I start my article this month with a heavy heart, deeply saddened by the news that on the 17th September (last month) a great friend and gardening hero lost his fight with ‘Prostate cancer’.
Joe Maiden was, to many a most personable and charismatic expert and garden presenter, both his writing and BBC radio Leeds programme providing encouragement and humour to our very English hobby. To me Joe was all of that and more, his encouragement and support in my developing years as a gardener gave me the confidence to take on many challenging projects, and indeed more recently with a Chelsea Gold medal exhibit, his son John and I designed and delivered for the Leeds University. I could fill a dozen articles about Joe’s achievements and generosity and no doubt many of you will have fond memories of your own, perhaps from a chance meeting, attendance at one of his talks or a call to his radio programme and I am sure you would join me in offering sincere condolences to his wife Betty and the family.
October heralds the start of a new season, and although the weather is mixed and often miserable the garden takes on a warm glow as trees and shrubs turn into a tapestry of bright red, yellow and burnt orange. Grasses and seed heads of pale straw gently sway in the wind. It may be a time when plants prepare for their winter slumber, but there are still plenty of tasks to complete in the garden.
Although there are many plants that will be preparing for hibernation it is a time when we can propagate many of our woody plants. October is a time when we can take hardwood cuttings of shrubs and trees, Willow, Mountain Ash, Roses and many of our soft fruit bushes to name but a few. The process is fairly easy too, first prepare a short trench in the vegetable garden or a border where there is a little space and good free draining soil. The trench should be vertical at the back and sloping at the front, place a little washed river sand in the bottom of the trench; it’s now ready for the cuttings. Choose a stem that is about the thickness of a pencil, and about 9” (23 cms) long. The bottom of the cutting should be cut horizontally just below a bud, at the top make a sloping cut just above a bud. Gently push the cutting into the trench flat against the vertical side with the sloping cut uppermost, spacing them about 6” (15 cms) apart. Gently push the soil back to fill the trench and firm with your boot. The top of the cutting should be about 3” (7.5 cms) above the soil level, that’s it. They will not need any attention or protection and should start to shoot next spring. Its good practice to leave them in the trench until the following October/November, then they can be lifted and planted out.
If the weather is mild you can plant ‘bare root’ trees and shrubs towards the end of the month. These are plants that have been grown in the field and lifted when dormant; they are generally much cheaper than container grown plants but are only available for autumn/winter planting. Remember when planting anything, if it cost you 50p, put it in a £1.20 hole, in other words prepare the planting hole incorporating ‘well-rotted’ compost and a sprinkling of general fertilizer, if it is dry water the hole before and after planting. Place the plant in the hole carefully spreading the roots out and back fill with soil. Gently shake the plant as you fill to make sure the soil settles between the roots. Firm in with your boot and water well.
Start to think about your summer displays and vegetables for next year and send off for seed catalogues.