Autumn in the garden

With garden designer, Sally Cunis

Blackberries, elderberries, haws, wild rose hips, sloe berries and crab apples festoon the hedgerows, a feast for the birds and foragers alike. Autumn has arrived!

The combines are busy harvesting the fields, crops stand high and golden, and the leaves of shrubs and trees are turning butter yellow, orange and red before rain and wind dash them to the ground in vast puddles of colour.

The swallows and house martins, which have been swooping over our garden all summer, enjoying the midges and the turbulence in the skies, have gone but the garden has not yet given up on colour and productivity.

Late summer perennials such as Echinacea, Rudbeckia, michaelmas daisies, Crocosmia, Astrantia and Sedum add a burst of late summer colour to the border along with Buddleia, Honeysuckle, Agapanthus and Caryopteris whilst my beautiful roses are having a second flush of blooms.

In the kitchen garden, yellow courgettes are plentiful and the Enorma runner beans with their vivid orange flowers are still productive; as always, we shall remove a number of the striped purple beans from their long pods to save and store in paper bags to sow next year. The unripe tomatoes are ready to be harvested for green tomato chutney.

Fruit trees are laden and our little Victoria Plum tree has been weighed down with luscious fruit; pick and store surplus, unblemished fruit for use later in the year, checking regularly for rot. I’ve been picking and freezing redcurrants, blackcurrants and loganberries as they have ripened over the growing season.

It is good practice to replace old raspberry canes after about ten years. I planted new raspberry cane varieties Octavia and Tulameen this year which I bought from my local nursery; although they are young, we have already enjoyed a few bowls of delicious plump raspberries, so much better than the old, poorly fruiting canes with their tiny, misshapen fruits!

If you grow strawberries, separate out the runners which have grown this season to make new strawberry plants for next year and plant out.

In the ornamental garden, look for any gaps in the planting; firstly, lift, divide and replant large clumps of perennials and secondly consider whether to add some new perennials to your collection.

Visit garden fairs which will be open this autumn for inspiration, to buy late summer perennials and to source an amazing range of flowering bulbs for a fabulous display next year. Bulbs will also be in the nurseries and garden centres too. Don’t forget to lift and store tender bulbs and corms such as Gladioli and Dahlia before the first frosts arrive.

Whilst autumn is a good time to tidy up in the garden, cutting back tall perennials and grasses, many have ornamental seed heads such as teasels, alliums and nigella. They look decorative throughout the winter months and their seeds provide an important food source for birds like the finches.

If you want to collect seed to create new plants, either scatter seeds over prepared beds, lay cut seed heads in areas of the garden where you would like seeds to fall or collect seed in labelled paper bags, keeping them somewhere dry for later sowing. Leave some rose hips to form. They are decorative and provide food for hungry birds. 

Rake up fallen leaves, adding them in layers with other green waste to the compost heap. In addition, place them in perforated bags or create a bin using upright posts and chicken wire to create leaf mould. Remember to tidy up ponds, remove pumps and then net against falling leaves as decomposing leaves release nitrogen which can cause harm to fish.     

Happy gardening