Keep on top of the garden for a while yet

September 6th, 2020 9:45 PM

Keep picking those lovely sweet peas to prolong the flowering season. (Photos: Ben Russell)

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Enthusiasm for gardening can wane a little at the end of the summer. It seems easier to ignore long grass, or a few weeds, once autumn arrives and the burst of summer glory starts to fade. But try to keep the garden in good shape for as long as you can – it’s faster to collect leaves from short grass, and weeds will still scatter seeds if you leave them to grow too big. A quick tidy up can lift spirits too. If you clear dead flower stems from borders, and yellowing foliage from vegetables that are finished cropping, then you will be able to appreciate the plants that are left.

Sweet Peas

Keep picking bunches to bring into the house and cut off any flowers that have faded and started to set seed. Pick off the seed pods if things go that far – the idea is to keep plants flowering for as long as you can. This may seem like a lot of work if you have a large frame covered in sprawling sweet pea plants, but even if you pick some, this will help some plants to continue to flower for as long as the season allows.

Another option for extending the flowering season is to sow seed at different times. Autumn sowings give the earliest flowers. Early spring sowings aren’t too far behind and if you wait until April or May you should get a good lot of autumn blooms. 

Clear the stems onto the compost heap when flowering is finished, or when plants look too tatty to provide pleasure. Save seed from any fat pods if you want, but be prepared for some plants grown from the seed to be different to the parent plant.

Why bother to string onions?

You can pack onions into net bags or spread them out on the floor of a shed. If onions are perfectly grown and dried, this will work as well as any other storage solution. On the other hand, strings of onions do look lovely hung up in the kitchen and it is easy to see at a glance if any bulb has started to rot and needs to be removed.

If bulbs have fat necks that are hard to dry out, then twisting these around strings can help the process along. Constricting the necks in this way, and then hanging the string in a dry kitchen, helps to seal and dry the necks so the onions don’t deteriorate too fast. 

Hang onion strings in a cool dry shed or leave them in the house. Strings of onions may start to sprout green shoots in the spring, but this usually happens later than for loose onions.

In the pumpkin patch

I love growing pumpkins and this year a large patch of my garden is overrun with the plants. Most I planted out where I wanted them to go and one or two are self-seeded from plants grown last year. The self-seeders were possibly from compost at the edge of the bin, that didn’t reach a reliable heat. 

One or two viable seeds must have remained to grow on when the compost was used in the garden. The self-seeders seem to be doing well and swelling fruits.


Prevent pumpkin rot by raising them off the ground with a slate or the like. (Photos: Ben Russell)


A lot comes down to variety when growing pumpkins. Some varieties reliably swell two or three pumpkins per plant while others struggle to grow one. This year two varieties have set lots of fruit. These are ‘Small Sugar’ and ‘Jack of all Trades’. Both start out green and turn orange as they ripen and both store well for a few months. It is worth putting fruits onto a slate or piece of wood to raise them up off the soil and reduce rot in wet weather.

The variety ‘Uchiki Kuri’ is one of my favourites, but this year plants have set fewer, later fruits and those that have set are smaller than usual. This is a delicious nutty tasting pumpkin that stores very well, but we all have to accept that in any given year some varieties do better than others. Any gardener should try one or two new things each year, but be slow to relinquish the reliable performers.

Autumn planting onions and garlic

Look out for these and buy them when you see them. Stocks sell out fairly fast and you want to get sound and good quality onion sets and garlic bulbs, even though you may not plant them for another few weeks. Autumn planting leads to early crops and plants can be lifted before white rot strikes. You can bridge the gap between stored onions running out and spring planted sets being ready to use. 

Autumn onions don’t grow well for everyone – small plants don’t like sodden ground or too much wind rock. Autumn garlic is usually hardy and reliable. 

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