Planning ahead for winter and summer is vital, but there’s still plenty to do before the season has run its course, says our expert Agnes Stevenson
Autumn has been spectacular this year but once the vivid tones of field maples, acers and rowans start to fade then we’ll need something else to lift our spirits in the dark months.
I’ve been planning for this moment for a while, adding small cyclamen, hellebores and other flowers that start to perform as everything else begins to grow to ground.
Soon the first flush of blossom should start to appear on the winter-flowering cherry and before we know it, the mahonias will be in flower. I’m hoping that the ones I planted last month will put on a bit of a show, even though they are still small. Their particular shade of bright yellow is just what we need to dispel the gloom on days when the skies are heavy and the temperature is low.
When you plant small shrubs it’s hard to believe that they will ever grow to any great size, but I know of mahonias that have reached three metres and more with all their flowers carried at the very top. There’s an easy remedy for this, simply wait until the flowers have faded and cut one third of the stems down to the ground. Do this every year and you’ll end up with a shapely shrub that bears its flowers where you can see them, and smell them.
I’m also planning for next summer, with cuttings of pelargoniums, lavenders and fuchsias. I’ve got dozens of these crammed on to the windowsills in the kitchen, where they root much more quickly than they would in a greenhouse or cold frame. On days when the heating’s cranked up high they need watering every day, but I make sure not to get the foliage wet as when they are crowded together this way there’s always a risk of fungal disease.
Once they have all developed roots I’ll move them somewhere cool and bright as I want them to grow slowly so that they develop into strong and stocky plants that will perform well when they go outdoors next spring.
A lot of work in the garden involves preparing for next season or next year, but there’s still lots to enjoy before this season has run its course, including the deciduous azaleas, the leaves of which colour up brightly before they fall. I’ve planted several new ones this year and I’d like to add even more, not least because in summer the leaves of some of them smell every bit as good as the flowers.
But before I add any more azaleas I’ve still to find places for the new hydrangeas, which are turning into an obsession. I now seem to have acquired a collection. The most recent is Hydrangea paniculata Limelight, with flowers that start off green before turning white and then pink. I’ve not worked out yet where it’s going to go, but wherever it ends up it will look gorgeous.
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