Autumn fruit and colour
Colours are changing, there is a nip in the air and the hedgerows as well as the garden are full of fruit including plums, apples, hips, haws and sloes. I saw a whitethroat the other day balancing precariously on a bramble bush and tucking into a juicy blackberry. We like blackberries too and have picked plenty for the freezer.
The garden is full of purple and white Cyclamen hederifolium. The seeds are spread about by ants which are attracted by the fleshy coating. These helpful gardeners take the seeds carefully back to their underground nests where the coating feeds the colony, but the seed germinates and a cyclamen will pop up somewhere unexpected.
My new colchicums (naked ladies) have just put in an appearance. The large strappy leaves, which appear after the flowers (hence the naked), are untidy and take up quite a lot of space but I think the flowers may be worth the investment. I have Colchicum byzantinum “Innocence” (white) and Colchicum speciosum (purple) – just a few flowers of each as it is their first year but they hold promise, always provided the slugs leave them alone.
Garden giants and dwarfs
Helianthus salicifolius (willow-leaved sunflower) has produced clusters of small yellow daisies more than 6-foot up, far too high to enjoy them properly. It is just as well that I grow the plant for the architectural impact of the wonderfully long narrow willow-like leaves that clothe the arching stems leaves rather than the flowers.
At the other end of the scale is the dainty Acis autumnalis, (autumn snowflake) in my gravel bed, no more than a foot in height, with tiny nodding, bell-shaped, white flowers. I would like to have the pink form too- something to look out for when I browse the catalogues this autumn.
The first snowdrops have been in flower for a couple of weeks (and I still think look a little strange at this time of year). Galanthus reginae-olgae has 19 flowers- what a contrast to previous years when I have been lucky to find one or two flowers. Something about this summer must have reminded them of their home in Sicily and the west and north-west Balkans. It is rather lovely to remember that the name honours Queen Olga of Greece (grandmother of the Duke of Edinburgh). The little snowdrops are overshadowed by the adjacent Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’ which has also done exceptionally well this year. The lovely pink Nerine bowdenii are also still in full flower.
Nerine Zeal’s Giant
I am fortunate to have one flower (a slug got the second one) on Galanthus peshmenii, a relative of G. elwesii, which I was given last year by my good friend and alpine expert, Barry Hennessey. Apparently G. peshmenii was originally thought to be a Turkish form of G. reginae-olgae. It grows in coastal Turkey and nearby islands, but it is now acknowledged to be a species in its own right. The little flower is dwarfed by the spectacular star-burst seedheads of Allium schubertii.
Autumn foliage and fruit
Autumn colours are reaching their peak. The light green leaves of Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Seiryu’ have turned a spectacular crimson, lighting up the patio but the show will soon be over and the leaves will start to fall.
I am already collecting up leaves for leaf mold. It will take about 2 years for them to rot down to a fine dark brown tilth but it is worth waiting. I have just applied some 2-year old mold to my snowdrops- a most luxurious mulch. The addition of a touch of bone-meal should ensure a great display.
Colour in the garden is also supplied by the lovely rose-pink and orange fruits of the spindle, Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ .
Shape in the garden
The topiary and cloud pruning are taking shape and are already giving the garden year-round structure.
I have just bought a book on Japanese gardens and pruning techniques which is full of inspiration- more things to try out in 2020!
The Michaelmas daisies have been wonderful and are still pretty good. When the sun shone, the bees really appreciated them. These American garden asters have been renamed Symphyotrichum- what a mouthful. I am afraid that I unashamedly stick to Michaelmas daisy, so much more straightforward. I have divided most of the clumps within the last couple of years and now they are flowering with renewed vigour- all except one of my favourites- the shocking pink Symphyotrichum (Aster) novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’. She is not doing well and needs to be moved so she is not over-shadowed by her neighbours. I have found the perfect spot and may even move her now, as the weather is mild and damp, rather than waiting until the spring. Next year I should be able to enjoy her in all her gaudy glory.
My Mum’s Nerine bowdenii have responded well to a move and summer sun. The bulbs were producing more and more lush leaves but fewer and fewer flowers. The heavy clay in the border was offering far too rich a diet and they were not getting enough sun. So we dug them out (quite a job as the bulbs had multiplied alarmingly), put some in pots, gave some away and moved others to a sunny well-drained spot. The result – lots of flowers and more to come. A most satisfactory outcome.
The amazing Willow-leaved or Missouri sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius) is as imposing as ever. The tall stems clothed in long, drooping willow-like leaves reaching up to the sky and now are topped by clusters of small bright yellow daisies. A most improbable and glorious plant, such an entertaining architectural feature in the middle of my bed.
Rooper’s red-hot poker (Kniphofia rooperi) is another hit with the most amazing egg-shaped bright orange-red flowers that fade to yellow-orange. I planted it 2 years ago and it had no flowers last year, but this year four spikes are emerging from between the strappy leaves. Eventually I hope for an eye-catching clump of 4-foot tall flowering stems.
Preparing for Spring
Mr B. cut the mini wildflower meadow on the ha-ha bank, scarified what was left and raked up the loose moss and grass. I have scattered more wildflower seeds on the bare patches and hope the Yellow rattle will do its job and continue to reduce the vigour of the grass. I have planted just a few Fritillaria michailovskyi on one side and Fritillaria acmopetala on the other. It would be lovely if they “do” but I suspect the slugs will go for them, as they have before. I live in hope.
The cold weather has arrived (goodbye slugs and snails) and I am relieved that I have wrapped up pots and protected tender plants, although I suspect the salvias are doomed.
I am the proud owner of a mini “growhouse” courtesy of Mr B. “It is essential to square the frame”. Why is it never so easy to put these things together as the instructions suggest? We managed to break 2 panes of glass (much to the amusement of our lovely neighbour working on his compost heap on the other side of the hedge) and now the cracks between the paving slabs in the patio are embellished with sparkling diamonds of safety glass. It is done and the growhouse is nestled up against the wall of the house. My small alpine pots, pelargoniums and fuschias are snuggled up inside- time will tell how effective it is for over-wintering pots, but it should be useful for germinating seeds.
Much more successfully, Mr B made me a proper stable lid my small alpine trough, so I am not reliant on an odd assortment of bricks and flowerpots to support, and string to secure, the perspex lid. I have still to persuade him to tackle the larger trough, the lid of which is far from a professional job. I am working on it.
The first snowdrops are almost over- the elwesii, Peter Gatehouse, is always out in November and may even flower in October. I only have a tiny clump, but there were 3 flowers this year. The clay bank is really not conducive to spread so perhaps I should replant the bulbs somewhere else. I have mulched all my snowdrops with leaf mold and a little bone meal, so I am hopeful there will be a good display.
Helianthus salicifolius on the left towers over everything else in the border
Helianthus salicifolius in flower
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.
Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’
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’.
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.
The apples are ripening -a huge crop again- and it feels autumnal already. Wasps are homing in on all the windfalls covering the lawn (making more work for the man doing the mowing but they are “his” apples), and we have started to pick the James Grieve. The greengages are pretty much finished but the vegetables hold promise.
Pots and dead-heading
We have had some rain, but I have also had to do quite a bit of watering. Pots and tubs do create more work. Fortunately Mr B increased our capacity to collect rainwater with a substantial new container, which is already full. I have been busy dead-heading in pots and beds, so the hot bed still looks good. Helenium, “Sahins Early Flowerer”, will soon have a second flush of flowers and Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ has just opened but the most dramatic flower has to be the velvety lush Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’ .
Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’
Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’
Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’
I am waiting for the magnificent willow-leaved sunflower Helianthus salicifolius , a Missouri native plant, to produce flowers at the tips of the stems, but it still seems to be growing. How tall is it going to get? It can reach 10 foot and it is already over 6 foot. I should not complain as I am growing it for its delicate foliage, not the golden-yellow flowers, but I suspect it is going to need more space than I have given it….I hope it does not turn out to be a thug. It dwarfs the white cosmos- I am glad I grew a tall variety.
Helianthus salicifolius behind cosmos
Know your onions
Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum in the gravel bed has been lovely, especially the white form, but I must remove the flower-heads which are looking tatty. I have cleared away the flower-heads of Allium christophii as the seedlings can become a nuisance (I am afraid I was too late and some seed has scattered). I am leaving the heads of Allium sphaerocephalon, Allium hollandicum and Allium schubertii in place in the hope that they will gently self-sow and spread around. One more allium is still to come -little Allium senescens does not flower until the end of August.
I was delighted to get a really close view of a Humming-bird hawk-moth, an immigrant from southern Europe and Africa, supping from Lathyrus latifolius ‘Red Pearl’ at the back door. It flew off before I could get a picture of it feeding, but I did take one when it was resting on a leaf.