Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

I’m getting tired of writing about the weather – and I dare say you are getting tired of reading about it. Besides, there are so many jobs to get on with we won’t have time to pause for breath, and it all starts with my favourite plants – Dahlias!

Dividing Dahlias

Likely as not, frost will hit us sometime in October, and this marks the end of the dahlia season. It is time to lift, divide and store them for the winter.

You will need some sulphur powder for this job, and a sharp knife.

Dividing Dahlias - dig up tubers
Remove the stalks and dig up the tubers, giving them a good wash to remove the soil / compost.

Cut down the plants and carefully dig up the tubers with a garden fork. Wash them clean and dry them with an old towel.
Dividing Dahlias - cut the tubers
With a knife or scissors, cut out the tuber as close to where it joins the plant as you can.

You will have a stem with lots of tubers that look rather like fat fingers. With a sharp knife, cut the fingers away at the base.
Dip the Dahlia ends in sulphur
Dip the cut end in sulphur powder to fight off any infections. Repeat with all the decent sized tubers you have.

Dust the cut surfaces with sulphur powder and then wrap the lot in newspaper – lots of layers, and store them in a frost-free place until spring.
Insulate dahlia tubers
Either wrap in several layers of newspaper or in a saved bubble wrap envelope for insulation. Place in a cool, dark place until Spring.

Label divided Dahlias
Don’t forget to label your dahlias with their name and the date they were stored.

Runner Beans

For perfect runner beans next year, now is the time to start a trench. Dig a trench that is around 18 inches deep. Mark it so you don’t fall down it and pile the soil along the side of the trench. Over the coming weeks, fill 3/4 full with vegetable matter – kitchen waste, potato peelings etc, but no gravy or meat, and when there is about 6 inches free space, top up with the soil leaving a little mound.

The vegetable material in the trench will rot and create heat, and it is amazing how long this heat lasts. It will give your plants a good start when you get to sowing, or transplanting in the spring. Actually, I sow in late February, covering the area with a cloche, protecting the seedlings from cold and rain and giving them a head start in their warm soil.

Roses

Roses have had a torrid summer and some of this can be alleviated now. Take cuttings of new growth and place them in compost – say 5 per six inch pot. Remove the lower leaves and cover with a plastic bag and around 60% at least will root, giving new plants for next year. Keep them in a frost free place, I use the polytunnel, and this is heated a little when the weather gets really bad.

Transplant them in April into a larger pot – 8 inches per plant will do, and give them generous water and feed every month. Plant them out next October.

This method is ideal for climbers and bush types where the root stock is not important – and don’t be too careful, I have had great results simply chopping at climbers with shears to control them, and using the most likely ones for cuttings.

Sweet Peas

The real promise of a summer of colour and fragrance is sown now: Sweet Peas! The best are sown in October, and I sow mine in pots and keep them in a cool greenhouse until spring, when they are transplanted as small plants. They get such a good start this way, rather than sowing them in spring. If you are in a sheltered area, spend some time preparing the soil, so they can grow rapidly in a nutrient rich soil – give them plenty of rotted manure. Plants that have to make lots of colour or aroma need a lot of nutrients, and this rule holds true for any plant.

Frost

Furry plants need protecting from frost – if you have furry leaves in the rock garden (sempervivums and so on), they need to be covered. If you can get a cloche in place, all well and good, but sometimes you need a sheet of plastic held down as firmly as you can, or a covering of straw held down with plastic.

Hedges

Making a good hedge is an October job because these shrubs take well if planted now. I recently made a hedge of blackthorn, berberis, mahonia – each planted about a foot apart, in a slight zigzag. As they grow, I train them into each other and, having made a backing fence of stout garden wire attached to stakes, I will tie them into their supports. Once they are in place, they need little looking after and are particularly good at living together. Mahonia especially is very colourful and makes for a super autumnal display.

Vegetables

In the vegetable garden it is time to take down the asparagus fronds. Don’t let the fronds settle on the ground, but cut them off and bring them away to the compost heap. This will keep the asparagus beetle at bay next year. I give them a mulch of compost and well rotted manure mixed at 50-50 proportions, and they seem to come on a treat using this regime. Here’s to next June!!!

Plant out cabbage ‘All Year Round’ and cover with a cloche. This way you will get cabbages right through the winter that look good. It’s one thing being able to actually get this variety to grow in Winter, it’s quite another to get great specimens. The wet wind plays havoc with them, and they soon look messy. A cloche will do the trick!

Don’t forget to earth up your leeks against the winter storms and go round heeling in the shrubs and young trees to make sure they are really firm in their beds before they get rocked about by the Winter weather, like a dentist pulling a tooth!

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

Annabel, Flowers, Gardening, Greenhouses, Guest Posts, Slugs & Snails

Birds, Bees and Dahlias

It was like a scene from a Walt Disney film.

There was my little boy standing in the middle of the patio with a bunny (we had let her out of her hutch earlier) hopping at his feet. Our friendly robin was sitting on the table watching and a dunnock kept sweeping past, flying from the hedge to the beech tree.

Further down the garden I could see a male blackbird pulling an unsuspecting worm out of the ground. The bees were happily buzzing in and out of their purple sleeping bags – foxgloves. All we needed now was for my daughter to skip past in her Snow White costume.

Unfortunately, the harmony was shattered when my little boy dropped his trowel onto the concrete, making a terrible din. All the creatures ran for cover.

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Di, Flowers, Gardening, Guest Posts

I love to have fresh flowers in the house, and one of the joys at this time of year is to cut them from the garden. It certainly saves money, and they are fresher and last much longer than the bunches you can buy at the supermarket! It also means I can still enjoy my flowers close up in the house, and not watch them suffer from wind and rain!

I’m not a “flower arranger”, but I like to experiment with different flower combinations, and containers.

All the flowers shown here have been recently picked from my garden.

Rose Royal Matrimony and White Sweet Peas

The wine glass on my mantelpiece holds a lovely creamy rose, called “Royal Matrimony”, with white perennial sweet peas, and a sprig of gypsophila. These are all grown in my front garden.

Flower arrangement from kitchen garden

In the kitchen I’ve used a glass carafe and filled it with a variety of herbs, a few annual sweet peas and an opium poppy. These all grow in the tiny “kitchen garden” outside my back door. It’s wonderfully scented with the combination of lavender, sage, oregano, chocolate mint, rosemary and fennel, and of course the fragrant sweet peas.

Mont Blanc Lily, Silver Wedding Rose, Alchemilla and Astilbes

In the living room I’ve used a simple glass vase and a whole array of flowers for my coffee table. The lily is called “Mont Blanc”, the large white rose is “Silver Wedding”, and the small creamy coloured roses have no name because I lost the plant label! I’ve mixed in lots of “frothy” flowers such as the lemon coloured Alchemilla mollis, and white Astilbes, then added blue flowers as an accent colour. The blues include spires of Veronica, sprigs of Lavender multifida, Brodiaea, and the pom-pom flowers of the small blue allium caeruleum. Oh, and I included a couple of poppy seed heads for good measure!

Dorothy Perkins rose, astibles and gypsophila flowers in a jug

Into the dining room next and a big jug of flowers on the dresser. The darker pink rose is the rambler “Dorothy Perkins” that grows in my front garden, and the paler dog rose is another of my many “lost label” plants. It’s a shame I can’t remember its name, but it has a beautiful scent, almost like sherbet lemons, and very thorny stems! More poppy heads, astilbes and gypsophila…

Hydrangeas arranged in a teapot

Back to the kitchen, and an old teapot makes the ideal container for a few hydrangea heads. Always be sure to plunge hydrangeas into a sink full of cold water head-first before you display them — you’ll be surprised how many creepy crawlies come out of them!

Rosa Bonica and Marjorie Fair with Fuchsia and Honeysuckle bouquet

Then a jug of flowers for my desk: Rosa Bonica and Rosa Marjorie Fair from the back garden, with a stem of fuchsia (that broke off in the wind) and a few sprigs of honeysuckle for fragrance. Mmmm…better than an artificial air freshener any day!

Rose Scarlet Cluster, Agapanthus, Echinops, Hydrangea flower arrangement

Finally, I couldn’t resist picking this selection of red rose, “Scarlet Cluster”, blue Agapanthus, Echinops and hydrangeas. I added a few stems of eucalyptus from the tree in the front garden and yet more poppy seed heads.

Lovely flowers from the garden

Seeing the individual flowers close up makes me appreciate their intricacy, detail and beauty — things I often miss if I’m just looking at them in the garden.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my flowers. Have a look round your garden and see what you can pick. You’ll be surprised just how easy it is to fill a vase or two!

Happy Gardening!
Di x

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, Guest Posts, Insects, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Pest Control

Here’s hoping for a pavement-cracking Indian Summer, where the weather causes us to sleep in the garden around mountainous flowers of every colour and aroma. We need a good rest in the garden after that summer, and are we going to get one? Probably not! Besides, there is plenty to do in the garden in September, and plenty to admire too.

For a start, our lilies are finally going to explode into bloom. It seems they have held themselves back over the last few weeks, staying in bed I suppose, and who can blame them?
Lily about to burst into flower
I always wait with bated breath for them to open, because they are so beautiful – even though I don’t like the smell. They are perfect in form, and I spend the whole summer protecting them from the rain and the lily beetle.

I find the best way to deal with the lily beetle, which nibbles its way through flowers and leaves and causes a mess, is by hand – looking out for them. But you have to be careful! One touch and the bright red beetles fall over on to their backs, leaving nothing but a jet black underside which is almost impossible to see.

When the flowers have finished it will be time to divide up the bulbs for next year. I grow my lilies in pots, and every third year I take them out and divide them up by simply pulling them apart. It’s an easy job – the new bulbs simply pull away from the old. You can either wrap them in newspaper and keep them in a frost-free place until spring, or pop them into new compost in new pots.

If you are growing them in pots, as with all plants really, you need to be sure they are not waterlogged in winter, and kept protected from frost. A pot is not so good an insulator as the rest of the garden, and a plant will not survive the same. I take mine into an unheated greenhouse, and maybe, if the temperature is minus 18 again as it was over the last two years, I might give them a little heat, just to keep the plants around 1 degree or so.

September is also a good time to attempt structural changes around the garden when the weather is still warm enough to get into the soil and there is not much chance of freezing to death out there. (That said, I bet we have snow! It was snowing on my birthday in 1957 at the end of September!)

I have finally sorted the huge holly bush that was taking away so much light, and threatening the roof of the house and the telephone line. If you are going to try to take large branches out of the garden, the thing to do is to tie them with stout rope to the next branch, or something sturdy. That way, when you have sawn through it, the branch will not fall onto something.

This whole area was covered in holly - soon to be an English cottage garden
This whole area was covered in holly – soon to be an English cottage garden

Never, ever saw at something whilst on a ladder, and if there is the tiniest amount of doubt you can do the job safely, get the professionals in to do it. The cost is well worth avoiding injury.

I now have a great space, vacated by the holly bush, in which I am going to plan an English cottage garden, but this takes time. So I will make up the beds – once I have cleared it of roots and stock it with winter bedding.

I am in a mind for delphiniums, agapanthus, flowering alliums and a few dahlias. Actually, it was a toss up between a cottage garden and an old fashioned dahlia garden, and I would love to hear from anyone who still grows dahlias in the traditional way. You can contact me via my Ask the Expert page.
Verbena - magical in the rain
September should be time for lawn maintenance, but this year, because of all the rain and therefore all the moss, I am hanging out a bit. If you scrape all the moss away in September, and this goes for this year only, you will only get more moss by the time spring comes along. So this year I am going to give the lawn a good cut (if it’s not too wet) and then a good spiking with a garden fork. Make holes half an inch in diameter and about six inches deep. This will improve air getting to choked up grass roots.

In the spring, give the lawn a good scrape with the grass rake, and over sow!

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is involved in an inner city program in Manchester which aims to encourage people to grow their own food whether they have a garden, an allotment, or even a balcony, as well as leading a co-operative initiative to train city dwellers to keep bees on allotments and gardens

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden.