Gardeners cuttings from Sissinghurst Castle Garden

The soft autumn sunlight shines on the South Cottage in October

As we welcome in October with it comes, in Vita’s words, the ‘rich, mellow days of Autumn’. Here at Sissinghurst there is a new beauty with the cooler temperatures and the shortening of the days as a quietness falls over the garden. Once vibrant colours fade to softer tones, butterflies and bees flitting through the Summer garden are replaced with falling leaves. However, for us there is lots of work going on.

The task of caring for the lawns has begun as the wear of the Summer months has taken its toll on them. We begin with scarifying which is removing the thatch (built up dead grass), we do this using a machine and also by scratching with rakes and plenty of elbow grease. The turf is then aerated with a hollow tiner and a slitter to help relieve compaction and open up the surface of the lawn. Any gaps that have appeared in the year can then be over sown with fresh grass seed and the lawns are then closed off and allowed to fully rest until we open again next year.

This is also a time when thoughts turn to next year as the bulb and seed catalogues pile up. Bulbs have been ordered now and we will begin planting them towards the end of the month and into November. Tulips, Daffodils, Irises and Snowdrops will be added to the garden along with Wallflowers, Foxgloves, Sweet Williams and Verbascums grown from seed in the nursery for a beautiful display next Spring. We will also be sowing our Sweet Peas (hardy annuals) towards the end of October, giving them this early start produces strong and sturdy plants which will flower earlier than if sown in the Spring.

Before this planting we need to make space in the beds so Summer annuals will soon be removed, frost tender plants such as Dahlias and Liatris will be lifted and stored in the nursery. We will soon begin to lift and divide herbaceous perennials. This helps to revive old clumps and we can make space for the new plants to go in over Winter. 

In the nursery we are busy getting ready for frost. Over the last few weeks we have been taking cuttings of all the frost tender plants in the garden such as Salvias, Osteospermums, Verbenas and Cupheas. We take about a 2 inch length of young, flexible stem from the tip of a non-flowering shoot, remove the lower leaves to keep between 2 and 4 at the top, depending on the plant. The lower inch of stem is secured in free draining compost, the cuttings are keep moist and about 18 degrees and should root within a couple of weeks. We then over-winter these young plants in our greenhouse and polytunnels to protect them from the harshest elements of the Winter weather. The winter wet can be as destructive as frost to plants so our polytunnels are essential for ensuring they get through to Spring.