It must be autumn by now

The weather has finally turned. This morning I succumbed to the wooly bonnet on my early morning dog walk and it felt just right. It’s not like we didn’t like the warm dry days but it is high time for autumn. The temperatures have dropped and along with the darker mornings we can all breathe a sigh of relief and reach for warmer clothes and think about what we can plant out in the garden. Summer is the gardener’s distraction I think; everything flowers and looks lush and full and amazing. Autumn is when the garden shows us what it is made of. The flowers vanish and the grasses and shrubs begin their show. This fabulous maple above is one of many in a local garden centre parking lot all now turning into a magnificent red. I think there is nothing more beautiful than the changing colours all around us. The super hot and dry summer seems to have ensured that we are in for a treat of a really good show of colour this year.

I have some good news to share. The Swiss Gardening School has returned with a new website and a new permanent home in Nyon at the cultural centre Chez Théophile at 20A route de l’Étraz. Hester Macdonald invites you to explore her engaging and diverse course schedule. Courses will be held on selected Thursday mornings and evenings until December, with a second series of courses beginning in late spring. See the new website for full course details and registration.

Next week sees me in Chéserex in the beautiful walled garden of l’Heure du Thé with two workshops on Spring Bulbs. We’ll be learning about different types of bulbs, where to buy them, how to plant them and how to integrate them into winter containers to have beautiful flowers for spring. It will be a hands on experience with participants creating their own winter pot to take home. Monday 23 or Tuesday 24 October from 10:00-12:00 followed by a light lunch. Let me know if you are available to join me.

Autumn is a good time to consider what worked this summer and what didn’t work and why. For me the big why was the heat. My garden is south and west facing and is rather steep, it is very exposed and drains exceptionally well – it feels like it is in the south of Italy but it is not. The wildflower meadow dried out in July and while structurally very interesting it is not as I wished it. The raised beds benefitted from a layer of newspaper and cardboard early in the growing season, especially around the dahlias, which kept the weeds down and some of the moisture in. Short of covering everything with a huge SPF 50 parasol I’m going to have to come up with a game plan. I’m looking into ways to keep as much moisture in the soil as possible and I think the future is mulch.

I’ve been busy clearing the raised beds of the remaining summer vegetables like courgette and aubergines, removing all signs of weeds as I go. Next I’m going to add a few bags of compost and cover with cardboard, overlapping the edges by about 15cms. The worms will be happy over the winter working hard to mix the compost with the soil. The cardboard will keep the weeds down over the winter. By April that should have disintegrated and the beds will be ready for another layer of compost before planting for a new season. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Last year I decided to plant zinnia seeds in pots. I was very conservative and only planted about eight seeds per pot. They grew beautifully, I harvested them and enjoyed them in the kitchen. The plants didn’t look great on the terrace, so this year I dedicated a raised bed to them. The seeds grew well but I was busy and didn’t get around to cutting them back when I should have. So on a hot Saturday I cut the seedlings down by half and left them on the table in full sun for a few hours while I got distracted by another project. They got so scorched, I felt so bad. I planted those sorry looking seedings out into the bed a few weeks later thinking that they would never recover. They clearly forgave me because they have been flowering like crazy since mid-August. If you haven’t already tried them give them a go next summer – they are very forgiving of a negligent gardener.

Every morning I cut new dahlias for the house and still today have a large multicoloured arrangement in the kitchen. The plants themselves are beginning to look a little scrappy and I’ve not been as diligent with the weeding as I should have been but none of that seems to bother the flowers. The shorter days certainly make a difference to the speed at which the flowers develop and the cooler nights mean that they are frequently wet with dew in the morning. I’ll keep this up until the first frost or until they stop flowering.

In case you didn’t already know this the town of Nyon has forbidden the sale of laurelles or laurier-cerise (Prunus laurocerasus L) since January 2023 due to their highly invasive properties. They are so concerned by the damaged caused by these shrubs to the local biodiversity and environment that they are organising a plant exchange on 18 November. If you live in Nyon, you dig up your shrub (one of five plants on their invasive list) from your garden and they will give you an indigenous shrub to replace it. Sign up for the plant exchange before 30 October. A full explanation can be found on the ville de Nyon website

With the soil still warm now is the time to move perennials or shrubs in the garden. It’s also the ideal time to add a new tree or shrub. The plants settle nicely into their new environment just as they go into their dormant period therefore without the pressure of adding new growth. Come spring they are ready to take off.

Bulbs are all over the garden centres right now. The time to plant almost all of them is right now – tulips rather a November planting. Buy them now and plant them now. You’ll be thrilled in the spring when they flower.

Happy gardening.

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