How do you want to spend your time in the garden next year — on your knees weeding, or on the terrace, sipping mojitos? Put in the prep now, and you can put your feet up later.
There is no need, for example, to wield a watering can or hosepipe through weeks of summer drought. Set up an irrigation system now so plants can be watered, so to speak, on tap. It doesn't have to be complex. Buy a porous "soaker" hose and attach a battery-powered timer to the tap, then trail the hose around susceptible plants, and bury under earth, or cover with mulch. Take the strain from container watering, too, with a system that drip-feeds water via individual tubes into pots. Soaker hoses from about 25ft and container irrigation kits are available at hozelock.com.
Talking of pots, downscale containers so you have several large, co-ordinated beauties instead of an army of disparate pots that will all need watering, feeding and tending next summer. You can still plant the same amount of bedding as before, but instead of planting individually, gather several different varieties or colourways into each large pot for a bigger splash with smaller upkeep. Visit iotagarden.com for a wide rang of large containers.
Which plants kept on blooming this summer, and which are just kicking their heels? This is the ideal time to take out the deadweight, reinvigorate the soil and plant robust, weather-resistant shrubs that, once-a-year pruning aside, will look after themselves. On your shopping list should be mahonia, choisya, berberis, viburnum, pittosporum, hebe and hydrangea. Instead of high-maintenance perennials, plant easy groundcover such as lambs' ears — Stachys byzantina — in sun, blue bugle Ajuga reptans Braunherz in shade, and Flower Carpet roses, which can go anywhere. Geranium Brookside's lavenderblue flowers bloom for months on end and just need to be sheared back in summer to keep on going. In shade, sultry, dark-flowered Geranium phaeum, the mourning widow, is your girl.
Forget slug-susceptible delphiniums and lupins that only bring heartbreak. Instead, introduce verticals by planting — there is still time — allium bulbs, from early season Allium hollandicum to later summer Allium sphaerocephalon, which will give your garden pink-topurple flowering drumsticks over months. And instead of tricky, largeflowered clematis, plant the sumptuous, easy-growing viticella varieties, such as purple Polish Spirit, which just need to be chopped back in February.
November is bare-root rose planting month, but if you want to bypass black spot and greenfly next summer, plant no-fuss roses that still deliver on looks and perfume — the rugosas. Roseraie de l'Hay is a gloriously fragrant, deep magenta rose that can be pruned anyold-how and is as tough as old boots. Rosa rugosa Alba has white, open blooms and fabulous, fat, orange hips.
Invest in the best, so you don't need to repair and replace. If you are buying a deck, it is worth paying extra for hardwood which only needs an annual treatment, and is less likely to slip you up in wet weather. Likewise, hardwood furniture, obelisks and arches will last a lifetime and need less upkeep than softwood, which has a limited shelf life, even when pressurised and painted.
It isn't the mowing that takes the time, it's neatening the edges of the lawn. Cut out the drudgery by installing a lawn edging of flexible lengths of galvanised steel, three feet or so in length, that you just mow over to keep a neat and perfect outline. Visit everedge.co.uk.
Work on weeds now so you don't spend next spring and summer on your knees, weeding out their offspring, too. Then surround plants with a thick layer of mulch — homemade compost or job-lot bags of mix'n'mulch — which will help suppress weeds and improve the soil structure. The worms will gradually work it into the soil, so you don't have to.
If you are laying down grit, gravel, pebbles or cobblestones over paths or bare patches of ground, don't even think of putting down so much as a pebble without laying down a weedsuppressing membrane first.