September: half-baked

Yesterday I noticed a group of men in a nearby field, drilling a bore hole: they seemed to be looking for the water courses. As the recent Edinburgh fringe joke goes, it is a well boring job.

The interesting thing was that, despite the recent rains, the soil coming out was bone dry. When a digger was bought in for the next stage, the clayey soil lay on the field like a cake baked at the wrong oven setting.

House insurers suck in their collective breaths in at the first sign of drought because every house with shallow foundations built on clayey soils is vulnerable to subsidence. The small particles contract in the dry, and cracks appear in the ground: if you are unlucky, they appear in your house too.

For gardeners, the remedy for this is compost and manure: lots of it, and preferably with worms in it.

Over time, organic matter will work its way into the soil and make it more fertile and easier to dig.  Although the soil particles of chalky soil are bigger and sandy soil, bigger still, the organic matter will have the same beneficial effects: greater nutrient retention and more stable moisture content.

Autumn, not spring, is the time to start planning your muck spreading. By the time spring comes, when you plants really need it, the manure magic will be underway.

So, when you are not heaving pitchforks over your head and getting into the spirit of recent BBC period dramas, there are a number of satisfying jobs to do in September:

·  Order your bulbs for planting later this month, or next month depending on how long a summer we are having.

·  Cover your pond with a net if you are worried about excessive leaf fall

·  Make a note of those herbaceous plants that have become less productive at their centre. They will need to be divided and replanted over the next few months, saving the most active parts and composting the dying core.

·  Keep watering newly planted tree and shrubs, even when the temperature begins to drop a bit

·  As autumn sets in, it becomes less and less risky to move trees and shrubs

·  Prune late summer flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus.

·  Raise the height of the blade on your lawn mower every week until mowing is no longer required later in the year. Feed the lan if it needs it but make sure it is an autumn, not spring feed or you will end up with very sappy, unhealthy grass.

Take heart. It won't be long before you can bake whatever you like outside on the dying embers of your leafy bonfire, in the safe knowledge that you will probably burn or under cook your potatoes, sausages and marshmallows - just as you did the year before.