Episode 38 - Show Notes & Advice

episode 38 | show notes & advice

episode description

This episode covers getting the garden ready for winter and Sarah shares why chrysanthemums are invaluable at this time of year.

With cold nights and frosty mornings on the way, it is the perfect time to start putting gardens to bed, in preparation for the harsh winter months. A little bit of care and attention now will reap rewards in spring.


Sarah and Arthur offer their advice on protecting tender plants and how to best tidy up gardens in a wildlife-friendly way.

in this episode, discover...

  • The flower varieties most in need of winter care
  • How to get chrystanthemums looking their best and Sarah’s favourite varieties
  • Why you should ditch the leaf blower and avoid over-tidying
  • A guide to making leaf mould – the greatest stuff for seed compost
  • Arthur shares tips on preparing smaller gardens for winter
  • Martha Stewart’s recipe for a bird feeder wreath

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Episode 38 advice sheet

Sarah has not had the first frost at Perch Hill yet, but some people further North and with higher gardens already have.

What needs to be done

• Bring tender things inside e.g., citrus, pelargoniums, dahlias in pots

• Also, chrysanths

Chrysanths are SO invaluable because they come into flower just as everything else really starts to fade. There has been such great breeding of chrysanths in recent years, they are now miles away from the formal, plastic-looking things you buy on the garage forecourt.

We dig some of ours up and bring them in under cover. It’s the wet and wind that damages their beautiful and complicated flowers, more than the cold.

To get them looking their best, we plant 3 cuttings to a large (e.g. 7 litre) pot in the spring and just sink the whole pot in the ground. They are staked and supported then and also as they grow.


When the weather gets bad, around now, we lift our pots and bring them into the greenhouse to replace our tomatoes. It’s a system of plant rotation which works well, and they will go on till Christmas with protection, under glass, or in a sunny porch. With our increasingly long and milder autumns, you can get away without doing this, but you’ll get a larger harvest if they are brought under cover.   


Remember – that like dahlias – the petals of chrysanths are edible. We use them to decorate puddings and salads.


Sarah’s Favourites

Bright and Rich Palette

     ‘Pandion Bronze’

     ‘Bigoudi Purple’

     ‘Bigoudi Red’

     ‘Orange Allouise’

     ‘Jalta Red’

     ‘Tarantula Red’


     ‘Tom Pearce’


Soft and Warm/Pastel Palette

     ‘Spider Pink’

     ‘Spider Bronze’

     ‘Avignon Pink’

     ‘Tula Imp’

     ‘Pandion Bronze’

     ‘Spider Bronze’

• Don’t over clean the garden – that’s key

At Perch Hill we do quite little sprucing for 3 main reasons but wait to do this in the spring.

Seed heads are beautiful – so don’t get rid of them, leave lots of architecture from plants.

Important for wildlife to leave everything standing, where it is

With foliage left on tender perennials plants e.g., half-hardy salvias, pelargoniums, etc are hardier. Leaving the stems on makes these plants more able to resist the cold. 

Arthur, with less space, has to take out more, as he doesn’t have the room to turn a blind eye if something is looking ropey. It’s too in his face every day as he walks down his path or looks out of the window.

He tries to manage a balance of making the garden look properly prepared for winter and still beautiful but leaving plenty of ‘the brash’ – seed heads etc - where they stand. One thing he has found works well is stuffing his silver birch teepees in their dolly tubs with lots of the old stuff from the rest of the garden e.g., sunflower heads, panicum heads, red millet, hollow dahlia stems etc etc creating a sort of sculptural bonfire and a place that birds and insects can hide in.

Then everything is mulched and tidied around it and he tries to make more willow supports for architecture and more presence.

• Make leaf mould

It’s key to collect not bin your fallen leaves. They make invaluable leaf mould in less than a year. That’s the greatest stuff for seed compost, mixed with soil from e.g., molehills and a bit of grit for seed sowing in the spring. You can just bag them up in black bin liners, perforated a few times with a skewer to let the water out and a bit of air in. Or in a frame of chicken wire and 4 corner posts.

• Don’t do the last cut of your lawn too early.

The last cut should be in November or December on a high cutting, that means when the delicate bulbs come up through next spring, you clearly see the delicate flowers, not drowned out by the grass.

• Mulching dahlias

Once the frosts have past, cut your dahlias back, cut them back to within a few inches of the ground, label them clearly (while you still remember what they are!) and mulch deeply under 6 inches of compost over every crown.

• Clean your plastic pots

Get them all out of the shed, brush and wash them. It’s a good habit to get into.

• And organise your shed – one day this autumn, clean and grease your tools etc to get ready for spring. 

Bird Feeder Wreath

We add tons of stuff, which the birds can come and feast on. Wire on some apples, monkey nuts, berry branches, or best of all, roll some pinecones in peanut butter, as the glue, and then in a plate of birdseed. Then wire them onto your wreath too.

If there’s no wreath to be found, you could start from scratch, and make your own wreath base from a bent wire clothes hanger, covered with bare branches from the garden, or use the garden branches from scratch with some dogwood or willow bent into a circle.

What you’ll need

• 12 or 14” wreath ring (or make your own)

• String to bind things on, this is better to use than tons of wire which won’t rot away.

• Stub wire – some lengths of slightly thicker wire, which comes in short bundles. These will make wire stems for the apples and pinecones etc

• Bundles of berries (6 x 60cm) that the birds like – if you live in the country, you’ll still find these in the hedgerows. Hawthorn is good, and rose hips

• Mini apples e.g. ‘Spartan’ variety

• 12 seed heads from the garden, or from city wastelands. Teasel and fennel are brilliant, and panicums (P. ‘Frosted Explosion’ and P. violaceum as well as Nicandra physaloides and hydrangeas look good too

• Dried apple rings

• A bag of monkey nuts

• 15-20 Fir cones 

• Peanut butter

• Bird seed

If not there already, start by attaching a loop of wire to the wreath ring, so you can hang it up. 

Lay a stem of hawthorn (or other) berries onto the frame and wire them on to your wreath base. Curve the stem round on top of the wreath and bind them in with wire keeping a good tension on the wire as you work your way round so it’s held firmly, but not too tightly, in place. Keep going till you’ve got a generous covering of berries. 

Then add the teasels and hydrangea heads making sure you are adding to the edges as well as the front of the wreath. Try not to add too much to the centre of the wreath, you want to keep the middle of the ring open.

The next step is wiring the fir cones, monkey nuts and apple rings. Make a false stem on the base of the fir cone by wrapping a length of stub wire round the bottom scales of the cone.  You can also thread monkey nuts onto stub wire, threading them on one-by-one like beads, bending the tip of the wire back to secure one end. 

Next make ‘flowers’ with the apple rings using the same wire. 

I push on a monkey nut, followed by an apple ring and repeat the process until I have the look I want, again bending over the end of the wire to hold the final apple ring in place. These can then be added to the wreath, pushing the wire stem into your framework and bending it round to secure each item in place. 

Choose how many cones you want to be ‘bird feeders’ and then smear them with peanut butter and roll them in birdseed before attaching to your wreath.

The sparrows, robins, blue-tits and nuthatches will probably have eaten the lot within a week, but then you can unwire the pinecones, re-roll them in the peanut butter and bird seed and put them back on the wreath again. You’ll have a flutter of birds every time you open the front door. 

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