Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Autumn

by Margaret Porter

Autumn colour

Autumn in the English garden is a time of vibrant hues, gradual decay, tidying, and preparation for winter as well as spring. As gardener, garden historian and collector of gardening manuals, I tend to follow the advice of gardeners long past as often—perhaps more often—than current experts. As historical author, maintaining authenticity in terms of what was grown in a given period, and when it bloomed, is extremely important to me.

This is the second of four seasonal guides, with information taken from 17th and 18th century sources in my personal library. I shot the photographs either in historic gardens in England or in my own 21st century gardens, in which I grow heritage plants. The previous entry is Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Summer.

Vegetable & cutting garden, late September


Autumn cabbages and greens
In the kitchen & herb gardens: Plant cauliflower on old melon or cucumber beds. Mid-month sow lettuce seeds under frames or glass, to be covered during severe frost. Sow lettuce, radish, turnip, cress, mustard, chervil in warm location. Make mushroom beds, laying the dried spore on a dung bed heaped up at least  3 weeks to a month prior. Weed beds of turnips, onions, spinach, carrots, cauliflower, and cabbages sown month before. Plant beans. Transplant aromatic herbs--rosemary, lavender--to take root before frost comes. Transplant cauliflower and broccoli plants. Harvest cabbages, carrots, artichokes, leeks, garlic, celery, endive, kidney beans, marrowfat peas, radishes, tomatoes, squash, burnet, thyme, basil, marjoram, hyssop, other herbs. Gather ripening seeds of hemp, pepper, saffron, cucumber, fennel, fenugreek, lettuce, lentil, lovage, flax, hops, millet, cress, parsley, elderberry, mustard, nightshade, and goldenrod, and spread on cloths to dry before storing.

Lavender in autumn

Fruit & vines: Take hardwood cuttings to root new plants. Gather ripening fruit early in the month, and late in the month harvest those that keep well over winter. Guard the grapes from birds. Transplant strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and currants. Plant cuttings of gooseberries and currants. Prune and train espalier fruit trees. Harvest apples, pears, peaches, plums, muscadine grapes and other ripe grapes, figs, walnuts, filberts, medlars, currants, Morello cherries.

In the flower garden: Dig borders and manure beds for planting hardy flowers. Transplant perennial and biennial flowers from the nursery. Plant early tulips, hyacinths, and anemones. Sow auricula and polyanthus seeds in pots or boxes of light, rich soil. Cut down stalks of decayed flowers. Late in the month transplant most types of hardy flowering trees and shrubs. Divide irises, peonies, aconites, lily of the valley, columbines, perennial poppy.


Flowers in bloom: Stock gillyflowers, scabious, Marvel of Peru, China pinks, French Marigolds, Hollyhocks, chrysanthemums, lupines, sweet-scented peas, cyclamens, goldenrod, asters, spiderwort, snapdragon, candytuft, scarlet bean, sunflowers, mallow, hydrangea, nasturiums, jasmine, monthly rose, passionflower, honeysuckle, azalea, kalmia, tamarisk.



Espalier pear tree
In the kitchen & herb gardens: Cut down asparagus plants. Hoe the weeds out of the beds. Transplant cabbage and lettuce plants to warm borders, frames, or beside walls for winter protection. Plant beans and peas upon dry ground in a warm place. Weed onion beds. Sow salad herbs on hot beds or under frames. Make hot beds to sow mint and tansy for use at Christmas. Protect mushroom beds from wet and frost with frames and glass, or thatch. Cut down stalks of mint, tarragon, and other perennial plants, clean beds of weeds. Harvest cabbages, cauliflower, some artichokes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions, leeks, potatoes, shallots, beets, salsify, celery, endive, cardoons, chervil, radish, mustard, cress, lettuce, spinach, sorrel, sage, rosemary, thyme, winter savory, pot marjoram, and other aromatic plants.

Ripened grapes
Fruit and vines: In the middle or late in the month prune peach trees, nectarines, apricots, and vines, so wounds will heal before hard frosts. Remove useless branches and shorten the remaining ones. Prune apples, pears, and plums. Gather vineyard grapes in dry weather when there is no moisture on the vines. Cut grapes for preserving over winter in clusters, to be hung in rows, not touching, in a warm room where a fire is kept going through the winter. Transplant fruit trees. Plant gooseberries, currants, raspberries, and strawberries so they can take root before winter. Harvest fruit for winter keeping, only when the trees are perfectly dry. Ripened fruits: peaches, grapes, figs, medlars, quinces, plums, walnuts, hazlenuts, almonds, pears, apples.


In the flower garden: Finish planting bulbs and roots such as tulips, ranunculus, crocus, jonquil, hyacinth, narcissus, iris, lily. Transplant hardy tuberous or tooted plants such as hollyhock, Canterbury bells, honeysuckles, columbines, monkshood, daisy, chrysanthemum, sweet william, asters, spiderwort, peonies, wallflower, thrift, rudbeckia, monarda. Clean borders of weeds and refresh with clean earth and well-rotted dung. Prune flowering shrubs. Transplant flowering shrubs: roses, honeysuckle, Spanish broom, laburnum, spirea, peach, almond, cherry, syringa. Clean walks and lawns of fallen leaves.

Flowers in bloom: French marigold, Marvel of Peru, Indian tobacco, autumn carnation, Michaelmas daisies, goldenrod, cyclamen, auriculas, heartsease, chrysanthemum, tuberoses, Guernsey lily, linaria, bugloss, feverfew, sunflowers, Spanish jasmine, autumn crocus, broad-leaved phlox, helenia, spiderwort, late honeysuckle, passion flower, monthly rose.

Quatre Saisons, Autumn Damask, the "Monthly Rose"


In the kitchen and herb gardens: Remove glass and frames from lettuce and cauliflower in warm, dry weather. Sow peas and plant beans in dry weather. Sow salad herbs on hot beds, to continuously supply the table. At beginning of the month sow carrots and radishes on warm borders. Harvest carrots, parsnips, potatoes, beets, and salsify towards the end of the month. Also red cabbage, onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, sage, mushrooms, salad leaves and herbs.

Apples ready for picking
Fruit and vines: If weather is mild, continue pruning fruit trees and vines. Remove all ripe fruit from fig trees. At beginning of the month it is still safe to transplant fruit trees. If weather is mild, plant gooseberries, currants, raspberries, and strawberries. Keep beds well-weeded. Continue harvesting pears and apples on dry days, also almonds, chestnuts, hazlenuts, walnuts, medlars, and late grapes.

In the flower garden: Stake newly-planted trees. The boxes and pots of seedling bulbs and flower should be set in a warm, sunny location and screened from cold winds. If weather is mild, continue transplanting bulbous and fibrous-rooted plants and flowering shrubs as in October. Rake over borders and beds to prevent weeds and moss from growing.

Flowers in bloom: Goldenrod, white periwinkle, blue periwinkle, cranesbill, boarge, valerian, stock gillyflower, heartsease, pansies, perennial sunflowers, antirrhinum, helenias, arbutus, laurustinus, late musk rose, passionflower.

Plants recommended for adorning rooms during autumn: aramanth, asters, balsam, French marigolds, passionflower, Marvel-of-Peru, larkspur, honeysuckle, tuberoses, African and French marigolds, convulvulus, sunflowers, hollyhocks, double violets, spiderwort, poppies, candytuft, auriculas, polyanthus, stock gillyflowers, ripe apples and other fruits.



Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, whose other publication credits include nonfiction and poetry. A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans, is her latest release, available in trade paperback and ebook. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.


  1. A couple of mis -named plants. The poppy is the annual Papavar somniferum, one of the garden varieties. The amaranth is actually Verbena bonariensis.

    1. Thanks so much! I presume my 17th/18th century English catalogues intend Papaver orientale when referring to 'perennial poppy.' Absent Linnean nomenclature, I can only guess. I deleted 'perennial'--as I found no orientale photos from my Chelsea series. I somehow uploaded the wrong amaranth photo, that's fixed too!

  2. This was wonderful! I'm writing a story that takes place in London in late September. I've bookmarked it. I'll be reading your other posts as well.

  3. What a wonderful post Margaret and the photos are especially lovely. Thank you so much.

  4. Really good post - any chance of something for fourteenth and fifteenth centuries?

    1. Yes, perhaps I will...after this 4-part series is done. Thanks for the suggestion!


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