Early autumn is a time to tuck in to the last of the summer veg and fruit, and to take some cuttings. Pelargoniums are simple to propagate and will bring you heaps of colour all summer. I’ll be sowing some salad leaves to grow over winter too, as well as enjoying some spring-bulb planning.
I really adore pelargoniums. They are stereotypical granny's window box fillers and park bedding stalwarts because they’re so colourful, easy and rewarding. Last spring I rescued a load of teeny tiny seedlings from a neighbour who had too many (more like not enough pots, if you ask me), and they all came on brilliantly, filling out gaps in window boxes and planters a treat with their cheery red or pink, silky petals.
Late summer and early autumn are good times to take cuttings. Pelargoniums don’t generally survive a UK winter, so I will be taking cuttings to grow indoors for next year. That said, I’ve kept mine going in a sheltered pot for three years before now, thanks to the gentle afterglow of my sheltered London microclimate.
To take pelargonium cuttings, cut off some healthy pieces of stem (the thickest ones are best), about 8-10cm long, then trim them up with a sharp knife, taking off all the leaves bar the top pair. Pop these around the edges of small pots of gritty compost, making holes with a pencil to get them in. Water and leave the pots somewhere light and airy: a bright windowsill is ideal. When they root in about 3-4 weeks, you can pot them up individually and keep them lightly watered until the last frost has passed.
My outdoor tomatoes have been slow to ripen this year, so I’ll probably get a glut of green fruit. I’ve got plants of big juicy beef steak Marmande, as well as sweet and reliable Gardener’s Delight and Golden Cherry. If the weather in September is chilly, I’ll probably gather the unripe fruit and bring them indoors to ripen; they can quickly turn to a mushy mess if you leave them, especially with an early frost. Inside, I put entire trusses in a large fruit bowl somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight, where most should ripen in a week or so. Adding a banana to the bowl and draping a cloth over the top should speed things up a bit, as they release more of the ripening agent ethylene than other fruit.
One of my favourite ways to use up anything stubbornly palid or firm is in a green tomato chutney. There are loads of recipes online, and I always adapt mine, adding chilli flakes and plenty of shredded root ginger, for a proper kick. It’s transformative in a cheese sandwich or with slices of leftover Sunday roast. But I also love it whizzed up in a blender and used either as a spicy ketchup with chips or as a sweet-sticky-spicy glaze for roast chicken pieces. Give it a go!
September is mostly a month of gathering in, storing up and hunkering down for the winter, but there are jobs that will get something fresh and vibrant going, too. Sow winter lettuce seed now to pick leaves from November, all through winter. Varieties I like to grow include All the Year Round (a butterhead with crisp hearts), Cassandra (really tasty, with nice full hearts) and Lamb’s Lettuce (more full-flavoured and earthy). Sow them in fine, light soil where they’ll get a fair bit of late-season sun, thin them as necessary, and then cover with a protective cloche. You should be harvesting in around eight weeks.
September is time to think about buying spring bulbs ready for the main planting season in October and early November, especially to get your hands on varieties that sell out quickly. I have a lovely patch of perennial wallflowers (Erysimum Bowles’s Mauve) bulking up in the garden, and they’ll definitely need some tulips to make them pop-pop and pop along. I’m thinking a harmonious combo mixing the mauve-pink goblet Candy Prince with White Rebel and Negrita's dusky warm purple, although bright oranges and reds do also work well and are so eyecatching...
Here’s to a productive autumn and a colourful spring to come. Happy gardening!
Written by: Francesca Clarke