October 01 2022

Head Gardeners’ tips
October 2022

Alex Law - Head Gardener, Midlands

Autumnal days have appeared before us so wrap up, head out and enjoy all the new sights, sounds and smells around and about!

Autumn is certainly in the air, but Head Gardener Alex has a few warming words to help you keep relishing the great outdoors.

October has arrived, which means it’s time to embrace the cooler, shorter days, and to relax into a slower pace in the garden. The rush of summer suddenly seems long ago and we have glided into the mellow ambience of autumn with the same ease as we have slipped into our favourite old jumper.

The vegetable garden is still bountiful and equally beautiful, so harvest the last few tomatoes to ripen indoors – illogically this can be achieved either by placing them in a paper bag in a drawer or laying them out on a sunny windowsill – bring in pumpkins, pick apples, harvest mature bean pods for drying, keep picking the outer leaves from Swiss chard to promote continual cropping, and relish the sweeter flavour imparted by the colder weather to your carrots, beetroots and parsnips.

Fill some of the gaps in beds by direct sowing winter salad crops, which include especially hardy cultivars of your favourite salads, such as Rocket ‘Serrata’ and Lamb’s Lettuce ‘Favor’. If you sowed any spring onions or spring cabbages into modules in the last month then now is a good time to plant them out and plant some garlic while you’re at it.

There is so much still in flower currently, so maybe see if there’s a gap where you could extend the season of interest in your own garden. One of the wow-factor plants currently at Horatio’s Garden Midlands is Salvia microphylla ‘Cerro Potosi’ with striking magenta pink flowers and aromatic foliage. Salvias offer incredible value and variety at this end of the season; check out Salvia patens Giant form for intense blue flowers, woodland-dwelling Salvia nubicola for yellow flowers and a wilder appearance, or Salvia stolonifera with glowing-orange flowers, perfect for Halloween! On the same theme, Kniphofia ‘Happy Halloween’ offer large, vibrant orange flowers on 2-metre-high stems, though there’s nothing ghoulish about it. 

If you’re after something more understated look no further than Cyclamen hederifolium, one of the prettiest groundcovers with dark green leaves painted silver, ideal under trees or naturalised in grass. For architectural interest and movement, ornamental grasses are taking the spotlight, one of my favourites right now is Molinia ‘Skyracer’ with plum-purple seed heads and foliage turning a pleasant mix of yellow and amber. One of the gardens I’m desperate to visit this month for more plant inspiration is the home of Michaelmas Daisies, Picton Garden in the Malvern Hills.

Bulb planting can now begin in earnest, ideally on a dry, sunny day with a flask of tea nearby. Look back at the photos you took in spring to refresh your memory – spot where the gaps were, where there weren’t as many of your favourite snowdrop, say, or where a flash of golden-yellow Narcissus would make all the difference to a spring scene. Amassing pots of bulbs for a spring display can be really effective, with many creative options available, from planting individual pots of single bulbs, to layering different varieties, to combining bulbs with perennials and bedding (e.g., ivy, Skimmia, wallflowers and violas), the possibilities are endless so have fun and express yourself. Don’t forget bulbs for the house too – nothing beats coming home to a pot or two of sweetly scented hyacinths in the bleak midwinter.

Elsewhere in the garden, keep collecting fallen leaves to make gorgeous leafmould, keep on top of weeding as the still-warm soil and increased moisture make ideal conditions for short life-cycle ephemerals, lift and divide herbaceous perennials that have outgrown their allotted space or lost vigour, and collect seed on dry days to sow immediately or store and perhaps give as Christmas gifts.

Bring inside tender perennials that won’t appreciate being frosted and decide if you’re going to lift your prized cannas and dahlias or mulch them heavily in situ to protect them over winter. The benefit of the latter, as well as greater peace of mind, is that you free up space in the border to use next spring and early summer, and you can more easily propagate from plants coming out of winter storage.

To make the most of this magical month, dress warm, keep gardening at a gentle pace, and finally, don’t forget to turn your clocks back!

We’ve set our reminders and any day now, we’ll be digging out those jumpers!

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