Few gardens look great in early autumn. In fact, some even look downright awful; beds that were full of flowers, verdant foliage and well-behaved plants a few weeks ago have regressed to a tangle of unruly stems that would fail to impress anyone.
You can be forgiven for wanting to turn your back on an eyesore like this, but take heart. The most overgrown jungle can be tamed within hours. Honest! Once order has been restored you can fill gaps in the garden with bulbs and plants to ensure you enjoy even better display next year.
The seed heads of most grasses and some perennials can be left to provide sculptural interest over winter, but others are best cutting back. Chop the stems of crocosmia, euphorbia, thalictrum, hemerocallis and lupins to just above ground level, taking care to avoid any new buds that might be forming. Reduce dahlias, verbena, plume poppy, hollyhocks and delphiniums to 20cm tall stumps.
Plume poppy, crocosmia, erigeron, fennel, Alchemilla mollis, Verbena bonariensis and many other perennials spread like mad or self seed themselves wherever there’s a bare patch of soil. Dig up those you don’t want to prevent them out muscling other plants.
Goodbye to weeds
You might have spent hours weeding over spring and summer, but once beds and borders have been cleared you’ll find plenty you missed. Shallow rooted annuals are easily dispatched by skimming a hoe across the surface. Tough rooted perennials, especially those with a long tap root, will need a bit more wellie. Loosen the soil around them with a garden fork and prise out carefully, making sure you remove every last bit of root.
If you have any spaces in the garden, autumn is a great time for planting trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses. Plants will establish before winter in warm, moist soil, forming a strong root system that will help them burst into life next year. Give the soil some attention before planting - spread garden compost or well-rotted manure over the surface and mix into the soil by digging. If you have a large area to cover, divide it into bite-size chunks and carry out the work over several days.
Now is also a good time to plant spring flowering bulbs in beds, borders, pots, hanging baskets, lawns and just about anywhere else you’d like some colour. Daffodils, grape hyacinth, allium, crocus, tulips, dwarf iris, camassia and winter aconites can be planted anytime until the end of autumn.
Wallflowers, sweet Williams, forget-me-nots and other spring-flowering biennials are available in garden centres from early autumn. Plant in informal swathes with tulips for a colourful display – choose flowers that contrast for an eye-catching show. Red or purple tulips above a sea of yellow wallflowers looks amazing.
Water plants well and spread a 7-cm layer of leaf mould, composted bark or garden compost over the soil. Avoid piling it on top of perennials and leave a gap around the stems of woody plants - if in contact, bark can soften and be vulnerable to fungal disease. Apart from looking good, mulches help to lock in moisture, stops weed seeds from germinating and improve the soil as it breaks down.