While I love autumn colours, the profusion of berries, and the crystal clear days of cold sunshine, I always feel dejected to see the end of summer annuals and the collapse of the summer vegetables. From early spring it’s all about growth, planting seeds, watching them grow, filling vegetable beds, rousting out last year’s pots and containers for new planting. The season always seems short and before you know it peas are all eaten, soft fruit is all picked and eaten or frozen, sweet peas and cosmos have gone over, courgettes have succumbed to the early frosts, apples are picked and stored, and the last of the tomato plants have just a few green fruits left.
I do not mind the tucking in for winter in itself, the work is quite satisfying. As I empty out the pots that contained annuals I recycle the used compost as a mulch under shrubs and fruit trees. There may not be much goodness left in it, but it gives a depth of soil and when combined with garden compost it improves the soil and makes for healthy plants. Vine weevils love to overwinter in pots of compost, so emptying them out into the harsh conditions of a winter night is an effective way to get rid of them. Our robin, Charleen, supervises all this work and grabs whatever pickings take his fancy.
The outdoor tomatoes have long been picked and the plants removed. The tomato fruits will ripen indoors and when we have a glut I cook them with onions and garlic and freeze them, they can be used in very many dishes over the winter. When the indoor tomatoes are finished it is time to wash out the glasshouse and prepare it for winter. This year a little coal tit got himself trapped in the glasshouse, chasing small insects no doubt, and he had to be rescued by human hands. Some plants book their places indoors, some will survive in the greenhouse, but others need the kitchen and other windowsills. This year I have sowed seed of sweet peas and marigolds for next year, they are on the top shelf of the glasshouse. I have sowed seeds of radish too, but I am not sure if they will grow in the winter season.
Strawberry plants have been trimmed back, all withered leaves removed and new runners potted on. Chard and purple sprouting broccoli have taken their places in the vegetable bed, but the empty sections of the beds will be mulched with garden compost and covered with cardboard, which will break down over winter and become part of the mix for next year. I choose my cardboard carefully, parcels ordered online during covid restrictions provide some good pickings, I need softish cardboard, not glazed and coloured, with all sellotape removed. A layer of used compost on top will help it to break down and will stop it blowing away.
This is a time of major pruning jobs when the weather allows. We have some large shrubs which need to be pruned each year in order to fit in our confined space. This year I had to cut back the clematis ‘Montana rubens’ as it has swamped its pyracantha neighbour, and has made its support lean dangerously. As we cut away the tangle of growth the disused balckbird’s nest is revealed. Their brood is reared and they rebuild each year, so no harm is done. The sambucus nigra ‘black lace’, is cut back every year, in many ways this is a pity but it is far too large for the space. It does ensure lovely new growth every year, but this is soft and can be damaged in spring and summer winds. Roses and buddleia also need to be cut back. All this has necessitated several trips to the green waste section of the recycling centre. We compost everything we can, but large, tough prunings will not break down for years. The fuchsias and hydrangeas will not be pruned back until the spring.
There are some compensations, spring bulbs are beginning to peep above ground, heathers are starting into bloom, and the sarcococca has its first fragrant blossoms. It is time to sit comfortably indoors and make plans for next spring, perusing the seed catalogues, and trying not to get too carried away with all the delights to be found in them.