THE MILL GARDENS IN AUTUMN

With the arrival of autumn, days are getting noticeably shorter and temperatures are dropping. The leaves of trees are turning and before long we’ll have our first frost. There is a different feel to the Mill Gardens this time of the year; the colour palette of the plantings is changing and empty beds are yet again quickly filling up with new crops.

ORNAMENTAL PLANTINGS

This is the time when our ornamental grasses come into their own and provide the Mill Gardens with height and texture. Dew on tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) can be seen glistening in the early morning sun, while the purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea ‘Heidebraut’) effectively catches the low light to display its orange autumn colour to the full. The ornamental oregano is providing a welcomed late nectar source for our pollinating insects, while the blooms of asters still provide highlights of colour.

We are also making some changes to our permanent plantings this autumn. The wild flower verge at the entrance of the gardens is getting a revamp. We are removing the more vigorous and tall growing plant species and are introducing a range of natives which can withstand occasional mowing. This should provide us with a low tapestry lawn which is made up of plants with a diverse range of foliage. There also still will be flowers from time to time to provide a great nectar source for pollinating insects.

In addition we are creating a long grass meadow in our orchard, which is very much in keeping with this part of the gardens. To provide early interest, we are planting 2000 crocus bulbs this autumn, which will provide us with a carpet of pale purple blooms from February 2016.

CROPS

Autumn is the start of a new year for our crops, which are grown in rotation throughout the garden. Spring cabbages are planted at the start of October, which allows them to put down their roots before the shorter and colder days arrive. Nicely protected from pigeons by netting, these will come back into growth in early spring and we are looking forward to a bumper harvest in April and May. Later in October our winter cereal crops, which include wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt, are sown. After germination, these will overwinter as small plants to yet again provide us with a spectacular ornamental and educational display next summer. In other areas of the garden, which otherwise would be fallow, we are growing green manures throughout autumn and winter. These protect the soil from erosion and prevent nutrients from leaching.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

The time for tender crops like courgettes and beans is quickly coming to an end with the first frost approaching. However, our allotment area is still displaying a selection of hardier vegetables. Growing next to some winter hardy lettuces, rainbow chard and red chicories bring splashes of colour to the vegetable garden. In addition, we are also growing oriental leaves, leeks and winter spinach throughout autumn and into winter, all of which can cope with the colder conditions during this time of the year.

We are also picking the last of our blackberries and raspberries and regularly check whether our pears come away easily from the tree, which is a sign that they are ripe.

JOBS FOR THE AUTUMN 

  • Plant spring flowering bulbs like crocuses and daffodils in October, but wait until November to plant tulip bulbs
  • Continue to harvest any crops that are still producing, but clear those that have finished
  • Cut back any spent herbaceous perennials which aren’t required for winter structure, seed or wildlife
  • Continue to deadhead annuals and perennials
  • Rake leaves and make leaf mould
  • Start to plant garlic in October
  • Divide and plant herbaceous perennials while the soil is still warm
  • Apply mulch to borders to add nutrients and organic matter as well as to suppress weeds
  • Sow hardy annuals in situ in early autumn