On the whole September was warm and pleasant in our part of Suffolk, and many of the flowers on the trial ground have looked good right through the month. Not surprisingly, our tuber-raised dahlias have been the stars with their magnificent blooms in so many colours and bicolors. Seed-raised dahlias also perform really well, and we know it still surprises some customers that they can be raised from seed, and will easily flower in their first year. While many gardeners tend to treat them as half-hardy annuals, they are actually half-hardy perennials and will produce tubers which can be lifted after the first frosts and stored somewhere cool and dry until next spring, when they can be replanted. All that for the price of a packet of seeds!
It's October, so we make no apologies for making a big mention of sweet peas. This is the best month to sow sweet pea seed in pots to over-winter in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. The stocky little plants can then be planted out in March or April to produce an early and long-lasting display of these beautiful flowers.
Our range of sweet peas is one of the best and widest you will find anywhere. In recent years it is true to say the sweet pea has almost become our 'flagship' flower, and we are proud of the worthwhile and exclusive introductions we make every year. Among our new 'exclusives' ready for sowing this month are two which we feel deserve special mention.
Chelsea Pensioners were on hand at our trial ground recently to name a blend of sweet peas in red shades aimed at raising funds for the Royal Hospital Chelsea. It has been called Scarlet Tunic, after the Pensioners' distinctive apparel, following a ballot of the residents of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and a public online vote. We will donate 25p to the Royal Hospital Chelsea for every £2.19 packet of 20 seeds sold.
We hope Britain's gardeners will help us to raise more funds for the Royal Hospital Chelsea with the launch of Scarlet Tunic for the 2016/17 season and in the years ahead. Our great customers have already helped raise more than £50,000 for the Royal Hospital Chelsea through sales in 2015 and 2016 of poppy Victoria Cross. A very big 'thank you' to you all.
We are also pledging our support for Greenfingers, the charity dedicated to creating magical gardens for children's hospices, by naming another new and exclusive sweet pea after it. Sweet pea Greenfingers has an old-fashioned grandiflora flower form and the strong, memorable scent associated with those types in their Victorian heyday; its blooms are a rich cream with a delicate wire rim or picotée of pale violet. The climber is well suited to both garden display and as a cut flower, when its fragrance fills a room.
We have guaranteed 25p to Greenfingers for every packet of 20 seeds priced at £2.45 we sell during the 2016/17 gardening season. Greenfingers is a national charity dedicated to supporting the children who spend time in hospices around the UK, along with their families, by creating inspiring gardens for them to relax in and enjoy. The charity makes beautiful, well-designed outdoor spaces for children to share with family, friends and siblings, whether through play and fun, or therapeutic rest and relaxation. To date Greenfingers Charity has created 51 such gardens and outdoor spaces, and has a further waiting list of hospices that need its help.
Most summer-flowering bedding and container plants will be 'going over' this month, and can be lifted and composted. Once the ground is clear and has been forked over, why not plant some spring-flowering bulbs and start looking forward to the first colourful display of 2017? We offer a terrific range of tulip bulbs - surely the most flamboyant of all spring performers. Plant them in October or November, and you can just about forget about them until they burst into bloom next April and May. This year we are offering many collections of tulips in complementary or contrasting colours, and plenty of single varieties for those of you who prefer to do your own colour-coordination.
Hardy perennials can be cut back during October to within a few inches of the ground. Discard the cut stems and any foliage strewn around the plants, as this will discourage pests and diseases which may otherwise lurk there during the winter. Once dahlia foliage has been blackened by the first one or two frosts, carefully lift the tubers with a fork, as you would potatoes, leave three or four inches of stem and store them somewhere dry, cool, but frost-free until you want them to burst into growth again next spring.
As buddleias finish flowering, it is advisable to cut them back to around half their height so they do not become rocked by autumn and winter gales, causing them to become loose in the soil. Next March they can be cut back much closer to the ground to encourage new growth and plenty of butterfly-attracting blooms.
Winter-cropping brassicas such as Brussels sprouts, kale and savoy cabbages will benefit from the application of a general-purpose fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone to help them grow a little more before the weather deteriorates. Hoe it in carefully round the stems without damaging the plants.
Seed of hardy peas and broad beans can be sown during October to provide a really welcome, early summer crop next year. Pea Meteor is one of the best for autumn sowing, and it does well with minimal support, even in cold, exposed locations. There are several excellent over-wintering broad beans from which to choose. Bunyards Exhibition and Aguadulce (formerly Aquadulce) are probably the two most widely grown, but The Sutton is a great choice for small gardens or windy sites, as the plants remain dwarf and compact throughout their life. Broad beans do best in well drained soil and in a reasonably sheltered position.
If you have not already done so, lift any remaining maincrop potatoes still in the ground as soon as possible. This will save them from either slug or frost damage. Store the tubers somewhere cool, dark and dry. Once the tops of Jerusalem artichokes start to turn yellow, the plants can be cut back close to the ground, leaving the tubers beneath the soil to be harvested as required in the weeks ahead.
If any parts of the garden or allotment are currently fallow after earlier crops have been harvested, sowing a green manure can do the soil a power of good. Depending on what is sown, it is possible to improve soil structure, increase its fertility, prevent the leaching of nutrients, and they will all help to suppress weeds. Among others, we offer crimson clover, lucerne (alfafa) and winter grazing rye.
Whether you are growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers or aubergines in the greenhouse, it is a good idea to pick all you can this month and discard the plants. By the end of the month it should be possible to clean it out with warm water and a proprietary disinfectant to ensure it is not harbouring any diseases through the winter.
If you like the idea of a fruit bush or two in the garden or on the allotment, remember we are despatching our bare-root currants and gooseberries from this month onwards. We are very keen on the new blackcurrant Ebony, which is the sweetest one we know. The currants are larger fruited than other varieties and contain up to 15 per cent sugar, giving them a lovely full, rounded flavour. Ebony does well in our climate and has some resistance to mildew. In gooseberries, Xenia is one of the sweetest in our experience. This early season variety can be picked from June and into July, and the berries are sweet enough to be eaten straight from the bush.
Freshly picked raspberries take some beating in our book, and the new autumn-fruiting (primocane) Paris is one of the very best. The large berries can weigh more than 5gm each, and they are wonderfully sweet, aromatic and juicy. You should be picking Paris from August through to October. We begin despatch in 9cm pots from November, so now is the time to order this rather special new variety.