for the winter. So while you’re harvesting your own apples, plums and pears, take the time to have a long look at your whole garden design and think has anything outgrown its home?
Or would one plant look better next to another plant?
Now is the ideal time to lift and shift that perennial that’s crowding out its neighbours or the shrub that’s bullying your border.
This is because they have finished the main growing season but the soil is still warm enough for them to re-establish a good root structure before the winter.
Deciduous trees and shrubs should be moved after their leaves have fallen and, similarly, now is a good time to plant new trees and shrubs, perhaps in line with your re-design.
Some perennials will need cutting back, tidying up and maybe dividing too.
This can be done by splitting them with either a sharp spade or by using two forks to prise apart the crowns, depending on your preference.
The resulting smaller plants make a cost-free alternative to new plants and you can repeat designs around the garden.
Plant spring bulbs
While you’re digging your borders and shifting shrubs around why not take the opportunity to plant some spring bulbs.
You can start planting Daffodils and other narcissi from August and crocuses and snowdrops are among the first to be planted though spring bulbs like tulips and hyacinths must wait until October to November ideally.
Tulips must get good drainage too so are often better potted up with plenty of gravel in the bottom of the container.
Think of contrasting schemes that will flower at the same time (check labels for approximate flowering periods) like yellow narcissi with blue grape hyacinths or red tulips with some forget-me-knots.
There is an array to choose from in garden centres, DIY stores and online right now – the quicker you buy them the more choice you’ll get.
Autumn is also ideal for laying new lawns from turf or seed as there is traditionally as the soil is still warm enough while the heat of summer, which will have threatened to scorch new lawns, has passed.
Make sure the soil is not boggy underfoot before laying turf or it will not take.
If you want to make an immediate impact with some stunning autumn foliage try shrubs like barberries, cotinus ‘Grace’ – the smoke bush, Japanese maples like Acer palmatum or perennials like crocosmia.
Finally, remember to bring tender plants in to your greenhouse, conservatory or even window sill to protect them from the threat of frosts and, as leaves fall, compost them, keep them off the crowns of perennials and rake them off the lawn when possible.
After all that, you can relax and enjoy a winter break, and rest assured your garden is ready for its winter break too.
But don’t worry, it won’t be long before you’re longing to see green shoots of early flowers begin to emerge next Spring and do it all over again.