Click to follow
The Independent Online
Weekend work

PELARGONIUMS that you hope to keep going through the winter can be cut hard back now, to within 3-4ins of the base, and left to make a little new growth before the first frosts. At this stage they can be moved inside in pots for protection and will be easier to manage than full-branched specimens.

Secateurs are your most powerful ally in the garden at this stage of the year. The summer sprawl begins to be oppressive and gardeners' fingers are itching to snip back overgrown mallows, clear out the mildewing foliage of golden rod and reduce the overpowering bulk of bullyboy ground cover. Keep away from jasmine, already thick in flower bud, and clematis, however untidy. Buddleias, although messy, should not be cut back until spring. Dead, ragged heads of the climbing hydrangea can be removed, cutting where the stem joins the main branch. Virginia creeper needs to be clipped back from windows and hauled out of gutters.

This is the best time to plant lilies - if you can get hold of them. Suppliers seem to offer lilies either in dank, cold November, or late spring, which leaves the bulbs little time to get their roots settled before they start to shoot. But if you are lucky enough to have lilies in congested clumps, now is a good time to lift, split and replant. Sifted leafmould or compost in the planting hole gets them away to a good start.

Mulching is another pleasant autumn activity. It can be done in spring, too, but there are usually more pressing jobs then. Shrubs such as hydrangea particularly relish rich rations. Plant hardy shrubs now and climbers such as clematis. These bristle with so many brittle green shoots in spring that planting them then is an anxiety rather than a pleasure.

Missing 'Mirabelle'

PAMELA BROWN writes from Midsomer Norton, near Bath, with a query about 'Mirabelle' plums. 'I denude French hypermarket shelves of their entire stock of the delicious jam it makes. I eat them by the kilo in France and Switzerland and yet have only seen the fruit once for sale here, and have never been able to locate a tree to plant. Please help.'

The Mirabelle is closer to our damsons and bullaces than to a plum such as 'Victoria'. Botanically, these plums are grouped under Prunus institia rather than P domestica. The kind known as 'Mirabelle de Nancy' was probably introduced into France in the 15th century. 'Mirabelle de Metz' was first recorded in 1675.

They are both available in this country. You can get 'Mirabelle de Metz' from Scotts Nurseries, Merriott, Somerset TA16 5PL (0460 72306) or The Fruit Garden, Mulberry Farm, Woodnesborough, Sandwich, Kent CT13 0PT (0304 813454). 'Mirabelle de Nancy' is available from J Tweedie Fruit Trees, Maryfield Road Nursery, Maryfield, near Terregles, Dumfries, Dumfriesshire DG2 9TH (0387 720880) or Keepers Nursery, 446 Wateringbury Road, East Malling, Kent ME19 6JJ (0622 813008).

They are easy enough to grow, but are not much found in England - possibly because they come into flower very early, sometimes too early to be pollinated successfully. And, of course, the fruit are small. The old-fashioned greengage is probably the closest English equivalent.