It looks as though we’re going to have a late autumn this year. The roses are blooming better than they’ve done all summer, the Victoria plums are hanging on, while the Marjorie’s Seedlings aren’t still quite ripe, prolonging the fruit season nicely. Last Sunday the temperature here hit 76°C, making our village fete and charity dog show the best ever, and the trees and shrubs I pruned earlier are spurting into growth. We are living on a diet of courgettes, cucumbers, ‘Sungold’ tomatoes and runner beans; I wonder how long one can exist on such a menu without getting heartily sick of all of them? It feels more like July than September, apart from the shorter evenings. While I can’t help but enjoy this late bonus of good weather, it does have its disadvantages.
Any soft growth being made at this time of year will be vulnerable to frosts when they do finally arrive. I can protect special specimens with fleece, but it would be impossible to protect everything, so we might get some damage later on. Or we might not, it doesn’t always happen. I must try and stop being a ‘glass half empty’ person.
Many of my summer containers still look good, which means that although I would like to get on and replant them with spring bedding and bulbs, it would be a terrible waste to compost them all yet, so I’ll have to wait a week or two. One or two, however, are definitely past their sell-by dates, and last week I took the opportunity to replant them with autumn-flowering plants like cyclamen, chrysanthemums and pansies, which will give extra colour for another six or eight weeks, providing winter doesn’t arrive early.
I have decided to naturalise more bulbs at the Patch. This is a 5+ acre field, which we are establishing as a native wood, arboretum (where I can have a collection of my favourite ornamental trees), orchard and vegetable garden. Over the years we have planted a lot of spring bulbs, mainly crocuses, snowdrops and narcissi, but also tulips, which naturalise in grass really well. I try to keep non-native bulbs and cultivated varieties in the non-natural areas of the Patch, so the wooded part is mainly planted with bluebells, although some named narcissus varieties have crept in as well, because the tenant who farmed our field before we decided to plant up the wood grew bulbs as his last crop and some of them got left behind when he lifted them. Purists would say these have no place in a native wood, but they are spreading and look fantastic in spring, so I’m afraid I want them to stay.
However, the narcissi in the arboretum, which were planted 20 years ago, are now thinning out, mainly through virus and overcrowding, so this autumn we are planting new bulbs in entirely different areas to ensure a continuity of effect in the spring, which is often when we hold our charity open days.
Mass planting would be a Herculean task if each bulb was buried individually. We find the easiest way is to remove pieces of turf, about 2” (5cm) thick and roughly 2ft (60cm) long by 18” (45cm) wide; then we fork over the soil underneath and add a handful of bonemeal or bulb fertiliser to each planting site. The bulbs are then set on the soil, spaced wide enough apart to allow for them to multiply over the years, and the turves replaced and gently firmed down. Next spring – a lovely, natural show. All we need now is a fine week and a couple of new kneelers!