October: a gardener’s New Year and a time to start planning for the year ahead. Our gardening expert Joanna Cruddas shows how to prepare for a dramatic, colourful autumn garden.

Before getting into autumn preparations, it's worth reflecting on the successes of the summer, and making a note for next year.
 

Vegetable successes on my plot

Beans

Broad beans

Broad Beans flourished and cropped heavily this year. Enthused by this, I sowed a second batch of the fast growing variety, De Monica in late June. The beans are now small and sweet and perfect in a warm autumn salad. I’ll be repeating this next year.

Our runner beans hated the hot, dry summer months experienced in the South-East. They quickly became tough and stringy, despite being nurtured with liquid seaweed and regular watering. We also grew a late batch. These plants flourished in the September rain and cooler weather. They are now laden with long, tender beans.
 

Pulled from the soil

Beetroot

Our Radishes thrived, positioned in a shadier spot than in previous years.

Beetroot, sown at three-week intervals earlier in the year, are offering a lengthy harvest. We ventured beyond growing the reliable Boltardy and included stripy Chioggia, long Cylindra and yellow Boldor. These colourful beets make colourful plates, bound to impress dinner guests!

For those of us who garden in an allotment, blight is a constant threat. Once it hits a plot, it will sweep across the field overnight. Potatoes are particularly at risk. To fend against this, I grow first early waxy Rosabelle potatoes in bags. The leaf has died down before any blight arrives. Healthy potatoes can then stay in the soil and be pulled out for the rest of the year.

Food from the balcony

Black cherry tomato

Tomatoes, coming later in the year, are even more vulnerable to blight. I don’t risk them on the plot, but grow them in pots on my balcony.

Black Russian and Black Cherry are favourites for their sweetness; Tumbler and Sungold for heavy cropping in a limited space. This year, I was attracted by pink-skinned Fenda. However, I regret not growing the almost black Indigo Rose. It buys its way into a selection for its sheer, gleaming beauty. 

My eccentric choice was the new Gigantomo. These were sown too late to achieve prize-winning size and weight, but I can boast one tomato with a 4.5” spread, weighing 12oz! We're still awaiting the taste test as it is not yet ripe. 

 

A cacophony of colours for autumn

 Dahlia fowers
The dramatic Rip City Dahlia 

The value of ‘cut flower’ annuals is most evident in autumn. Their bright shades lighten up the darkest day. It’s time to collect, dry and save seed heads for next year.

The yellow centres of pink and white cosmos (as can be seen in the top image) enable it to match not clash with its orange cousin. Regular dead-heading of the prolific flowers will keep them coming until the first frost.

The annual scabious will sometimes survive a winter. Save seeds from favourites, but if the plant looks strong, it may come again next summer.

Sprinkle cornflower seeds while the soil is still warm enough for them to germinate. If they don’t survive the winter, it is not too late to sow in spring.

Even an allotment needs a handful of perennials. The deep red, spikey-petals of vigorous dahlias such as Rip City offer drama and height. Against this, I grow dahlia Onesta for its delicate pink blooms. In milder climates, dahlias can winter in the ground. Protect against cold with a heap of manure as soon as they have died down.

No garden is complete without a rose. Now is the time to order the rose of your dreams and plant it before the ground freezes.

 

About the author

Joanna Cruddas lives in London and gardens at her plot in Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments, on her balcony, and in her window boxes. She is the author of The Three-Year Allotment Notebook with photographs by Edwina Sassoon.

 

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