Welcome to September! On Plot 35a there are the clear signs of summer turning into autumn: the tomatoes are nearly finished, the apples are coming into their own and the quinces are starting to turn from green to yellow.
The rhubarb, which in August was towering over my seven-year-old daughter, is looking a little bit less full of itself, like the wind going out of a ship’s sails. I think I enjoy the transitions between seasons more than the seasons themselves, but maybe that’s just because at the end of each season I am always ready to welcome the next.
The key job of autumn on the allotment is clearing away the season’s leftovers and getting the plot ready for spring. I leave flowers on the sedum, helenium and verbascum to dry into winter for insects and birds, and I’ll collect leaves that fall from the oak at the end of my plot to make leaf mould.
But everything else that isn’t productive into winter (like leeks, purple sprouting broccoli, parsnips, oriental greens) gets cleared away – spent vegetable plants and leaves, weeds.
Autumn also means planning the next season: I have a drawing of my plot on graph paper and update it every September or October. It reminds me what I’ve grown previously, so I can follow good crop rotation and avoid disease, but it also shows me where the gaps for new plants or veg will be.
Even though my allotment is mainly for growing fruit and veg, I am introducing more flowers every year. Earlier this year I started a rockery, which I’ll write about another time, but I also want to fill some gaps – including a few sections at the sides of beds – with spring-flowering bulbs, and it’s time to order those bulbs now.
I adore tulips because they brighten up my plot in the middle of March when not much else is growing. I already have a few clusters of different varieties scattered around the plot – including ‘Ballerina’, a dainty orange lily-flowered type, another lily-flowered variety called ‘Madeleine’, and ‘Menton’, which looks like it’s made from soft pink shot silk – but I always want more.
Sarah Raven has a beautiful range of tulips, including the most gorgeous combinations in collections, to buy online – www.sarahraven.com. I have chosen her Tapestry Collection, whose colours are like an antique upholstery fabric in creams, pastel pinks and pale greens, and includes the extraordinary double-flowered variety ‘La Belle Epoque’ with pale caramel and apricot streaks.
For a contrast I have also ordered Sarah’s Favourite Tulip Collection which has maroons and deep corals – ‘Jan Reus’, ‘Black Hero’ and ‘Avignon Parrot’. I also could not take my eyes off the beautiful ‘Bruine Wimpel’, which has pink flowers tinged with copper – I may put these in a pot outside my front door where I can look at them every morning.
Finally, I went for ‘Apricot Beauty’. Apricot is one of my favourite colours, and this flower looks so delicate and fresh for spring.
Tulip bulbs should be planted in October or November when it’s cooler – if they go in the ground earlier when it’s warmer they risk disease. Plant them at double their own depth or deeper, and remember to mark where you’ve planted them so you don’t spear them with a spade during winter digging. I also have to cover my freshly planted beds with netting otherwise the squirrels on our site will destroy my dreams of a tulip-filled spring.