September 2013 Newsletter
Our Unwins Autumn catalogue is back from the printers, so all our team’s hard work has come to fruition! Much like our gardens in September it sees the culmination of a lot of hard work and the promise of a brilliant 2014.
Late summer and early autumn may seem like it heralds the end of the year; fruit is ripening and vegetable crops are reaching their peak. But for gardeners it is also the beginning of a new gardening adventure, so it is always an exciting time.
Now is the perfect time to order and plant bulbs; and to choose everything from spring bedding and dormant bare root perennials to roses, trees and shrubs. It’s the chance to put plans into practice for next spring and summer. Whether it’s a container full of colour, spring bulbs or some onions and potatoes for the veg plot, look online and browse our autumn catalogue we know you’ll be inspired!
But this summer’s not over yet, there are late summer flowers such as dahlias and rudbeckias to look forward to plus the promise of autumn colour from berries and foliage of trees and shrubs.
So savour the tastes and sights of September, and enjoy your gardening.
Order and plant spring bulbs
Bulbs are simply brilliant! In fact it’s hard to think of any other group of plants that give as much pleasure for so little effort. You plant spring bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, crocus and many more, from now until November and then forget about them until they burst through the soil in spring. Everything from dainty snowdrops and true English bluebells and other woodland bulbs to unusual showy bulbs and ornamental alliums that keep the show going until early summer.
It’s amazing how these unpromising little brown bulbs turn into such diverse and flamboyant flowers. I always think bulbs are the plant equivalent of butterflies; emerging from rather ugly, papery husks to become gorgeous colourful things!
Traditional bulbs such as hyacinths, tulips and daffodils are the mainstay of the spring garden but if you are looking for something just a bit different then try dainty Sparaxis (Harlequin Flowers). They hover above strappy leaves like a cloud of exotic butterflies. Many irises and early spring crocuses also have delicate veining and intricate markings that seem to mimic butterfly wings.
Tulips are probably the most exotically colourful spring bulbs but tall Fritillarias (Crown imperials) and lilies are certainly close contenders in the show-off stakes!
Spring wouldn’t be spring without daffodils and for that typically sunny display early next year they need to be planted now. All daffodils are correctly classified as Narcissus but whatever name you know them by the effect of mass planting is always mesmerising. Plant them generously; don’t be mean with these lovely flowers, groups of fives and sevens have much more impact than solitary bulbs planted in a line.
In naturalistic schemes nothing beats the old fashioned hoop petticoat daffodils Narcissus bulbocodium or dainty species daffodils such as Narcissus canaliculatis.
If you hanker after a daffodil with scent as well as shape try deliciously perfumed Narcissus ‘Pipit’ or multi-headed white ‘Thalia’. These both tend to flower later so they are perfect for keeping the early tulips company.
Get ahead in the vegetable plot
It’s harvest time for lots of vegetables but it’s also time to order essential vegetables too.
That includes another set of bulbs but this time edible ones: Onions, shallots and garlic are ordered now they are really useful crops that are all planted in autumn or winter.
Onions and garlic take up surprisingly little space and a good crop is guaranteed as long as they get sunshine to ripen the bulbs and enough moisture to make them juicy! If you’ve never tried growing them make this the year you grow your own. You’ll be hooked I promise!
I grew a red onion ‘Electric’ and white skinned ‘First Early’ both gave great results and were happy in ordinary garden soil that got a fair amount of sunshine.
Once each tiny onion (called a ‘set’) is planted into firm, well raked soil the work for the year is just to keep the beds weed free, by hoeing between them carefully to avoid damaging the bulbs.
Onions even let you know when to harvest because the tops start to topple when they are ready to lift. Then it’s just a case of letting the skins dry off, this year they dried out easily draped over some canes in the sun, picturesque as well as practical. Once they are completely dry store them in onion nets.
Shallots are just as simple to grow but they split into several bulbs rather than swell and they are planted a bit later, Boxing Day is a traditional time and some gardeners say “plant on the shortest day to harvest on the longest day.”
I’ve managed to grow a bumper crop of onions this year so I’m hoping to master the art of stringing onions like they do in France. As a kid in south east England we always had some strings of onions hanging in the kitchen. They were bought from the onion sellers that came over the Channel and sold door to door. These young Frenchmen rode on rickety bicycles that were festooned with onions and wobbled precariously. Back then us s kids found them fascinating; (now I fear I’m just showing my age)!
Sow sweet peas
Unwins are rightly famous for fabulous sweet peas, available both as seeds and plants you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Growing sweet peas from seed is a cost effective way of getting masses of your favourite blooms. We have seed of some lovely NEW sweet pea varieties such as scarlet flowered ‘Madison’ , pink ‘Precious’ and gorgeous rich cream with a salmon flush ‘Just Janet’ This was named for our lovely seed buyer Janet, who has just retired. It is a fitting tribute for all her hard work.
This sweet pea has gone on my list for this year because I have a sister called Janet; plus I’ll be buying old favourites such as ‘Castle of Mey’ and ‘Percy Thrower’.
I also plan to grow ‘Almost Black’ and white-flowered ‘Aphrodite’ this white sweet pea has up to 9 flowers on each stem and it won best of the best at the sweet pea trials at Wisley.
Now all I need is a rich red sweet pea to go with them, ‘Scarlett’ or ‘Lovejoy’ will fit the bill... See what I mean about spoilt for choice!
Sweet peas are tough plants so the traditional way of growing them is to sow the seed in autumn. It’s still a popular option if you have somewhere sheltered to keep the seedlings over winter. They don’t need a warm greenhouse; a cold frame or a bright spot near a window in a shed or porch will be fine. Alternatively order seeds now and sow them in early spring.
Whenever you plan to sow them the method is the same Just sow two or three seeds into deep pots of multi purpose compost, or into root trainers that are specially designed to accommodate the sweet peas’ long roots.
Keep soil moist but not wet, seed will germinate within a few weeks.
Nip out the growing tips when seedlings are a few inches tall to encourage the plants to bush out, then keep them somewhere sheltered before planting out in spring.
If you don’t have anywhere to keep your own autumn sown sweet peas order sweet pea plants they’ll be delivered in their own multi-sown cell trays ready-to-plant in spring.
With a long tradition of breeding stretching back over a century we are always eager to track down new and exciting hybrids. Keith Hammett is a breeder based in New Zealand with a passion for sweet peas that rivals Charles Unwins’. So we are proud to have some exclusive mixes from his unique range. ‘Bubblegum mix’ and ‘Fairytale mix ‘are available as plants to pre-order now, but be quick! Our stocks of these uniquely beautiful sweet peas are limited.
If you want to give the sweet pea plot a royal theme try ‘Duchy of Cambridge’, it changes colour as it ages to give a lovely two tone effect.
Choose Autumn bedding
Hanging baskets, window boxes and containers of summer bedding are still looking good; they really bring a garden to life. But there’s no need to restrict container displays to summer flowering plants. Autumn and winter bedding is waiting in the wings to takeover as soon as the summer bedding finishes.
Our new catalogue is full of colourful bedding plants. Pretty trailing pansy ‘Freefall’ is sensational with seven different colours in each mix; they’ll keep containers looking good all spring.
Large flowered pansies are really early to flower, often in flower before Christmas and lasting well into spring; Pansy Delta is a well established favourite .
Primrose Evie is another early starter that can be blooming before Christmas. James, our head of horticulture was raving about this primroses’s early flowering and great mix of colours and he’s not easily pleased so this is definitely one to try!
All our garden-ready bedding plants have a strong root-ball so the plants establish more quickly and flower earlier.
No spring bedding scheme is complete without wallflowers and sweet Williams . They are the perfect partners for spring bulbs. My favourite combination is wallflowers with tulip ‘Gavota’ so I’m definitely ordering tulips and taking advantage of the FREE Gavota bulbs with Unwins pick’n’mix offer. Then I’ll be getting Wallflower mix Rubies ’n’ Pearls to go with my tulips!
Wallflowers and sweet Williams are supplied as bare root plants. Bare root bedding plants establish fast and flower earlier, it’s definitely the best way of buying them.
Decide on Permanent Plants
September is a great time to revamp the garden, whether it’s replanting pots and containers on the patio or giving a large plot a face lift there is always room for permanent plants.
Shrubs give a garden plenty of autumn and winter interest. Evergreen shrubs such as Pittosporum and Luma have foliage that looks spectacular all year. Compact Hebe ‘Red Edge’ fits into the tiniest space and always looks neat; it’s the perfect shrub for a container or to edge a path or border.
In a larger space plant evergreen Mahonia; this shrub grows almost anywhere and flowers reliably throughout winter with sprays of Dior-scented flowers and amazing architectural foliage.
Flowers in winter may seem hard to find but not if you choose deciduous Viburnum bodnantense or witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), or brilliant Daphne mezereum; they’ll burst into flower just as other deciduous trees are taking a nap!
Roses never go out of fashion and you’re bound to be tempted with at least one of our spectacular Floribunda roses in the RHS Rose of the Year Collection. I want all of them because choosing a favourite from these gorgeous roses is almost impossible! We have a brilliant Pick ‘n’ mix offer too , buy any 3 of the roses in the collection and the third is free.
Or maybe a climbing rose such as salmon pink ‘Compassion’ or crimson ‘Paul’s Scarlet Climber’ are just the job for that bare wall or trellis?
Finally, If your box hedging has succumbed to the dreaded box blight consider Cotoneaster franchetii as an alternative. It’s small leaved and easily trimmed and makes a neat well behaved hedge whether you want a low surround for a formal bed or a taller, more substantial hedge.
Tips for the garden...
Keep the garden colourful
Look around the garden and there will be some plants that are starting to look tired, some early summer plants have finished flowering completely, while others such as Shasta daisies and campanulas just need deadheading to encourage a late flush of flowers. Depending how well you’ve been deadheading the roses they are also getting back into their stride; it’s not unknown for floribunda roses to be in bloom at Christmas if the weather is kind.
Any spent summer bedding can be pulled up and composted, and it’s a good idea to weed as you go through the border and pull up any annual weeds. Once you’ve cleared some of the early flowers there may be gaps, hooray, a chance to get more plants!
A tidy up works wonders to rejuvenate a late summer garden so edge the lawn and keep the grass mown.
There is still a lot to look forward to in the garden and September has its own charms, it truly is a season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness”. The brilliant golds and yellows of rudbeckias and helenium shine out on misty mornings and there are still dahlias in full flower.
Summer’s not over yet!
Prepare for planting
If you’ve cleared some space in the borders it’s a good time to prepare the soil for autumn planting. Shrubs, trees, hedging plants and new roses are all entering their dormant period and next month sees the start of the busy planting season for these permanent plants.
Get ahead this month by preparing the soil now and ordering any planting compost, tree stakes and planting tools so you can plant your new bare root plants as soon as possible after they’re delivered Delivery normally starts from October onwards.
Check that your spades and forks are up to the job, it’s so frustrating to have a handle snap just as you’re raring to plant a new tree or shrub.
Dig over the areas where you plan to put in new bare root plants. Remove any weeds and give the soil a boost with some garden compost or humus rich organic matter and a dusting of bone meal if necessary to give new plants a flying start.
Newly dug soil will settle over a few weeks so digging and improving it now means it will be in fine fettle when you are ready to plant.
Anything that germinates quickly is a bonus at this time of year, especially if you are faced with a patch of bare ground and Rocket lives up to its name with an ultra speedy germination time.
It’s really easy to sow from seed at home, you don’t even need a veg patch if you sow it into a space in the flower border. And it will even grow well in a container, so there’s no excuse for not giving this tasty salad leaf a try!
Rocket is a peppery salad leaf that makes a tasty addition to mixed salads and it’s great with steak or in roast beef sandwiches, perfect on pizza too. You can find pre-packed bags of rocket in every supermarket, either on its own or as part of a gourmet salad but it is very easy (and economical) to grow your own. Pegasus is a new salad rocket with a mild peppery flavour that is ideal if you find wild rocket too strongly flavoured. It’s larger leaved than wild rocket and it’s slow to go to seed so you get lots of rocket over a long period. Use it as a quick and easy ‘cut and come again’ salad.
Our Gro-sure range of seeds is guaranteed to give great results. The pelleted seeds are easy to handle so they are great for young gardeners and for anyone who finds it hard to see or handle fine seed.
There are 100 different seeds in the range including vegetables and flowers plus herbs and salads including coriander that can also be sown now. Whether you’re growing rocket or flowers or any other seeds the method for sowing outside is much the same:
Here’s how to do it:
Outside. 1 First prepare the area by getting rid of weeds and removing any large stones then rake the soil so it is level and crumbly (often described as a ‘fine tilth’).
2 Mark a shallow line in the soil with the tip of the rake or a bamboo cane. This shallow depression is where you’ll sow the seed, it’s known as a ‘drill’.
3 Sprinkle the seed very finely along the drill; sow thinly because seedlings will need space to grow and mature.
4 When the seed is sown cover it over very lightly with soil; you can do this with your hands or a hand fork or by raking it gently along the drill.
5 Then water the length of the drill; use a watering can with a fine spray to avoid washing the seed out of the ground.
In a container
Sowing in a container is just as simple.
Fill the container with multi-purpose compost and mark a few lines in the top of the compost. They can be circles if your pot is round, lines if it’s a trough, it doesn’t matter which as long as the seeds have room to develop.
Water the compost before you sow the seed so that the soil is damp but not wet.
Sprinkle the seed very finely and cover very lightly with a sprinkling of soil.
If the seed is very fine just press it gently onto the surface of the compost.
Water the container very gently until the seed has germinated. A good way of keeping compost moist without disturbing the seed is to stand the container in a shallow tray of water until the surface of the compost turns slightly darker, keep the compost moist damp don’t let it get saturated.
Within a week or two depending on the temperature germination will take place and you’ll see leaves appearing.
Thin out any congested clumps if necessary, leaving space around each stem so seedlings don’t have to compete with neighbours that are too close.
Keep well watered but don’t saturate the soil.
Harvest herbs and salads such as rocket by cutting leaves as you need them. Do this when they have grown tall and have plenty of leaves but before they start to flower. A t that point they are about to ‘go to seed’ also known as ‘bolting’ and they’ll stop being quite so tasty and tender.
Sow broad beans
Broad beans are hardy plants so they are a great over wintering crop and because the flowers are so attractive they can even be grown in the flower borders.
Choose a hardy bean such as ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ or, if your garden is windy, choose ‘The Sutton’, it’sshorter and will cope better with exposed sites.
This is a good crop to start off in individual cell trays. Children love helping with this because the seedlings burst through the soil so quickly and they look very impressive with thick stems and fleshy leaves. It’s a fun way of encouraging children in school gardens as well as at home.
Here’s how to do it:
Fill individual small pots or cell trays with good multi purpose compost.
Sow each seed on its side and push it gently into the soil to cover.
Water using a watering can with a fine spray to avoid washing the seed out of the compost.
Label the pots and put the trays on a warm windowsill, greenhouse or propagator.
You won’t have to wait long for germination, normally just a week or so.
When plants are growing strongly and have made a good root system plant them 20cm/8in apart in their final positions outside. Broad beans are hardy but be prepared to protect plants from severe weather; a covering of fleece is ideal.