It’s about this time of year I start to resist writing anything about seasons, mists or mellow fruitfulness for fear of falling prey to the ultimate garden writing cliche. But there’s no denying that John Keats caught autumn firmly in his poetical fingers with this one: we haven’t got vines running round our thatch-eaves (we’ve been told not to grow stuff against the house as it causes damp on the inside) and the squirrels nick all the hazel shells long before they plump, but basically that’s autumn, right there.
What Keats failed to mention was the frantic gardener racing around like a thing possessed underneath the moss’d cottage trees desperately trying to get everything done (and catch up on all the stuff she didn’t manage in the ever-hectic school summer holidays) before it all gets too cold, wet and depressing to want to be outside any more. Here are just some of the things I’ve got on my jam-packed to-do list this month:
Drying off the onions: In my greenhouse, right now, turning a lovely coppery shade of brown. They take around two weeks of regular turning before they’re cooked and ready to plait.
Sowing sweet peas: My sweet peas were an abject failure last year, so I’m trying a different method this year. I’m reverting to the old-fashioned method of six seeds to a 10cm pot, planted out as a clump – and I won’t pinch out till spring.
Clearing spent crops: It’s that time of year when you have to admit things are definitely, undeniably Over. So it’s with a little sadness that I’ll be cutting the beans off their poles and carting them off to the compost heap. Sniff.
Mulching, mulching, mulching: Another relentless tick of the clock: each veg bed gets a thick coating of compost or soil improver from the local green waste people the moment it’s cleared, then I cover with black plastic. End of the year: full stop.
Drying borlotti beans: Gorgeous brilliant red ‘Firetongue’ climbing borlottis are my comfort and joy right now: every time I see them on the poles I think how beautiful they look. But they’re now ready to hoick out of the ground and dry under cover.
Sowing overwintering broad beans: Aquadulce Claudia are the only ones for me: they may be ungainly, but they’re prolific and rock-solid reliable. It’ll be my only crop – overwintering broad beans avoid all the pests and diseases that afflict spring sowings.
Putting in my bulb order: It’s the gardening equivalent of a trolley dash: you have till the end of this month to go mad on daffodils, species tulips (my latest obsession), posh tulips and reticulate irises. Happy sigh.
Speaking sternly to my tomatoes: They have another four weeks to ripen, then that’s it, so I’ll be reading them the riot act this month (and praying for some late sunshine). Failing that, there’s always green tomato chutney.
Clearing greenhouse borders: In the other greenhouse the cucumbers are sighing to a yellowish end, and the peppers are picked. Let’s not mention the aubergine. Not sure what to do with the cucamelons which have awkwardly decided now is the time to start pumping out the fruit. They’re in rude health and not going anywhere.
Planting winter salads: In the coldframe are dozens of winter salad plants: this season I have mizuna, American land cress, pak choi and ‘Winter Density’ lettuce, all destined for the emptying greenhouse borders, or a cloche outdoors. Time to plant.