Don’t rush to put the garden to bed!

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It’s good to have a tidy up, but don’t rush it, says flower farmer Charlotte Tombs. There’s lots of goodness in those last remains of the summer

Leave your dahlias till the frosts turn them black
Image: Charlotte Tombs

What a strange concept it is, putting a garden ‘to bed’ – though I’ll admit it’s always nice to see everything cleared away and put on the compost heap, burnt or taken to the municipal dump. It’s just as well that there really is no hurry to get on with it. I’m in the middle of organising Christmas workshops… (shameless plug to follow).
If you take a moment now, you can organise your current garden mess to benefit your growing season for next year.
Try cutting back all the dead woody stems and then use them as a mulch on your flower beds; the insects will be able to overwinter here, and it will provide food for the birds. Leave the root balls in place. They will add to your soil’s health and increase the good micro-organisms.
Leave anything with a seed head. Not only will it look beautifully architectural on a cold frosty morning, the birds will thank you for these extra seedy treats.
You will find with the fluctuating autumnal temperatures that some seeds will start to self-sow. Use this as nature’s indicator that now is the correct time to plant your autumn hardy annuals such as cornflowers, Ammi majus (Queen Anne’s lace) and calendula by sowing these now. Your seedlings will have a jump on next year, and it’s always good to get ahead. Plus you will find that these autumn-sown plants are bigger and healthier than their spring-sown counterparts.
Some seeds need something called cold stratification – a period of cold to germinate. Orlaya and Larkspur benefit from this treatment, and in fact I have a Ziplock bag of seeds in my fridge all year round!

Deal with dahlias
Do wait for a couple of hard frosts to knock your dahlias back (wait until the frost hits them and they go all black) before you lift to store, or leave the tubers in and mulch – it all really depends on your soil type. If you have free draining ground you are probably OK to leave in, but if the ground is subject to standing water they are likely to rot. Dahlias do like being dug up and divided every few years, it encourages more vigorous growth (plus you get free plants). I usually lift some and leave some, but then one of my absolute favourites rotted in storage but was fine in the ground, so it’s always a gamble!

Christmas is coming!
This year I am running two workshops:
12th November – Christmas stencilling in the morning with Melanie Ward, and wreath-making in the afternoon with Charlotte
30th November – Indian cookery with Christmas wreath.
Hands-on Indian cooking with Torie True in the morning, with a leisurely lunch of the dishes you prepared. An afternoon Christmas wreath workshop using lots of different elements grown and foraged by Northcombe Flowers.
Both of these make great gifts for that person who has everything – or simply to treat yourself.
Please take a look at my instagram account
@northcombeflowers for details and book classes early to avoid disappointment!

Sponsored by Thorngrove Garden Centre

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