Select new rhubarb
Start or replace your rhubarb bed now. Like most plants, rhubarb will gain in energy and production if divided, but it can be years until this needs doing. As with any plant that will be in the same position for a long time, give it a good start this includes planting in a greater depth than most. Your hole should be a reasonable width, but twice the depth of the pot or crown and incorporating lots of organic matter. If you’re starting a new bed, chose a variety to suit your needs either an early or a late producer or one that is best forced in lidded pots. Or better still, barter with a neighbour to get roots of one that grows well in your area. As rhubarb has large leaves, it’s not a plant to be squeezed into a small place; it also likes a sunny position.
If you didn’t fully prune your blackcurrants when you picked the fruit, it’s easier to finish it off when the leaves have fallen and you can see the difference between the old and the new wood. Pruning now means that you can expand your stock by taking hardwood cuttings from the new growth from the ends of the branches. Cuttings should be at least 6in long. Remove any leaves from the bottom half and then push several of the twigs into a deep pot of free-draining compost up to the remaining leaves; leave the pots outside in a sheltered place out of the full sun. These should root during the winter and spring and be ready to use in a year’s time.
Plant common hazel
By planting some common hazels (Corylus avellana) in a corner of the garden, you can be self-sufficient in supporting material when it comes to supporting your peas, beans and other plants. The hazel is one of the easiest trees to coppice (or cut down close to the ground) and produces wonderful, straight stems that look better than canes and wire. To start off, half a dozen plants cost very little and will provide plenty of material over the years. As they’re woodland trees, they’ll grow in partial shade or you could plant them round the edge of the vegetable garden to give some wind protection. Coppice them in rotation to make sure you always have some good lengths available to support your beans.
Divide Nerine bowdenii
The nerine is a very welcome flower in the early autumn and is surprisingly easy to grow, although it does need a sunny, well-drained position. The bulbs reproduce slowly, so we lift and divide our plants only every five or six years; this is best done once the flowers are over and before the foliage starts to grow again by January. Lift your clump, gently pull away the smaller new bulbs and set them aside while you replant the parent bulb. Of the new ones, plant the largest about 4in apart, leaving an inch of the long neck above the ground. Smaller bulbs can go into a nursery bed for a couple of years to grow them on to a flowering size.
Philip Maddison is head gardener at Harrington Hall, Lincolnshire (www.harringtonhallgardens.co.uk)