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The Wheelbarrow Gardener - Autumnal gardening

The Wheelbarrow Gardener - Autumnal gardening

Now summer is behind us and our thoughts turn to winter, we ask Trevor Bridge what we should be doing in our gardens before closing the door to the potting shed for the year…

Autumn is upon us, a favourite time of year for many with its clear crisp air and stunning colours. The heat of summer is over, but our days are still warm and ideal for gardening. Rainfall increases, though, as we move towards winter which can restrict working on heavier land, and we must begin to watch out for frosts.

October is a great harvesting month and gardeners will be reaping the bene-fits of their summer labours.

As well as a wide variety of vegetables, there are apples, pears, grapes and nuts ready to bring in for the table or for storing and preserving to enjoy over winter. Remember that stored crops should be checked regularly - dispose of any showing signs of disease or rot.

Why not save money by harvesting seeds from this year’s flowers and vegetables? If the seeds are damp, place them on a tray on a sunny windowsill for a few days before placing in an envelope, ensuring that you label them carefully recording both the species and date. Store them in a cool, dry place.
Leaves should be swept up, especially from lawns where they can cause bare patches by excluding light; removing leaves from ponds can help stop them getting clogged up. Collect the leaves together to make leaf mould which costs nothing and is very useful. Simply hammer four posts into the ground in a square, attach wire mesh round them, and just pile your leaves in.

Soil is your most precious commodity so keep it in good condition to get the best crops next year. Dig it over as ground becomes vacant, remembering that digging when the soil is wet and sticky does more harm than good. Work in compost, manure and as much organic matter as you can get to replace the goodness in it. In fact, most years here at Le Fayard we simply spread compost on the roughly dug surface. The worms take it down and the weather breaks up the soil over winter. Weeds such as chickweed grow through the winter months so the compost acts as mulch, suppressing their growth. The sooner you start the better, particularly if your soil is heavy. Our family of hens is allowed to “escape” onto the vegetable patch over winter where they reward us by converting weeds and grubs into eggs and they become mini-cultivators, scratching, digging and, of course, fertilizing.
As we go into November and the days get shorter, spend some time planning for next year. I love poring over seed catalogues and websites, planning next season’s crops and flowers. I reflect over what grew well this year and any lessons we have learnt.

I think about trying something new in our garden next year; a new type of vegetable, or perhaps a flower that we have admired in a friend’s garden.

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• It is pumpkin and winter squash time and runner beans, main crop potatoes, carrots and beetroot can be harvested. Early Brussels sprouts could be ready and you may be cutting winter cabbages, cauliflowers and leeks. Finish picking tomatoes and beans but leave parsnips in the ground as they taste sweeter after a frost.

• Winter lettuce such as laitue Merveille d’ hiver, Grosse Blonde and the lovely red-tinged Brune d’hiver can be sown directly into the ground until the end of October for harvesting in the spring.

• Lamb’s lettuce, mache, a very popular salad leaf here in France, is hardy and can be sown for cropping throughout autumn and winter.

• Sow broad bean ‘Aguadulce’ feve ‘d’Aguadulce’ directly from mid-October to mid-December in South-West France for an early crop next year. It is sown throughout France from February to March.

• Peas can be sown now for a June crop. Look for winter hardy round-seeded varieties such as pois nain ‘Douce Provence’, pois nain ‘Petit Provençal’ and pois nain ‘Utrillo’.

• Put new rhubarb sets in, and it is also the time to divide and replant existing rhubarb crowns.

• Clear crop remains and put them on the compost heap. Wrap up compost bins with old carpet or blankets to retain warmth so that they will remain active over winter.



• Tidy up in your borders and keep weeding, but resist the temptation of a thorough spring clean. If you don't want to collect them for seeds, leave seed heads for the birds - they also look attractive on a frosty morning. Cut back herbaceous perennials that have died down, but leave some for wildlife. Ladybirds especially will appreciate winter quarters and will repay you later by devouring aphids. Also, don’t cut them back too far – leave some foliage as natural protection for the plant from winter elements. Now is also the time to divide herbaceous perennials and to plant new perennials and biennials.

• Hardy annuals such as cornflowers, poppies, poached egg plant and larkspur can be sown in October so that they will flower earlier next year. Wallflowers and forget-me-nots can also be sown.

• Tulip bulbs can be planted in November to provide a display next spring, and winter bedding can be situated to provide a more immediate show in your borders.

• Prune roses to prevent wind rock and it is also the time to prune climbing roses.

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As our days shorten and the temperature drops, spectacular colours light up our gardens as leaves are transformed from green to an array of vivid shades of copper, yellow, orange, deep purple and red. These combine with late flowers, seed heads, fruits and soft grasses to create a richly textured display unique to this time of year.

A popular shrub in French gardens for its rich purple autumn leaf colour is the ‘arbre à perruque’ or Smoke Bush Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’. Many Japanese maples have dramatic autumn colours including Acer palmatum dissectum which forms a dome of feathery leaves that turn yellow-orange, and Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ which has brilliant orange-scarlet foliage in autumn. They are known in France as ‘érable du Japon’.

Not many shrubs flower from autumn to spring but Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn', with its clusters of heavily scented flowers that fade from pink to white, is difficult to better. It is known as ‘viorne’ in France. Although Viburnum opulus blooms from May to June, producing abundant white snowball flowers, it is equally valued for its masses of bright red autumn berries.

The dependable stonecrop, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, with its succulent stems and leaves, blooms from August into November. Its flowers, loved by bees, mature from pink to copper and it goes well with ornamental grasses. Rudbeckia fulgida deamii bears an abundance of large golden flowers with intense black velvety centres from early September until the end of October, sometimes into November. A good companion for Rudbeckia is Aster x frikartii which in late summer and autumn produces clouds of long lasting, daisy-like, lavender blue flowers with orange centres. Verbena bonariensis, a tall plant providing useful height in the border, bears masses of heads of bright lavender-purple flowers from August to October. It rivals even buddleia for attracting butterflies and self-seeds liberally.

The Autumn Crocus, Colchicum autumnale, is a native herbaceous perennial that creates a fantastic display of crocus-like lavender-pink flowers from September to November. It is known in France as ‘colchique d’automne’ and is ideal for naturalising. Cyclamen hederifolium is native to southern France, where it is known as ‘cyclamen de Naples’, and has naturalised elsewhere. Its beautifully marbled foliage gives way to an array of white or rose flowers from autumn to spring.



85260 St Salpice Le Verdon

La Charbotterie is a country house offering an insight into the lives of Vendéen nobility prior to the Revolution. As well as exquisitely furnished rooms, permanent and changing exhibitions and a range of events, there are historic gardens lovingly restored using drawings from the 17th and 18th centuries. At the front of the house there is an enclosed formal pleasure garden with rectangular clipped box and yew parterres containing a fantastic array of flowers. Beyond, the formality continues, but here vegetables, herbs, aromatic and medicinal plants are to be found amongst the flowers in rectangular beds. Topiary adds to the effect throughout the garden and old fashioned roses adorn the walls. A water-filled moat at the end of the formal area cleverly acts as a ‘ha-ha’, providing a beautiful vista over the surrounding estate grounds.


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Plastic trugs are cheap and cheerful, but extremely handy and often brightly coloured. At Le Fayard, as well as using them for containing fruit and vegetables when we are harvesting crops, we find them handy for collecting leaves in and they are excellent when we are weeding. A plastic trug holds a good number of weeds, eliminating trips backwards and forwards to the compost heap.


Metal trugs made from mesh are popular in France and are generally long lasting and hard wearing. They come in all shapes and sizes, and materials include modern shiny steel, painted mesh and rust patina effect for that weathered rustic look. I’ve even seen a gardener using an old supermarket basket which fitted the bill perfectly in terms of practicality!


Wooden trugs are probably the most stylish in appearance and ergonomically suited to the gardener. A high quality one, if taken care of, will give many years of service. There is always something good about using one when picking flowers, gathering fruit or collecting vegetables from the ‘potager’.


Trevor's tips

• Watering - it may seem a strange subject now but keep an eye on pots and containers that could dry out during a dry spell.

• Ponds - clear out debris, weeds and excess plants. Before composting them place at the pond’s edge for 48 hours to allow creatures to return back.

• Birds - provide our feathered friends with food and fresh water to help them survive the colder months. Keep feeders away from cats.

• Trees and shrubs - autumn is the ideal time for planting trees and shrubs when the soil still retains some summer heat and rainfall helps them establish.

• Gooseberry bushes - this is the perfect time to plant bare-rooted gooseberry bushes – a fruit that is worthwhile but neglected these days.