Just as the warmer days bring swallows and swifts back to the skies, the arrival of colder weather is marked by noisy, hungry sparrows on the bird feeders. We hardly see them through the summer months when the’re busy tending to nests and feeding chicks. But now they spend their days guzzling bird seed and pecking their way through countless fat balls. The blackbirds too are more visible and vocal again – shouting in alarm each time I walk down the garden. They’re busy feasting on the windfall apples that litter the grass… and there are a lot for them to feast on. I’ve collected probably the last of the apples to use in the kitchen, the birds are welcome to the rest.
A colder turn to the weather has meant a whole new list of gardening chores to do. The tender plants are already under cover – either in the greenhouse, cold frame or jostling for space on a windowsill in the house. A couple of frosts on the dahlias means it’s time to dig them up and start drying them off to store for next year. I grew dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’ from seed this summer – a good mix of yellows, reds and a nice dusky orange. The plants were, of course, carefully labelled so I’d know which ones were worth keeping… no, you know me better than that. I have absolutely no idea which plant is which, so I’m keeping them all in the shed and if any of them survive for planting next year, they will be labelled… yeah, right!
Sharing greenhouse space with the tender pelargoniums and lemon verbena, are seedlings grown from a frenzy of autumn sowing. There’s a collection of hardy annuals that should flower earlier than their spring-sown cousins next year, and a tray of sweet cicely grown from seed collected in late summer. Sweet cicely seeds need to be exposed to cold before they’ll germinate, so they were tricked into thinking winter was here through a short stay in the fridge, then germinated and potted up. They may or may not survive the real winter – this year I discovered the wonderful sweetness that a few leaves of sweet cicely can add to dishes, so I hope they do.
There are still leaves to harvest – ‘Red Russian’ kale and cavolo nero that managed to escape the attentions of the butterflies during the summer, and some ‘winter’ spinach… although seeing the sorry state it’s in after a few cold nights, I’m not sure it will really get through the worst of the winter weather. The chard is looking much more healthy, but to be fair, it has had the extra protection of a layer of enviromesh – not so much to keep the butterflies off but more for protection from the hens and some wild rabbits with big appetites that have moved in at the end of the garden.
A combination of cold nights and windy days means that there are a lot of leaves to rake up and put in bags to make next year’s leaf mould. And the seed sowing hasn’t stopped just because it’s cold and the days are short – I’m making regular sowings of a lettuce called ‘Winter Gem’ which is supposed to grow right through winter given some protection… we’ll see. But for the next few months any gardening will have to be fitted in to shorter days. Still, one of the best features of this time of year is sunset – some evenings the sky just lights up as the sun goes down…
It doesn’t seem like another month has passed, but I’m being reminded by Lizzie at Strayed from the Table, that it’s time for another Garden Share Collective… so these are my garden highlights - click over to Lizzie’s blog to catch up on how gardens around the world are looking just now.