Dig it

Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener with Fulke Andel

This is the final contribution from Fulke Andel, he has decided that after 8 years of writing his monthly column for Bay it’s time to hang up his trowel. We have loved reading his articles each month, and have learnt lots of hints and tips along the way. We would like to thank him for all his support and wish him a very happy retirement.

October is a month to reflect on the successes and failures in the garden. The flower borders have done well. Especially, with the inclusion of dahlias in a range of colours and heights. The lavender hedge was stunning during June and the tubs have just continued to perform with an abundance of flowers (dahlia ‘Mystic Dreamer’, scabiosa incisa ‘Kudo Pink’ and verbena peruviana ‘Endurascape White Blush’ bought from Sarah Raven). In the veg garden, the beans (both French and runner) have been poor. I think I need to rethink where I grow these and the number of plants I plant. I suspect a bit of overcrowding is the problem. Anyway, they’ve all been lifted and put on the compost heap – with the exception of 6 runner bean roots that are being stored in frost free compost, ready for use next year.

Once you’ve cleared your vegetable garden, dig it over and incorporate compost/manure. Do this as soon as possible so the soil can be broken down by the winter elements. This is especially important on heavy clay soils; it also makes life so much easier in the spring, with the frost having done all the hard work for you! If you are short of compost, it is better to treat a small area properly than spread it too thinly over a larger area.

Don’t waste fallen leaves – given time, they decompose into fabulously rich leaf mould – ‘nature’s soil conditioner of choice’! Here’s what to do…rake up fallen leaves and chuck them into black bin liners spiked with air holes – but remember to dampen the leaves first or do the task on a damp day.

Obviously, you can make a simple frame with wire sides to hold leaves if you want, but black sacks work fine for me. If leaves are left to linger on the lawn for long, the grass will turn yellow and die back, so it’s important to clear them. Leaf mould takes about a year to mature (2 years in the case of oak leaves), it makes a great top dressing for woodland plants such as rhododendrons and is an excellent and FREE home-grown substitute for peat. I keep mine for 3 years, by which time it’s broken down into really fine sweet-smelling compost – ideal for sowing seeds in.

Start planning your vegetable garden for next year, remember the need to rotate your crops. If you’re going to sow garlic or broad beans now, you need to make sure you sow them in the right section of the vegetable garden! Below is a conventional crop rotation plan.

Our feathered friends will be starting to build their reserves for winter, so do please put out food and fresh water for them. Wildlife experts recommend that we feed the birds all year round, as they soon become reliant on the food we provide. However, their greatest time of need is during winter and spring, when their natural food sources are greatly depleted. Putting out food helps them survive the chilly winter months and ensures they are in good condition for the breeding season. Choose good quality wild bird seed, bird peanuts (remember to take them out of nylon mesh bags which can trap beaks and legs), suet and fat balls (these are great high energy foods and ideal during cold weather) as well as kitchen scraps such as crushed breakfast cereals, pinhead oatmeal, uncooked porridge oats, hard fats such as mild cheese, fresh and dried fruit, cooked potatoes and cooked rice. Bread is only an ‘empty filler’ so not ideal and remember never to put out mouldy food. Also, do make sure your ‘feeding station’ has good, all round visibility and is well out of range of the scourge of domestic gardens – the cat! A plentiful supply of clean water is essential for drinking and bathing; melt ice on frosty mornings with warm water, ensure the inside of your bird bath remains roughened and do remember to change the water regularly


Sow / Plant

  • Broad beans
  • Spinach beet

Plant out

  • Garlic
  • Autumn onion sets


The bulk of your crops should have been harvested by now. Lift root crops (with the exception of parsnips- they taste better after frost) and store harvest apples, pears and grapes


Plant fruit trees and new strawberries; clear out old straw-berry plants and weeds, position the newcomers a foot apart in rows wide enough apart to walk between, make sure the crowns just show above the soil, firm them in well and water regularly if dry.

Dig up and split old rhubarb crowns, replanting with a good dollop of manure under each plant.

Cut out the canes of blackberries, logan berries and tayberries which have fruited this year and tie in the new canes.


  • Plant spring flowering bulbs in tubs or directly into the garden
  • Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly
  • Cut back perennials that have died down
  • Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns
  • Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse
  • Prune climbing roses
  • Order seeds for next year
  • Last chance to mow lawns and trim hedges in mild areas
  • Renovate old lawns or create new grass areas by laying turf

Readers Tips

Remember that shop bought compost contains only the minimum of nutrients. So, you need to augment this with liquid feed after around a month. A little every week to 10 days will do the trick. A.B. Kittle

Seasonal Recipe

The few sloes that are in the hedge-rows around Gower are bigger and better than those seen for a number of years. So, here’s a recipe to make your own sloe gin which should be ready by Christmas. You’ll need 500g of sloes, 300g of sugar and a bottle of gin.

Make sure you’ve removed all sticks, stem and leaves, put the sloes in a plastic bag and freeze overnight. In the morning, clobber them with a rolling pin and feed them into a clean empty bottle. Using a funnel, add the sugar and then top up with the gin. Shake the bottle daily for 3 weeks and then leave for a few days without shaking, for the contents to settle. Carefully decant through a fine sieve and a piece of muslin (clean J-Cloth will do). Seal the bottle and store. It will make an unusual Christmas present (If you can bear to part with it). Just tie a ribbon around it and add a quirky label such as ‘Gerald’s Grand Sloe Gin’ or ‘Responsibly Sloe Gin’ – as we’re all encouraged to drink responsibly!



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