I always think of autumn as being the start of the gardening year rather than the beginning of the end. Having said that, with the recent rain, it has only been fit for planting waterlilies. But generally, the ground is warm and fit for planting, bare root plants are available and it is more pleasant to plant now than in January.
Autumn is also the best time to divide and plant spring-flowering perennials. Some of these start to grow and flower so early in spring that it is difficult to catch them before growth starts in spring and although some can be divided and planted after flowering we so often get a dry spell in spring and that means constant watering to keep the new divisions alive let alone growing.
So I divided a clump of pulmonarias this week, before the rain. Once again it was photos for Garden News, hence the inclusion of me in the photo. I have some new pulmonarias, planted this spring, which could be divided but it is not necessary but also some two year clumps of ‘Trevi Fountain’ although I am not wholly convinced that they are right because it is supposed to be a clone and my three plants have different leaves and flowers. One has very spotty leaves and has grown the most vigorously and so I chose it to divide to plant a row in the new border by the summer house. The area gets some sun in summer but is largely shaded by the house so it should be perfect – shady but not dry in summer, which can lead to mildew.
Pulmonarias vary in habit and some put out rather creeping stems to form broad clumps but others, like this, make dense clumps. Before you start you need to cut away all the leaves, partly to reduce water loss and also so you can get to the base of the plant easily. After digging up the plant I try to remove some soil from among the roots, from underneath. Then I can get the spade into the clump from below and chop it into sections. If the plant is small or valuable I would use a knife or trowel to separate the sections but this was a large plant and I did the primary division with a spade and them divided further with a trowel. It is important that every piece has some roots so avoid being too greedy and accidentally removing shoots with no root. I managed to get eight good-sized pieces from my clump. Of course they have to be planted immediately and, if rain is not forecast, water them in. I added some compost at planting time. I hope that by next summer the leaves will completely cover the soil.
Other plants that can be divided now include epimediums, hepaticas, haquetia and brunnera, hellebores and primulas.
Talking of hellebores, one of the new additions to the recently filled raised beds is H. x sternii ‘Silver Dollar’. It was an impulse purchase the other week. Helleborus x sternii itself is a hybrid of H. argutifolius and H. lividus, both caulescent, Mediterranean species. It has the typical biennial stems of its parents and the green flowers are flushed with the purple from H. lividus. Because the cross can be made many times it is rather variable but always needs full sun and well- drained soil, unlike the more familiar shade-loving hellebores.
‘Silver Dollar’ is a remarkable plant with really steely, metallic leaves flushed with wine red underneath. It was introduced by Plantipp BV by Reinier Van Rijssen in Holland. I think the flowers will be flushed with maroon but I don’t care what the flowers look like! There are actually buds forming in the top of the two shoots which means that these stems won’t grow any more. But after flowering the plants will produce new shoots from the base and should get bigger and better every year. By May the old shoots will need to be cut away. It is not the hardiest of plants, hence the need for good drainage and it would be a great plant for gravel gardens and looks good with smart grasses.