Gardening tips for autumn
Autumn can be a tricky time in the garden, but there’s still plenty to do to keep you ticking over.
One day it is August and still summer, the next brings deep earthy aromas, mists and silver light. All the seasons come in a day.
Those of us with heart failure need to wrap up warm, keep covered from the rain and stay inside when the north wind blows – but I’ll still be tending the garden.
1. Move tender pot plants
Now is a good time to start the long job of moving plants in pots to their overwintering point. What I do is get someone to bring the wheelbarrow to the patio, and slowly – even if it is only one plant a day – pop them into the barrow. I start with those destined for the greenhouse.
Clearing your greenhouse of moss is a good start
When the wheelbarrow is full, I get help moving them to the greenhouse and arrange them by the door ready for October (or later), when I will pop them inside for the winter.
2. Sowing sweet peas
I always sow sweet peas in October, so September is spent searching the seed catalogues. They are sown in modules and then left in an unheated greenhouse or a cold frame until they are planted out in April. You always get the best sweet peas this way.
3. Clearing root vegetable crops
Clearing crops such as potatoes can be tricky, especially if you have trouble digging. You can prepare far in advance to make this task easier. When planting out (next year now), simply create a shallow scratch in the soil by hoeing, lay your seed potatoes in this and then cover them with straw.
On top of the straw, add more soil. As the plants grow, add a little more straw and cover with soil again. Then, when it comes to harvesting, you just need to rake the soil down and collect your potatoes.
If your potatoes are in the ground, as mine are, I tend to dig them up while sitting down. I use a good stout trowel, and scrape in a circle around the plant until my trowel won’t go any further. I then chip away at the central mass, exposing the potatoes.
It takes longer, but I only do one plant’s worth at a time.
4. Clean moss from your greenhouse
You can do some preparatory jobs for the winter now. Clearing your greenhouse of moss is a good start. Moss grows in the cracks, between the glazing and in the gutters. It isn’t a problem until it dries out, then on the first downpour it swells enough to crack glass and even bend the frame.
5. Sharpen your tools
Now’s a good time to sharpen the tools you won’t need again until spring. Spades in particular must be sharp – it is amazing how much more effort is needed to dig with a blunt spade. Give it a clean, a coating of oil using a rag and a bit of three-in-one, then sharpen the cutting edge with a metal file. You don’t want it to be razor-sharp, but you do need a definite edge.
Tips for adapting your gardening techniques if you have health problems
1. Hoeing while seated
Hoeing while seated isn’t easy, so I had the handle of my hoe cut down.
2. Warm up first
Before I start any strenuous gardening work, I do a warmup. Holding the handle of a spade in both hands, I tap my feet on the shoulder of the blade 10 times each. Then I carry the spade across the lawn, slowly, and repeat. Some days I just do the toe taps, repeating three times.
3. Get a cultivator
I have a cultivator on a long pole. It has a rotating series of heavy-duty spikes at the end. You roll this back and forth over the soil and it creates a good tilt. It’s a bit like a hoe, only it takes less out of the arms as you are not doing any lifting, just rolling. Sometimes I don’t move my arms at all, I just sort of wobble!
4. Planting garlic
When planting garlic, the temptation is to make a hole with your finger, then pop the clove in. I only have small fingers and, as you need a good hole about 2–3 inches deep (5cm), I use a clothes peg then drop the garlic in. Watch out: in a few weeks they’ll be growing roots and can push themselves out of the soil, so you’ll have to push them back in.
Paul studied botany at university and made a successful career of it, appearing regularly on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, writing for the Daily Mirror as his alter ego Mr Digwell and publishing more than 20 books on gardening and food. He continues to garden despite having heart failure and diabetes.