As we put our gardens to bed for the winter, it’s the perfect time to consider how best to improve the soil, provide food and shelter for the wildlife all gardeners depend on, and protect plants and seeds for the future.
What I’m doing on and around my plot
A friend emails me a photo of a beautiful white moth with pale brown edging. She spotted it enjoying the warmth of her car bonnet. But beauty does not mean friend. Research shows it to be a box moth—only recently arrived in the UK. She reports it to the Big Bug Hunt, a research project using reports from gardeners to track how bugs and pests spread.
The Gigantomo tomatoes mentioned in October's article, have finally ripened. They were large, meaty and a brilliant red, but fell down on flavour. Best when cooked, the biggest easily fed four people. One to repeat for the fun and the spectacle.
Looking forward and thinking variety
Image via Growing My Maine Gardens
It’s time to start sowing again. Now is a good time to plant garlic. Elephant Garlic produces large, juicy cloves with a mild flavour and should live up to its name in size! This year I’m also choosing a mix of ‘softneck’ and ‘hardneck’ varieties. Early Purple White and Solent Wight—both ‘softnecks’—should store well. ‘Hardneck’ Carcassone Wight and Lautrec Wight are favourites for their beautiful pink and purple cloves. They also have a wonderful aroma.
Onion sets can be planted out now or in the spring. I start them off in seed trays in a sheltered spot so birds don’t dig them up before they have rooted. When the shoots are a few inches tall they can safely be planted out.
Mesh tunnels help avoid onion fly, but the fine netting can hamper a good airflow, increasing the risk of rust later on. Be careful not to crowd plants in the tunnel so there is good space between them.
Leaves: the jewels of Autumn
Each season has its purpose and magic. It’s time to start sweeping up that golden carpet of leaves and contain them in a cage in the corner of the garden. Alternatively, bag them up in strong black bags, dampening the leaves if necessary. Pierce the bags to create a few air vents. The leaves will rot down well though it may take anything between six months and a couple of years.
Well-rotted leaf mould can be used as compost for sowing seeds or mixed with garden compost and sand for potting. Less mature leaf mould is valuable as a mulch and as a soil improver for flower or vegetable beds.
Rhubarb crowns are now dormant. Remove the old leaves and, keeping the crowns exposed, surround the plants with a good mulch, compost or manure.
Traditionally, rhubarb is not pulled after the end of July, but there is a newly developed autumn cropping variety—rhubarb Livingstone. This can be planted out anytime between now and the spring. Once established, it will lengthen the harvesting season by several months.
Sharing your garden pickings
However tempted to tidy your garden once flowers get bedraggled and untidy, there’s no rush. Wildlife will feed off the seed heads and make nests with fine twigs. It also increases the opportunity for self-seeding.
Adopt a Seed
Thousands of plant species are at risk of extinction every day. By adopting a seed at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank we can help them protect the future of the world’s plants. Each contributor receives a personalised certificate with a picture of the chosen plant. The perfect gardener’s gift.