Shifting seasons

Autumn is one of the most rewarding seasons for the Chatsworth Garden team and, in the production garden and kitchen and cutting garden, time to reap the benefits of the considerable time and care invested earlier in the year.

The shortening autumnal days are noticeably cooler bringing some relief from this summer’s extended heatwave. After the long spell of enjoyable but quite intense sunshine, the recent drop of rain has come at a good time, freshening the garden and parkland and allowing the water features to perform for our visitors once more.

The drought has taken its toll however and there are signs of drought stress, particularly in some woody structural plants in the garden and landscape.

On the whole, the gardens have fared pretty well and the colours of autumn are slowly beginning to reveal themselves, starting in the tips of the lime trees, Acers, buckeyes and horse chestnuts. Soon, the beech, oak, birch and sweet chestnut will be joining in and as the season advances, a blaze of colour will sweep through the tree tops, warming the park and garden in autumn’s crescendo.

Reap what you sow

In the Production gardens, which include the greenhouses, Kitchen and Cutting Garden, autumn provides us with a rich and varied range of produce.  

At the moment, kitchen gardeners Stefan Homerski and Glenn Facer harvest the crops they grow daily with the produce passed to the kitchens to be used in seasonal specials in our restaurants and cafes and in a series of products being developed by the Estate Farm Shop.

Now is the time we finish collecting the last of the ripened summer crops (tomatoes, salads, cucumbers, runner beans blackberries and courgettes) and begin checking on plums, apples, pears, squash, marrows and cauliflower, which will soon be ready for harvesting. 

Rows of potatoes are still being dug up and we’re now lifting our main crop varieties. These will take us through until early October when left in the ground, however, when lifted and carefully stored, they can enjoyed right the way through until next March.

Squash and pumpkin vines will soon begin to die back, revealing the brightly coloured and fascinatedly shaped fruits that have grown beneath. These are great roasted or used in soups, this year a local brewer will be using some of the pumpkins in a batch of autumn ale.

Cut and dry

There are still plenty of flowers in the Cutting Garden for the florists to create their beautiful arrangements during this period too, but this will begin to change as the season draws out.

In preparation for the leaner months that follow the first frosts, Sophie Bromley, Chatsworth’s flower grower, has begun carefully drying a range of seed heads and late season blooms to provide floral interest until the hellebores and early narcissus begin flowering next year.

Early autumn is also a time for pruning many of our fruit trees. It’s a great learning experience for our garden trainees and one which Stefan leads cherishes sharing with them. As the season progresses and we harvest and cut back more from the garden the simple geometry that’s been hidden for months beneath the bellowing layers of summer growth is revealed.  

October and November are a satisfying time of tidying and mulching. It a great time to reflect on the successes and failures of the growing year just gone and the start of our investment towards the productivity of next year.

Planning ahead

Whilst we’re all trying to enjoy the current season’s pleasures, we’re already beginning to think about the next couple of seasons. Hardy annual seeds (cerinthes, ammi, scabiosa, aquilegia and cornflower), can be sown now to develop strong, stocky plants that will flower early next spring and paperwhite narcissus and scented hyacinths can be prepared for flowering indoors during the Christmas period.

Spring bulbs (tulips, crocuses, irises and daffodils) can also be planted in pots or flower borders in autumn. We will be planting around 10,000 for production purposes, there will be a range of daffodils, hyacinths, Alliums, fritillaries and small woodland gems like Erythronium, Scilla and Anemone.

This year, our tulips for cutting will be grown undercover for the first time to see if we can protect them from being dug up by the badgers and squirrels that frequent the gardens.   

Planting and sowing during the autumn works particularly well for use in Derbyshire as the soil is still invariably warm and soft to allow young plants the chance to establish their roots before the winter chill sets in.  

Five autumn jobs for your garden

  • Harvest fruit and vegetable crops and indulge in pies, crumbles and soup - there is little more satisfying than enjoying the fruits of your own labour
  • Clear vegetable plots of finished plants before they rot and spread disease
  • Plant spring bulbs (such as tulips, daffodils and crocuses) and sow hardy annual seeds (such as cornflowers or scabios) whilst soil is still warm. They can be planted in pots as well as flower borders
  • In mid to late autumn, when the leaves begin to fall, rake your lawn and store the leaves in a composter to make leaf mould to fertilise next year's plants. Remember to remove the leaves from disease prone plants, such as roses and horse chestnut (wildlife tip: you don't have to be too tidy - consider leaving leaves and twigs in some areas of your garden to provide cover for hedgehogs and materials for nesting birds)
  • Cover tender plants to protect them from frosts or consider moving them indoors

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