I bloody love September. Bare-legs-and-jackets weather. The first whiffs of leaf mould and mist in the air. I’m an autumn fangirl, an equinox baby and an undying, school-loving nerd. This time of year wouldn’t even need chewy, golden sunsets and Indian summer days to be my favourite, but those certainly help: we might even get to spend a bit of time on the patio furniture, given how little action it saw this summer.
Fair weather gardeners may see September as the moment to hack back summer’s crispy herbaceous growth and consider their horticultural duties done for the year, but I’d like to grab those secateurs and encourage a back-to-school feeling in the garden, instead. Late summer and early autumn is a fantastic time to recharge your gardening batteries for the seasons ahead.
I’m not much one for to-do lists in the garden, they make everything feel like a job to be done. But there are certain things that are akin to buying a new pencil case. Fellow gardening Virgos may enjoy kicking things off with a good shed tidy, as you’ll be wanting to unearth seedling pots and compost, and while you’re doing that you may as well see how many mice have set up shop in there.
More important, though, is to jump into sowing. I find the great spring seed rush overwhelming, but I relish sowing hardy annuals in early autumn. I find great positivity in starting new life when everything else is winding down, and give myself the treat of an afternoon with seed trays, compost and carefully selected seeds. These plants have to be able to survive frost, they have to fit with the colour scheme, they have to be fairly fuss-free – sweet peas in varying hues, calendulas ‘Snow Princess’ and ‘Orange Flash’; Oriental poppies ‘White Ruffles’, verbascum ‘Flush of White’ and some frothy umbellifers. Some will be sown direct into the soil, others in pots and put into the coldframe to be largely forgotten about aside from a weekly water for the next six months. If you sow too many, giving sturdy seedlings as Christmas presents is always a bit of a thrill.
Attend to any containers that are looking a little worse for wear after this strange summer – cut back brown or tired growth on repeat flowerers to see if you’ll get another flush, mulch that newly cleared soil with some peat-free compost and, if you’ve not yet ordered your bulbs for this autumn’s planting (and next spring’s show), get involved.
For colour to blast into the darker days with: salvias, asters, dahlias – ideally as tubers in spring, but you can get plants in bloom now, too – heuchera and hylotelephium, or sedums, will jazz up the coming months and years after besides.