Gardener's ramblings: October

Anna Tolfree, Senior Gardener Anna Tolfree Senior Gardener
A small building with niche for a bench that is decorated in shells. Autumn leave are scattered across the grass.
Published : 20 Oct 2018

When nature seems to be slowing down in preparation for a cold winter, the gardens and parks team at Stowe go into overdrive. In October's blog, Gardener Anna Tolfree prepares for a busy schedule of work in her favourite season - autumn.

The smell of bonfires and autumn leaves, their beautiful kaleidoscope of colours from golds to ruby reds. Autumn is one of my favourite times of year. The garden can feel even more alive now with glorious hues across the landscape and parkland. It’s not just from leaves, but also seed heads such as Euonymus europeaus with its bright orange and vivid pink seeds next to the vibrant red of its leaves and the beautiful lustrous red rosehips produced by many roses that bring so much vibrancy to be enjoyed.  

Autumn colour in the woodland garden from the euonymus (Spindleberry)
Spindleberry - euonymus - autumn foliage colour in woodland at Charlecote
Autumn colour in the woodland garden from the euonymus (Spindleberry)

Asters are a highlight this month, producing fantastic colourful displays of bright purples and pinks whilst other plants are dying around them after summer. You can prolong the display in your own gardens by selecting a few of these amazing autumn plants which’ll pick up the baton from the summer flowering plants and give you an extra month or maybe two depending on the weather. Varieties such as Aster amellus Erfullung and Chrysanthemum ‘Regal Mist Red’ would make a stunning addition to any garden now. I myself have been adding more plants in the Sleeping Wood where there is shade. I’ve carefully selected varieties that can cope with shady conditions and are also from the right historical time period for the Wood.

Autumn berries
Spindle berries in Hatfield Forest
Autumn berries

People assume that this time of year gardeners start to wind down after a hectic spring and summer. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Now is the perfect time of year to be completing so many jobs, the question is where to start? Any lawns that are looking tired and worn after a long dry summer can now be restored with a good feed and any bare patches can be over sown with grass seed. This time of year is perfect for sowing grass seed as not only is the air temperature warm but the soil has also warmed up and this ensures a faster germination rate of the grass seed, that and generally autumn gives us a little more rainfall keeping the seed well-watered.

Pruning can also be tackled now. Many shrubs and trees have put on vast amounts of growth over the past few months and have outgrown their allotted space in the bed. Always use the three D’s first when pruning: Dead, Diseased and Damaged. Remove any branches that show signs of these first and then you can concentrate on removing any branches that are rubbing against each other. When this has been done then you can have a look at the overall shape and height that you want the shrub or tree to be.

Volunteering can be rewarding and satisfying work
A volunteer pruning roses
Volunteering can be rewarding and satisfying work

Your herbaceous perennials can also be divided up now, providing you with more plants to put elsewhere in the garden - and all for free. It also helps the plant to be more healthy and vigorous in its growth if this is done every few years. The dying top growth can also be cut back now and composted, although I tend to leave seedheads for birds and cut them back after winter has passed. 

There is of course the leaf clearing too…I’m not a fan of clearing leaves as it’s just such a big job but I have to admit it does look a lot better for it afterwards and allows the grass to still grow.

Embrace the autumn, gather leaves together for fun before clearing them away.
Three ladies throw red leaves in the air in the gardens.
Embrace the autumn, gather leaves together for fun before clearing them away.

So I quietly laugh to myself when people say I don’t have much to do in the coming months.

Happy Gardening