There’s always something to do in the garden. This can be a positive or a negative depending on how many other demands you have on your time; however you see it a bit of planning is the key to keeping ahead of the game. We might now be in August, but that other ‘a’ word – autumn – has started to creep into my thoughts. The leaves on the liquidambar tree in my garden have started to turn colour. I know it seems much too early, but it does this every year. The first year it was quite a surprise to see reddish hues appearing on the leaves in August. I’m used to it now and know if Mother Nature’s kind we’ve still got plenty of summer-like weather left, but in some ways these changes in colour are nature’s prod for me to make plans before it’s too late.
There are bulbs to order. Tulips and daffodils, paper white narcissi for forcing indoors and lots of tiny little bulbs for pots by the front door. I like to order from specialist nurseries were the choice is greater and the bulbs should have been stored in the correct conditions. But I have been known to have my head turned by a special offer at my local garden centre. It can also be an advantage being able to see the bulbs before you purchase them so you can make sure they’re firm and plump and that there are no signs of rot.
Now is the time to order some green manure. As you clear beds of crops at the allotment or in your kitchen garden it’s a good idea to sow a crop of a fast-growing green manure, such as phacelia. Sow in August and you can cut it down in mid to late autumn and leave on the surface of the soil to protect it from heavy rain. It will slowly break down improving the structure of your soil and adding nutrients to it. You could also sow hardy green manures such as Hungarian grazing rye which can overwinter. Cut these down in spring and dig into the soil. These will help to prevent soil erosion from winter storms and the roots will penetrate the soil improving drainage.
Sow oriental salad leaves such as mustards, mizuna and pak choi over the coming weeks and you’ll have tasty greens to pick right into winter. Coriander, spinach and rocket, all of which are prone to bolting in the warmer summer months, can be sown now too. They’ll prefer the cooler conditions, and if you can give them some protection from frost using fleece or cloches you’ll still be able to pick these in winter.
If your garden is looking a bit bare in parts pop to the garden centre and grab some plants for autumn colour. You might be surprised at how many plants will keep on flowering right up to the first frosts, and there are some that come into their own as the days become shorter. Look out for asters, potted dahlias, fuchsias, Saxifraga ‘Blackberry and Apple Pie’, rudbeckias and heleniums.