Autumn in a Danish garden
Climatically-correct but depressingly early I think, September is the first month of autumn. But there is nothing depressing about the garden in this, the mellowest of the season. Summer is the time to keep up with the weeding, to ensure all your plants are well watered (especially those in containers), to enjoy the harvest from the kitchen garden or those pots you planted with tomatoes, strawberries and herbs, and to take some time to simply relax in your garden and enjoy the fruits of your labours. The latter is particularly important as the autumn brings with it a flurry of activity – both in terms of activities directly associated with the season and those involved with forward planning.
The plot thickens
If you have a plot in which you grow fruits and vegetables, autumn is the time for fruits and berries, so pick early apples (the Danish cultivar ‘Ingrid Marie’ is a winner if you are thinking of planting an apple tree), autumn raspberries and cobnuts, and feast! And if you don’t have a kitchen garden may I encourage you to plan and plant one next year.
There is simply nothing more satisfying than planting, growing and eating your own. On top of the satisfaction factor, they taste so much better freshly harvested than something that has spent time in a truck travelling from Spain or wherever. And more than that, by growing your own you can control exactly what you eat – garden organically to avoid pesticide residues, grow heritage varieties for taste and no GM. You know it makes sense!
If my plea has convinced you, or whether you simply want a new flower bed, it is time to plan ahead and to prepare the soil. This can be done anytime until the frosts and requires a bit of elbow grease. Clear the area of grass and weeds (don’t use weedkillers if you plan to grow edibles), and using a spade, turn over the soil while adding a good amount of manure – about half a barrowload per square metre.
The best I have found is a product called ‘fin C-muld’ produced by Lynge Naturgødning of Farum (lyngenaturgoedning.dk). Once you have dug in the manure, leave the soil surface of the rough (big lumps) over the winter and let the frost break down the soil into a perfect texture ready for spring planting.
Looking after them indoors
Once the evenings begin drawing in and frosts approach – it always happens earlier than I think it will – bring in all the indoor plants that have been having a holiday outside, but give them a feed of liquid fertiliser first. And if you haven’t put them outside this summer, do so next year after the last frosts – they will really enjoy the change. If you have semi-tender plants in borders, for example like dahlias, dig them up after the first frost, wash and dry them and store in a dark, frost-free place before planting again next year after the last frost.
A lawn fit for tennis
If you want a new one, lay a lawn in September, and if you have one, begin the autumn schedule of lawn care in October. Raise the mower cut to 3-5 cm, dig out any perennial weeds such as dandelions, give the lawn a last feed, and get on with the scarifying (using a springbok rake to remove dead material amongst the grass) and aerating (plunge a fork into the lawn all over and lifting gently to improve drainage.) Also rake up all the fallen leaves to prevent the grass beneath yellowing, and brush worm casts over the lawn.
Permission for ignition
Once the perennials have died back, cut them back, but one word of caution when you are clearing your garden this autumn. If you are English, you may be familiar with that lovely autumnal smell of the garden bonfire. Here, you had better check with your council whether you are allowed to burn garden rubbish. Otherwise recycle it at the genbrugsstation.
Bulbs: not just for Christmas
One job that is an autumn speciality is planting the bulbs (blomsterløg) that will provide a great show next spring. For example tulips (tulipaner), crocus (krokus), hyacinth (hyacint), daffodils (påskelilje), crown imperial fritillary (kejserkrone), winter aconite (erantis) and Siberian squill (Russisk skilla) By the way, snowdrops (vintergæk) are planted in the summer when the leaves are still green.
Bulbs really are very obliging plants – they are inexpensive to buy, straightforward to plant and once in the ground are happy doing their own thing, requiring virtually no maintenance. You can give bulbs their own bed and make a striking display using big masses of a single type of bulb in different colours, for example pink, blue, white and yellow hyacinths; or red and yellow tulips, by mixing together different types of bulb. You can slot a mix of different species into existing beds and borders, so that as they finish doing their thing, the perennials and shrubs will take over, thus creating a long season of interest.
Bulbs in the garden – How to:
The depth at which bulbs should be planted is three times their height, so for a tulip, which is maybe 2.5 cm tall, plant at 7.5 cm deep. And the spacing between individual bulbs should be two to three times their width apart
For small numbers of bulbs, dig individual holes using a trowel or special bulb planting tool that takes out a core of soil, put the bulb in with the growing point uppermost, and replace the soil.
For large numbers of bulbs dig out a trench to the appropriate depth, position the bulbs, and cover the whole area
If you have a balcony you can plant bulbs in a pot and keep them outside. But do protect them from the hardest frosts as plants in pots are more vulnerable than those in the soil. Most garden centres have a good range of bulbs for sale and a couple of websites you may wish to check are blomsterverden.dk, hollandske-blomster.dk, blomsterliv.dk and plantetorvet.dk.
Toby Musgrave is one of Britain’s most celebrated gardeners – both as an author, historian and design consultant – yet he has lived in Denmark this past decade, so who better to turn to, to find out everything you need to know about preparing for and enjoying the different seasons. Find out more at tobymusgrave.com.
For four weeks at a time, four times a year, our aim is to give you all the seasonal lifestyle advice you need to thrive in the areas of gardening, health, food and sport. When should you plant your petunias, when does the birch pollen season normally start, which week do the home-grown strawberries take over the supermarket, and which outdoor sports can you play in the snow? All the answers are here in ‘A plan for all seasons'.