Roddy Llewellyn's October garden

PUBLISHED: 16:32 21 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:52 20 February 2013

Roddy Llewellyn’s October garden

Roddy Llewellyn’s October garden

Absolutely fabulous fritillaria

Absolutely fabulous fritillaria

October is an excellent time for planting fritillaries. For the gardener who likes showy flowers, Fritillaria imperialis is the best choice. Originally introduced to Europe about 400 years ago, its natural distribution being in areas of the northern hemisphere such as southern Turkey, northern Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it has remained a favourite plant in this country ever since because it is so easy to grow in well-drained soils. This, the most statuesque species of this rich and diverse genus, is a perfect subject for the back of the border where you will be rewarded with umbels of up to eight flowers per stem varying in colour from red, yellow to orange up to five feet (1.5m) in height. These obligingly hardy beauties will soon start to produce offsets if they are happy and they will reward you with a fabulous show in mid to late spring. No garden should be without this plant. Bulbs shouldnt cost more than 3 each dont be put off by the hole at the top of the bulb, left behind by last years flower stem. Try F. i. Maxima Lutea, with yellow flowers, for starters.

The Plant Finder, an indispensible book for the avid gardener that tells you where to source all but the very rarest plants, lists some 100 different species of fritillary. F. imperialis is as reliable as they come, remembering the one thing they hate is poor drainage in winter, but the most widely cultivated is F. meleagris, the snakes head fritillary. First recorded as having been discovered by a chemist in a field 50 miles south of Paris, it is recognised as being the easiest to cultivate so long as, according to various specialist books on the subject, it is planted in soil that remains damp in summer.

This is the perfect time to plant deciduous trees and hedges before the worst of the winter weather arrives. There are two reasons for this. The first is because you will be giving no stress to the plants because they are fully dormant. Little thought is ever given to a plant that is removed from its place of birth, as it were, and then replanted some distance away in different soil and aspect. To take a human analogy, they must experience the same as a child fostered by total strangers in a completely different environment. If they are cared for and loved they are more likely to thrive and settle down. If they are fast asleep during the transition stage they never witness that frightening journey into the unknown. The second is that bare-root stock is far cheaper compared to containerised plants. The knack to planting hedges is to prepare the trench before hand. As a result he bare-rooted plants are effortlessly inserted into the bottom of a slit levered by the spade.

The first frost will alert you to store dahlia tubers once the foliage is blackened. This last winter may have been exceptionally cold, resulting in many of us losing these invaluable plants even in storage, but I am not taking any chances in the future. Tubers are best lifted with a spade because forks can leave holes that invite disease during storage. Cut back the stalks leaving only a few inches, clean them of any soil residue and weak shoots and place them upside down until completely dry. They can then be wrapped in newspaper and put into a cardboard box, or plunged into vermiculite, and kept in a cool place that excludes freezing temperatures. Dont forget to label each tuber; if you have forgotten its name just write down the flower colour. I have been collecting dahlias in recent years because they add such vivid colour to the garden, from July up until the first frosts. The best way to find the flowers that you like, and we all like different colours and shapes, is either to visit a garden with labelled plants (RHS gardens at Wisley, for example), or visit a website like info@national-dahlia-collection.co.uk which illustrates well over 1,000 species and cultivars. Today, the cheapest way to buy dahlias is rooted cuttings that are delivered in May or April, ensuring you a good show the very same year.

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