Monthly Masterclass: October

Do it: Repair Damaged Lawns

Step 1

Lawns damaged by badgers, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Damage caused by badgers looking for chafer grubs on the Top Lawn

Autumn and spring are the ideal times to repair your lawn when the weather is cool and moist. Bare patches can be caused by overuse, hollows can form where tree roots have begun to rot beneath the ground, and foraging animals can wreak havoc digging up grass in search of a tasty morsel.

Identifying the cause of your problem will influence when you choose to repair. Our own lawns, for example, are currently being dug up by badgers feeding on the garden chafer, Phyllopertha horticola, and will likely do so throughout the autumn. Here, it is better to postpone repairs until spring when the danger of your work being destroyed again has passed.

Step 2

Lawn repair, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

A neat square is cut using a half-moon tool where an old medlar tree was removed

You must remove damaged turf using a half-moon tool to cut a neat square around the area concerned. Once the surrounding turf has been removed, lightly fork over the bottom of the square to prevent poor drainage. Fill the hole with a good quality topsoil or compost ensuring that all stones and non-organic matter are removed. Failure to do so will leave your mower vulnerable to damage when you cut the grass the following year.

Step 3

Sowing grass seed, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Sow grass seed evenly, water and expect germination within 1-2 weeks

Scatter seed using three times the amount you anticipate germinating. This will allow for losses resulting from poor germination and hungry birds. Lightly cover seed with more topsoil or compost. Take care to select the appropriate mix of seed. Choose mixes with a high percentage of fescue grass for areas which are dark and dry, such as beneath mature trees, or mixes with more bent grass for areas where the ground rarely dries out. Be aware that repaired areas of lawn may look different to those already established if you are using a different mix of seed.

Grow it: Dahlia

What: Dahlias are herbaceous perennials which grow on fleshy tuberous roots beneath the ground. Often tender, these showy flowers provide vibrant colour in the garden during late summer and autumn.

Dahlia 'Amberglow', Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Dahlia ‘Amberglow’ in the Walled Garden

Where: Locate Dahlias in full sun in deep borders or large potted displays where they will have room to realise their potential stature. Dahlias are extremely hungry so a rich, fertile soil is essential. Add plenty of manure or compost where soils are poor.

How: Plant Dahlia tubers 10-15cm deep, stake as they mature, and pinch out new shoots regularly to ensure thick, bushy growth. Tubers must be lifted for the winter, dried and then stored in a cool dry place free from frost or leave them in the ground with the protection of a heavy mulch if you’re feeling brave.

When: Propagate Dhalias when still undercover in the spring. Rooted tubers can be divided when showing 2-3cm of top growth. Plant outside once the danger of frost has passed in May or early June and lift again as frosts reappear around late October or November.

The Gardener’s Verdict:

“Lots of people are put off growing dahlias, favouring less labour intensive perennials. Don’t make the same mistake! Every garden should make room for at least some. Little else provides such a dazzling range of colours this late in the season.

Here at Winterbourne we use dahlias to brighten up the vegetable patch in the Walled Garden and the Tea Room Terrace where they are grown in enormous terracotta pots. They make excellent cut flowers for the house.

This year we have paired those in our potted displays with regal pelargoniums and Astelia nervosa ‘Red Devil’. The Astelia has small sword-like red leaves with a metallic-silver sheen making them an excellent companion, covering the bare stems of taller dahlias and contrasting well with their deep green and purple leaves.

I think for many people, alongside gladioli and chrysanthemums, dahlias bring to mind memories of their grandparents allotments or the local show bench, but there are so many new varieties made available every year that they could never be considered old fashioned.

Plant with pollinators in mind; make sure you pick plenty of single flowered cultivars to grow alongside your spiky headed cactus types and bobbing pompoms. These showy doubles look great but produce no pollen for bees to feed upon.

The most popular single we grow here is D. ‘Bishop of Auckland’ which grows to about 1m tall and shows its velvet-red flowers off against deep-crimson foliage. It is covered with bees all summer and performs equally well in the ground as in a pot. Of the cactus types D. ‘Oakwood Bridesmaid’ is the best we grow. It has large, warm, creamy-pink flowers which lift the brighter colours of its companions, such as D. ‘Amberglow’, a strong orange pompom which flowers profusely.”

Stephen Haines, Head Gardener, Winterbourne House and Garden

Read it: Where the Wild Things Are

Lurking amongst the undergrworth there are often botanical oddities as exciting as the blousy perennials in whose shadow they grow. September’s Where the Wild Things Are takes a closer look at some of these plants growing wild in the gardens at Winterbourne.

Birmingham and Black Country Botanical Society and Warwickshire Flora Group, Winterbourne House and Garden Digging for Dirt

Members of the Birmingham and Black Country Botanical Society and Warwickshire Flora Group looking for wild flora on the Stream Lawn

7 Thoughts on Monthly Masterclass: October

    • Winterbourne House and Garden


      Hello Liz. Yes, we leave many of ours in the ground through the winter. However, we are blessed with a very free draining, loamy soil in certain parts of the garden. Our Walled Garden is also very sheltered of course. I’m sure a harsh winter will catch us out eventually!

  1. Oddment


    I’m with Chloris: that watering can arrangement is wonderful. The photo with the people arrangement is great too — what a comfy-looking group. Thanks for the autumn guidelines.

    • Winterbourne House and Garden


      Hello Maureen. Credit must go to our Head Gardener, Steve, for the watering can arrangement. It certainly proved popular with our visitors – there was a bit of a traffic jam of people queuing up to take a photograph of it! We’ve only had one very light frost here so far and the dahlias are still going strong – long may it continue…

  2. Annie


    What a good master class! I had just finished seeding a section of the lawn, read your tips, and had to run back out and scatter more seed. I didn’t realize I should scatter 3x the amount I anticipate germinating. All done! We don’t have badgers but skunks do the damage on our lawn searching for worms.

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