The October Garden
Autumn is the perfect time to think about planting some hardy shrubs – the soil is still warm, and generally moist from increased rainfall. Thus, a plant establishes quickly, forming new roots to support itself through whatever the winter throws at it. A good ‘backbone’ of evergreen shrubs is a great way of achieving important structure in any garden as they look good year-round, offering a mix of colour and texture, and once established, will not require constant watering.
So, what to plant? An easy-care option that grows almost anywhere would be Viburnum tinus, and it has interest all year round. The green foliage is covered in clusters of pink buds in winter, which open to tiny white flowers in spring. In the late summer these turn into small berries. It makes an attractive shaped bush and can be pruned easily, if necessary, in spring.
Holly (Ilex) is another easy-care evergreen shrub which deserves a place in everyone’s garden. It can be clipped into topiary shapes, used as hedging, or allowed to grow into a large bush or tree. For the best variegation, perhaps ‘Madame Briot’ – the spiny leaves on this female variety have attractive yellow margins and the purple stems carry red berries. Or ‘Silver Van Tol’. This variety is self-fertile, so can be grown on its own, with glossy, virtually spineless, ovate dark green leaves edged creamy-white. Berries, of course, are an important source of food for birds in winter.
If you are looking for something smaller, Christmas Box (Sarcococca) is a perfect choice for winter scent. The bushy evergreen shrubs have glossy, dark green leaves and during the darkest days of winter they produce small but highly fragrant, creamy-white flowers. It’s a great plant for having near the house to get the full benefit of its heady perfume. Growing well in a pot, it can cope with some shade.
My last recommendation is another for a small space – Nandina domestica ‘Obsessed’. It’s a compact shrub grown primarily for its foliage, and although not evergreen, it is easy care and the foliage has several seasons of interest – emerging fiery red, turning a bright green, then red again in autumn. Choose a sunny spot for this lovely plant.
There are plenty of other good shrubs that can be planted now, so it’s worth looking at the selection at your local garden centre. Prepare the ground properly for planting by adding compost to the soil along with some bone meal for optimum root growth.
Bulbs are one of the cheapest ways of filling your garden with colour. Plant some spring flowering varieties now and you will be rewarded with a long display of colour come Spring! Plant tulips towards the end of the month.
Collect autumn leaves– make a simple open bin with chicken wire around 4 posts to hold them until they break down into valuable compost. It’s important to clear the lawn – a layer of wet leaves can cause grass to die back, and weeds and disease to take hold – and net ponds as leaves will rot in the water.
Clean your greenhouse, getting into all the corners. Leave the door open to dry it properly.
Move any frost tender plants such as citrus inside now.
Plant scented wallflowers – bundles of field grown plants are in garden centres now. These will flower in spring.
Lift and divide herbaceous perennials, removing perennial weeds, and improve the soil with compost and fertiliser. Move shrubs now.
Lift dahlia tubers after the first frost and store frost free in barely damp compost
Plant garlic and autumn onions now, in soil enriched with compost.
Bring citrus in for winter if not already done.
Empty summer flowering pots and hanging baskets onto the compost heap, refill with fresh compost and plant with a range of autumn and winter flowering bedding plants such as mini cyclamen, pansies, and primroses.