Friday 18 September 2020

Autumnal tips and a quiz

Dahlias are great at this time of the year. And they come in such a wide range of colours – and forms. Although I am no expert, I find them a really useful way of extending the season. And so, unashamed, I shall give them another push in the hope you more of my ‘customers’ can be persuaded to have a go

In these parts, it is best to give them protection over the winter. So, if you are a dahlia-beginner, here is a suggestion. Start by rowing them in pots. They can then be positioned on the patio for colour near the house. Just as easy – put them, still in their pots, in the border. That is great for filling gaps. If you wish, you can plunge the pot

When we get frost, you will need to bring them in. At that point I shall show you two ways of giving them protection during the winter. So, there is my first tip this week: grow dahlias!

Another contender

I know a little about cultivating dahlias (emphasis on little) but next to nothing about growing chrysanthemums. But I am having some success. That encourages me to observe that they are another good way of ‘extending the season’ – in other words, lengthening the period when the garden has attractive flowers in bloom.

Having seen a Sarah Raven video last year, I experimented moving the chrysanths into the greenhouse in October, replacing the tomatoes that had been growing there. This extended their flowering period even more. Mind you, there proved to be a downside: very leggy plants. I must find the next video in the series and learn how to deal with this! I guess heavier pruning is needed – see item below on secateurs

Speaking of videos

Non-celebrity gardener chopping away earlier this year

I have previously mentioned the BBC tv programme Gardeners’ World. Last Friday’s episode was particularly good – all round, one of the best episodes I can remember. Monty did an excellent exposition of compost making – really clear and well illustrated. You can see it (episode 26) here

I would like to pick up on a couple of points. First, the space requirement – not, apparently, an issue for celebrity gardeners. But a significant problem for many readers of this blog. My method helps a bit with this by obviating the need to turn the whole heap from one bin to another (two bins!). I turn as I go – that is done about every seven to ten days this time of year – here’s how:

Compost heap this week - note layer of shredded paper

Top off each layer with shredded paper. When it is time to add new material I first turn and mix the previous layer, or even, two layers. This serves two purposes. It helps get the green/brown mix right and it introduces the air that the bacteria need to complete their work. There’s a bit of an art in this but practice makes perfect. Then I add the new material and chop it thoroughly – very thoroughly, as this aids decomposition and rapid heat build-up. I then top off with shredded paper ready for the next cycle

The amazing answer lies in the soil

Soil science

Rather neatly, Monty followed the compost lesson with a fascinating piece (a repeat) on the hidden life in the soil that makes things grow

No better way of explaining why making your own compost in a good thing. Take a look and enjoy the enthusiasm of Dr Charlie Clutterbuck. Yes, that’s his name. Somehow apt for a soil a man of the soil!


Servicing shears

Hopefully two pictures saving a few words

My garden shears get heavy use chopping material for the compost heap. I have found a weak point with many designs to be the tensioning mechanism so here is a tip that might be useful if your shears go floppy

Assuming you can find one, add a second nut to the bolt that runs through the two blades. Tighten the two nuts against each other. You will need to fiddle a bit to get the tension on the blades right but once done you will be able to chop away much more effectively. I added a washer as well to give a freer action

While you are at it, run a file across the two cutting edges. Best not to remove the burr – and use a drop of oil on the joint

… and two secateur tips

I am sure you know that secateurs are a garden essential. I mention it now in case you might consider putting a good quality pair on you Christmas list (yes, this is the season when garden centres begin to transmogrify in elaborate versions of Santa’s Grotto, ugh!)

Although my shears are pretty run-of-the-mill, my secateurs are top-quality - Felco. Having used mine for many years, I would not now settle for less. They are sturdy, easy on the hand and, above all, the blade will take and keep an edge. I have a small, cylindrical, carborundum stone that I use to keep them sharp

A David Austin rose in our garden - one of several

When visiting David Austin Roses last year, I noticed that the gardeners keep a pot of methylated spirits handy when pruning. This keeps the blades disinfected and prevents the spread of disease. I use this tip to avoid spreading tomato blight – I always a get a bit with some of the outside tomatoes but like to avoid it hitting the greenhouse. So far, so good

Tomatoes by the boatload

Speaking of tomatoes, we have had a good crop. I like to grow a range of varieties – partly for the interest and partly to plan next year. As usual, Harzfeuer has done well. These are as seed supplied by Lidl – cost next to nothing and grow away very reliably. The cherry tomato, Cerise, has worked well. But our favourite this year has been Sungold (see photo left) – so more of those next year. Sweet and tangy at the same time

Houseplants sagging?
If you introduced houseplants in the Spring - a favourite times, of course - you may find that they are sagging a bit. This can be  due to lack of nutrients in their compost which cannot be replenished as when planted outside in the soil

Epsom Salts may provide the answer to some problems. For outside plants, too. Come back next week for more on this

And finally …

You may remember that there is a quiz hanging over from last week. Must be the gardener in me - it seems to have grown a bit over the last few days. So, if like me, you are once again locked down– here below are a few questions to exercise the brain cells (but not too much)

… best wishes from the old Garden Codger


Old Codger’s Quiz (acknowledgement: photos in Q1 and Q2 from Wikipedia, otherwise they are mine)

Q1. This is the question that kicked off the idea of a quiz. Regular reader, Rachel White, spotted a case of mistaken identity. Look at these two photographs. Which is the Wall Brown and which is the Speckled Wood?

Q2. Another case of mistaken identity. Joann Young is possibly our most senior reader (Codger attended a birthday with a zero last year). Being an American – and a New Englander at that – she noticed that I had married Wilma to the wrong man! Please sort out who is who in this picture

Q3. Back to nature. I took this shot in the week. Fruit and blossom at the same time. Struck me as odd. Identify, please

Q4. In an almost similar vein. Identify this tree. Note how it appears to have two sorts of fruit (if that is the right word). And Dutch friends please note, the wood from this tree has a particular use in Holland


Q5. An easy one. What fruit would you expect to find here?

Q6. And a photographic question. Below are two photos of the same rose - Iceberg at the bottom of our garden. They were taken a few hours apart

Which of the two is the later shot?

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