Upside-down gardening: October in Central Otago

Spring is here at last; Spring flowers, bedding out plants, bulbs, euphorbia and seeds to sow in October.

Yellow primula - Gardenize

Garden progress

Spring has been a little later this year, certainly in my garden, but old spring favourites have returned and some new flowers have joined them, so that all the flower borders have something interesting to look at.

Bedding out plants

The yellow primulas were a gift from my neighbours to welcome me to New Zealand when I first arrived, seven years ago. Plants like these can easily be found and are very reasonably priced, especially when you see how long-lived they are. To make them even better value, you can get more plants from primulas by dividing them in autumn when you know the divisions will not suffer in our hot, dry climate.

Pale blue violas - Gardenize

Pale blue violas

Blue is my favourite colour, so I couldn’t resist buying a tray of these sweet plants with their whiskery faces. They’ll carry on flowering long enough to make a pretty combination with the tulips behind them, whose flowers will be here soon. I bought several trays of pansies and violas in winter and planted them out, so they could be well-established by spring. They have been so economical and so successful that I plan to do the same every year.


Daffodil - Gardenize

Spring is the time when bulbs come into their own. Bulbs do well here, because the flowers and foliage above ground die down before our hot, dry summer, leaving the bulb safe underground. Where bulbs fail, it is often because they rot, but there’s very little chance of that here with our sharp drainage and low rainfall. This daffodil is a variety called Kempo.

Blue mascari - Gardenize


These blue muscari are in a very dry border in dappled shade. They flower much earlier than the ones I have in a border behind the house and are much daintier in appearance. Because they were already here when I moved in, I don’t know whether the ones behind the house are taller and fatter because they are a different variety or whether it is because they benefit from the runoff from the vegetable bed, which gets the best of any organic matter I have.

Pink muscari - Gardenize

Since muscari do so well in my garden, I would like to have several varieties of them, so I bought and planted five of these Pink Surprise muscari last autumn. I was pleased to see they are a true pink, rather than blue with a pinkish cast. Of the five, three are flowering, one has disappeared and the fourth is making more bulbs instead of flowering.

White muscari - Gardenize

This tiny white Siberian tiger muscari is lovely, but has remained so small in my garden that it is hardly noticeable. I think I need a variety of white muscari that is larger and more robust. I’m hoping that White Magic will thrive in my garden and am waiting for it to flower.


Ipheion is another delightful violet blue flower that comes reliably from a bulb each year.

Ipheion - Gardenize

Snakeshead fritillary

I was delighted to see that the single snakeshead fritillary (fritillaria meleagris) that was flowering in my border last year is beginning to increase.

Fritillary - Gardenize

Jobs for October


If you have tomato seedlings, keep them indoors until there is no more chance of frost. The traditional date for planting out tomatoes is labour day, which this year is 24 October. If you plant them too soon, even if they survive the colder temperatures, their growth will be retarded and they will not do as well as seedlings planted out later. You will need to pot on any small seedlings into large, deep pots. Tomatoes make roots from their stems, above the seed leaves (cotyledons), so plant them deep to encourage a really good root system. While they are indoors, feed them regularly. A well-balanced general fertiliser will do at this stage. There is no need to increase potassium until they are ready to flower and set fruit.

Vegetable seeds

October is a busy month for seed-sowing. Indoors, you can sow aubergines, basil, chillies, In trays or milk bottles outdoors, you can sow broccoli, celeriac, celery, chard (silver beet), coriander, cucumber, Daikon radishes, endives, leeks, marrows, oregano, parsley, pumpkins, rocket, sage, shallots, snow peas, spring onions, sunflowers and turnips And directly into the soil, you can sow beans, beetroot, courgettes and, If you haven’t already, tomatoes. You’ll probably be very busy planting out seedlings, with some of the hardier plants from your trays or milk bottles going out weekly.

Flower seeds

It’s such a busy time for vegetable seeds, it’s easy to forget the flowers. I like to sow one packet of flower seeds for every two packets of vegetable seeds, if I can find the space. My priority for October, though, is aubergines, basil, chillies and tomatoes. As I don’t have a greenhouse, space is limited until I can plant out those four favourites, so I look for flower seeds that can be sown directly outside.


About the writer

My name’s Pamela and a few years ago, at the age of 55, I made the decision to start a new adventure. I left the northwest of England, where I had lived all my life, and moved to New Zealand. I’m excited to be a guest blogger on Gardenize, and I love writing about my garden in beautiful, sunny Alexandra in Central Otago. My garden here is about as different as it could get from the damp, shady garden I left behind. Central Otago is the hottest, driest, coldest area in New Zealand, as we have hot summers and cold winters, along with a semi-arid climate. The area is famous for its orchards and vineyards. It has many quaint little rural townships with pretty cottage gardens featuring peonies, bearded irises, hollyhocks, lilies, roses, and lavender that grow so well here. The landscape is spectacular, with dry, rocky mountains and impossibly blue lakes and rivers. The dry mountains look barren, but they’ve actually covered in tough little thyme plants: a great clue to what might grow well in the garden.


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