Gardening expert Mary Lovell-Smith shares how to best prepare for autumn

As summer flowers and veggies fade, and even though there’s still much to harvest, it’s time to prep your garden for autumn Red rowan berries are often too bitter for people to eat raw, but they make a beautiful Rowan berry jam

Chores to prepare your garden for autumn

And just like that, autumn is upon us, in name if not in actual weather conditions. Perhaps looking a little tired and ragged about the edges after a glorious summer, the garden is preparing to put on its final display before the cold. The leaves are about to colour up; the last of the roses are budding up; and the late-summer perennials are glorious in their finery.

Dead-heading prolongs flowering and cutting back perennials does tidy the borders but be sure to leave some blooms for hips and seedheads to form. While birds and insects will appreciate this prolonged food supply, humans can enjoy looking at the seasonal beauty it provides.

Freeze oregano leaves in ice cubes for autumn to add a touch of earthy undertones to your drinking water

Long division

Divide perennial herbs now while the weather is cooler but not yet cold. Choose healthy plants at least two years old. For lemongrass, oregano, tarragon, thyme and others with root balls, it is best to dig up the whole plant and slice through the ball with a sharp spade or knife. Chives may be dug up and the roots gently teased apart and mint is easily propagated by tugging out a section with a root.

All should be replanted promptly or at least covered in damp soil. Pot up any excess, someone will always appreciate it.

Beetroot is a great option to sow when you’re preparing your garden for autumn, as it matures under the soil throughout the colder conditions

Sowing machine

Lettuce, peas, spinach and spring onions and peas can be sown directly. As can root crops such as carrots, beetroot, parsnips, swedes and turnips. These do best in soil that is not too fertile or have fresh manure or compost added (else they tend to fork).

In warmer areas, there should be time to sow and harvest a crop of basil before the real cold sets in. Alyssum, calendula, Californian poppy, cornflower, stock and sweet peas can go directly into garden beds, while lobelia and snapdragons are best sown in trays and transplanted when 4-5cm tall.

Landscaping 101: 300 Autumn blooms

As if to warm us by their very sight, many of the flowers associated with autumn are the fiery colours of a sunset. Hot reds, blazing oranges and burnished golds celebrate the end of the growing season and the fall in temperatures.

In an unholy riot of colour the likes of rudbeckia, chrysanthemum, helenium, solidago and coreopsis join forces with the berries – of holly, pyracantha, rowan and viburnum, to name a few. While it is hard to get enough of these fabulous sights, the introduction of other colours into the palette lifts it from the merely beautiful to the sublime.

Pink, orange and red are the hottest colour combos around at the moment, consider adding some of these pinks to your autumn garden.

Naked ladies are perennial winners. Amaryllis belladonna, as these lilies are more properly known, send up in March (usually) bright-pink blooms on tall stems up to 50cm high. That the glossy strappy leaves only appear later has given rise to their popular name. Liking sun and well-drained soils, these beauties are tough and drought-tolerant once established.

The amaryllis belladonna lily is also known as the Jersey lily, belladonna lily, naked lady lily, or March lily

Compared to the bold naked ladies, the pretty, airy Japanese anemones seem refined. Like the lilies, they come in a range of colours from white through to a bold pink, which in particular stands out against the autumn golds. Easily grown, they thrive best in partial shade and rich well-drained soils and will colonise areas beautifully. Take root cuttings in autumn.

Possibly the prettiest pink berries can be found on Gaultheria mucronata (aka Pernettya mucronata). This small evergreen shrub is equally happy in sun or partial shade but prefers slightly acidic moist and fertile soil.

The berries of Symphoricarpos doorenbosii ‘Mother of Pearl’ are white flushed with pink, redolent of the finest marble. So prolific are they that they weigh down this hardy deciduous shrub’s branches from autumn right through winter. Easy to grow in sun or part shade, this really is one for the connoisseur.

Rosemary is best planted at the beginning of autumn, while the soil still holds some heat from summer

How to: root rosemary from tip cuttings

Although many say cuttings are best taken in spring and early summer, rosemary is such a willing plant that it will sprout roots readily any time of year. Snip 10-15cm stems of new growth (they will be green rather than woody) and remove the lower 5cm or so of leaves. Again, some recommend snipping off the stem just below a leaf node, but it isn’t really necessary.

While dipping the ends in hormone powder will increase the striking success, as rosemary roots easily it, again, isn’t vital. Fill a pot with a potting mix with garden soil incorporated – often the proprietal mix alone is too coarse for delicate roots to get a footing. Poke the stem about 3-5cm deep into the mix, dampen – keep damp – and wait. Even if you don’t need that many plants, do at least five in one go, remembering the old gardening wisdom that cuttings love company.

Consider this: A garden auger attachment

Sutton Tools garden auger, $74.98, from Bunnings.

An indulgence in small spaces, some might quibble, but this useful timesaver has a place in all gardens and especially large ones or those with heavy clay soil. This augur for drilling holes into the ground for planting for bulbs, perennials and other smallish plants is easily attached to most domestic electric or battery drills. Plug it in or charge her up and away you go. Well, not quite. It pays to start off the drilling at the lowest speed to test the resistance, then gradually increase if need be. Let the weight of the drill do the digging and move the auger up and down slowly to clear the hole of dirt as you drill.

If you don’t have spare battery packs laying around or are in the market for the best in the biz, check out the Hyundai Post Hole Borer from Trade Tested. Shop here.

Steal this look

A jumble of large earthenware pots spills out from under a tree onto the grass. It illustrates with clarity the beauty of randomness and how liberating it is to dismiss order and rigidity. Some pots are upside down, others the right way up; some sprout plants whose large leaves mirror the rotund pots.

A touch of imperfection in an otherwise immaculate garden invites a homely and lived-in feeling.

The larger pots are mainly towards the back of the group, a formation echoing the simple stepping stone path and steps, which gently curve up the hill. The pots’ earthy colours are in harmony with their surroundings – the roughly mown grass, the gnarly trunk of a tree. Like the grey colour and geometric squareness of the pavers, the smooth glossiness and curvaceous shape of the pots put them in soft contrast with all the nature surrounding them.

Read this next: Gardening editor Mary Lovell-Smith shares fresh ideas for common plants

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