Autumn at Upper Green

Autumn highlights

My missouri sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius) finally did its stuff- what a plant. The 11 foot stems, clothed by long hanging leaves, are now topped by a tuft of small yellow daisies that are almost out of view. It has withstood the gales and continues to tower over everything else in the border. I love it despite its ridiculous appearance but see why it is grown for architectural value rather than flowers.

The garden is tousled but full of colour. The cockspur thorn ( Crataegus crus-galli) always puts on a wonderful autumnal display, although there are few berries this year. Grasses such as Molinia litoralis are turning rich shades of orange and yellow and some roses are still in flower, including the hybrid musk ‘Buff Beauty’.

Salvias

The salvias are still flowering.  Salvia ‘Amstad’ is particularly dramatic with long spikes of purple flowers arising from very dark purple bracts- but I suspect it is also the least hardy.  I might dig up the plants and try to overwinter them somewhere sheltered.  I have taken cuttings from Salvia x jamensis but I think it is relatively tough. I am pleased with the overall effect. They all look much more at home in this bed alongside the drive than they did in the large herbaceous bed in the back garden.

Planning for spring

Leaves are beginning to fall and we are making leaf mold – gold dust for free! Large leaves are chopped with the lawn mower before stacking in an open-topped compost bin, where they will get plenty of rain (you can just use bin bags but make sure the leaves are wet). The fungus needs a damp environment to break down the leaves and the whole process will take one to two years so we are going to make another leaf container with posts and wire netting. My snowdrops thrive with a little of the brown crumbly mulch and it is essential for the woodland plants that struggle in our heavy clay- wood anemones, winter aconites, and dog’s tooth violets to name a few. Really I should not attempt to grow them but I do love our native spring flowers. Primroses, on the other hand, flourish here without any help from me.

 

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Seeds and seed-heads

 

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Striking seedhead of Allium schubertii. The seeds are ready to collect.

Seed collection…..

The dry and sunny autumnal weather has been perfect for collecting seeds for next year. I never have the right containers (note to self- keep more old plastic food containers) but end up with an odd assortment on the windowsill. The seedpods or seeds must be completely dry before I store them, in labelled envelopes, in a water-tight container at the bottom of the fridge. Beware- some pods, as they dry, suddenly uncurl dramatically firing seeds out of the labelled container.

….and mice

I still remember going into my 80-year old Auntie Margery’s dark walk-in cupboard in her sitting room. The cupboard was full to bursting point of “stuff”- old envelopes, newspapers, gardening magazines stacked up on the floor, vases and a large number of carefully labelled plastic margarine pots full of seeds for planting the following year, including beans and peas. I put my hand on the shelf and there was a snap. I emerged with a plastic mouse trap attached to my fore-finger-no mice in my fridge.

When to stop deadheading?

I have to decide when to stop dead-heading. Deadheading encourages plants to continue to flower, but some seedheads may be wonderfully decorative in their own right and I want seeds for next year. Cosmos are still flowering so I am continuing to deadhead. Nicotiana glutinosa was a success with small coppery flowers that complemented the brickwork, but the flowers are over and I have collected seeds. I have also collected seeds from plants such as allium, lunaria (honesty) and scabious. The nasturtiums are looking wonderful tickling the belly of my sheep- but no seeds yet as I planted them rather late.

Christmas decorations

Eryngium giganteum (Miss Wilmott’s ghost) did look wonderfully structural in the gravel bed, but it is a biennial and now was grey and sad dominating the small space. In a larger bed I might have left it but I have removed it (wearing protective gloves as the spines are so unfriendly), collected seeds and will keep the plant for Christmas decorations. It will look wonderful with a spray of silver paint. The oval seed pods of honesty also make great decorations if one strips off the outer cover leaving a fragile silvery oval pod. I will leave that fun activity for the grandchildren.