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Moe's Autumn Newsletter

“The times, they are a - changing”     Bob Dylan 1964

Hello fellow gardeners. What a summer it has been! How happy are you about the way your garden has been growing during spring and summer? I don’t know about you but I’ve had three problems to deal with this year that I have never encountered before. I mention them in this newsletter because autumn is the season for taking stock and planning for next year and I’ll certainly have to do this to counteract these. The first (for us all I suppose in 2022) was perplexing. I am of course referring to the lack of the very thing that provides life to everything in our world - water.  The spring rains just didn’t happen this year did they? To cap it all we have had the hottest summer for many decades without any significant rain either. As an island nation one would have thought the westerly winds would have blown enough of the wet stuff over to us from the Atlantic Ocean as they have always done but something different happened this year. Where did it all go? There was little we could do about it because climate change, we are told, is here to stay! Although we might have appreciated a warm dry spring our garden plants certainly did not. As the weather starts to warm up after the winter, water assists in plants’ root development and promotes healthy lush foliage by providing them with nitrogen. This sustains plants throughout the rest of the year, whilst at the same time, still retaining a cool root - run which is very beneficial. As much as we like a hot summer, extremely high temperatures without any significant rain is not what we expect in G.B. If this is going to be the norm then we need to prepare and mulch the soil with organic material during our increasingly wet mild winters to retain as much moisture as possible for the growing season and to keep the soil cool. So…………………….as autumn gets underway I am diligently filling my empty New Zealand boxes (compost bins) with as much plant material as possible to make compost ready to put onto the borders during winter and early spring next year. Nothing from the garden is wasted. To ensure material rots down quickly I cut it up as small as I can and add any activator I have to hand to speed up the process even more.  If you are of the same mind you can add nettles, comfrey, urine, chicken manure, farmyard manure, grass clippings or purchase a proprietary product. I turn the heap a couple of times, to get it really hot, make sure it is not too dry by opening it to the rain when it comes, then cover and wait for the resulting organic brown loam. Magic! Preparing the soil in this way will be of huge benefit and I have to say the only answer to keeping plants healthy and happy if there is going to be other same prolonged heat waves we have experienced this summer, next year. Watering a garden border is just not going to be possible in the future. FEEDING THE SOIL to ensure it is moisture retentive and cool most certainly is achievable and better for our planet.

The second problem was annoying. The poor quality of some of the seed I bought from so called ‘reputable’ companies gave poor results, wasting my time and money. If you usually grow from seed, have you had the same problem this year? Two sowings of Swiss chard, climbing beans, broad beans and peas through lack of germination also meant lots of extra work and late harvests. Poor growth from the French climbing beans (AGM Cobra) meant extra watering, feeding and the continual removal of flowers to get them to eventually head skywards and reach the top of their climbing supports! Having checked on the back of the seed packets for the ‘use by’ date I was surprised to find that this wasn’t written on some of them! Seed doesn’t last for ever so In future I will not be buying from those companies that did not display ‘use by’ dates on their packets and will try to buy only organic seed. It will probably help in future if I sow a lot more seed than I usually do to make up for poor germination. I also noticed that not all the seedlings from one packet came true either! Flowers have been the wrong colour, varieties of vegetables have been different and generally haven’t been what was written on the label! Should I start increasing the amount of seed I collect for myself in future? Well, this is an interesting and some would say, enjoyable activity. Surely though, it isn’t what I should have to do to ensure good germination is it?  I keep all seed in a sealed bag in the fridge so it should be fit for purpose right up to the ‘use by’ date and I LIKE mulling over the seed catalogues on winter evenings and ordering new varieties. I don’t think it is too much to ask to get good value for my hard earned money! I worry that the gardening / seed industry may go in the same direction as so many other industries seem to have done in our times i.e. DOWNWARDS with lower standards, lack of customer care and poorer quality products. This is unacceptable and worrying particularly when there is such a need to ‘green up’ our world and encourage as many people as possible to take up that which we all know and love. Those new to gardening need all the help they can get! Incidentally, I know that many of you were as disappointed as I was that Adam Alexander (who definitely knows a thing or two about seeds) wasn’t able to come and talk to us at our July meeting. Well, be happy, because he will be visiting next year so we can ask him all our questions about germination then.

The third problem was upsetting: an infestation of box leaf caterpillar in the garden. These pests hail from eastern Asia and have taken years to work their way to the north of England from their point of entry (Dover) and onto my box hedges!  They are a PROBLEM because the box leaf moths lay their eggs in spring, summer and autumn. Their presence really brought home to me what being an ‘organic’ gardener entails. Because I am one, I wouldn’t have sprayed the hedges with chemicals to kill these pests even if they were available for the home gardener to use. I had to find another method of getting rid of them before they devastated every box hedge in the garden. I pruned the shrubs earlier than normal when I noticed their impact on one hedge. I thought starving the large green caterpillars (with black heads) of a food source and into submission might have worked but it wasn’t wholly effective! The only option left to me was to search for them in the foliage. I succeeded in collecting hundreds of them (covered in a silky white web) though not before they had caused a substantial amount of damage. The caterpillars can be toxic so I wore latex gloves and washed my hands thoroughly afterwards. The hedges looked very unsightly for weeks but with feeding up and a good watering they are now back to their normal verdant green selves again, thank goodness. Sometimes it is just not possible to be as vigilant as one would like to be, but next time there are other things I could try. I will look out for pheromone traps in the garden centres. These have the effect of killing the male moths so that the female eggs cannot be fertilized. Alternatively there are nematodes that can be watered onto the hedges. As a last resort I could go out at night to look for the moths! These should be easy to identify as they are large (larger than the cabbage white butterfly) and are white with brown edges to the wings.

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The large box leaf caterpillar

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Box leaf moths lay hundreds of eggs

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If you don’t have the time, energy or inclination to go moth hunting by night or search for caterpillars in yards of box hedge by day then the only answer is to uproot and plant something else. Ilex Crenata is a good substitute but this needs a decent amount of sunshine but will tolerate semi shade. Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ will give a good dark boundary hedge and could be kept smaller. You could also try Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’. Though variegated it is accommodating and easy to maintain. The variety ‘Emerald and Gold’ is as it described and ’Silver Queen’ very slow growing. There is a dark green form Euonymus japonica ‘Green Spire’ which looks the part and can be clipped to keep it small but it is not totally hardy and needs a very sheltered site because it will succumb to hard frosts. If you fancy yellow Lonicera ‘Baggesson’s Gold’ or Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’ might fit the bill. Both Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ and Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea will give you a dark red hedge. I have to say that all these will need a lot more pruning than the Buxus to keep them looking tidy and as low as a box hedge.

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Ilex Crenata (Box leaf holly)

Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’

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Taller Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’

Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’

Paul Cook, head gardener at RHS Harlow Carr garden in Harrogate and our speaker for September (20th) will be able to offer other alternatives if there are any and Geoff Hodge, our speaker for November (22nd) will be talking about insects so he is sure to advise on the most effective method of ridding ourselves of these (and  other) pests. Incidentally, the club’s SEED EXCHANGE will take place on this evening, so why not bring your unused seed along to swap with other members?

Before then, to take our minds off other upsetting incidents that could happen in the garden our coach trip to Harrogate Autumn Show (at Newby Hall) on Friday September 16th will provide welcome respite and a lovely day out. Entry to the show includes that for the garden as well and the price of £27 for members (£32 non- members) is excellent value for money. Tickets have been selling well but there may be a few left when you read this newsletter. If you would like to go it is always worth checking with any member of the committee.

Martin Fish will be favourably distracting us as well in October (18th) to discuss growing fruit in the garden! If you grow fruit then picking apples, pears, plums, blueberries and autumn fruiting raspberries will be tasks to undertake as autumn looms.

Other tasks for autumn:

A good general tidy up will make the tired garden look much better. Clear finished crops from the kitchen garden and compost the greenery. Use every scrap of plant material you are removing from the garden. Put any organic material you have onto tidied beds and borders. Make changes and replant to areas to improve and add impact to them.

Keep dead heading the dahlias to maintain flower power. Wait until the first frosts come before cutting them down and digging up ready to store over winter.

Make notes of tasks to do in a diary before you forget them. Make a note of changes you wish to make in the garden if you prefer to plant in spring.

Cut hedges to keep them neat and in good shape for winter

Give ponds a last clean before cutting down foliage and netting them to prevent autumn leaves blowing into the water.

Collect all leaves to make leaf mould. Use a wire framed bin or put them in black bin liners pieced with a few holes.

It has not all been doom and gloom in the garden. There have been good harvests of apples, blueberries and blackcurrants and the raspberries and blackberries will be ready to pick this season. I will have to decide whether they are good enough to show at our September Flower Show on Saturday 10th September? If you have some particularly good fruit why not put it in too? A good harvest of any produce, fruit, vegetables or flowers is always worth celebrating so why not enter in one of the many classes at the show? However if only have a small garden there are many other categories to enter e.g. Cacti, Photography, Confectionery and Baking. The Show Schedule is available now so give it a go if you haven’t done so before. Good luck!

As I write I can hear the rain falling on my parched piece of the planet thus restoring its vitality and fresh appearance. When it stops it will be time for me to get out and start that tidy up I mentioned.

Happy gardening!

            Moe