Sights, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not - welcome September

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

After a series of recent Septembers that were more like summer than autumn, this year it has been back to a more traditional one with trees turning very early on, exceptionally heavy dews every night making it difficult to mow the lawns not to mention all the worm casts, plenty of late colour in the borders and a superb late vegetable harvest with 26 different kinds cropping at the same time. A special  cosmic event was the total eclipse of the moon combined with a super moon/ blood moon. 

Amelanchiar lamarkii on 3 September



 Better known perhaps for their wonderful scent in late winter, witch hazels are one of the best colouring of shrubs



The super moon at 2-00 am was so incredibly bright that even at 60x zoom there was sufficient light to capture craters.



Just under 2 hours later with the eclipse under way,  the blood moon was difficult to pick up even on a brilliantly clear night. Our last chance to see it again until 2033. It was nonetheles pretty special- it had to be to get me up at that time of the morning!!



From my earliest childhood years onwards, September has alway been a special month for me. Why it should have had such an impact when I was so young I don't know but living in rural Gloucestershire in the 1950's  I have vivid memories of native woodlands all around magically changing colour, hedgerows full of blackberries, nuts and wild rose hips, of gathering fallen branches for firewood to warm a tiny cottage that had no mains services  where I lived alone with my mother until I was 5. There was also the joy of gathering fallen conkers from huge horse chestnut trees to thread onto strings and challenge boys of all ages  at school and in our wider community. The winner was the one who could break the conker of his opponent. All sorts of tricks were employed to gain an advantage for one's conkers which included soaking them in vinegar or baking in an oven, always having  to remember to make the threading hole for the string first! Does anyone play conkers any more? Sadly I very much doubt it. All our childhood games and pastimes were outdoor activities that have probably gone the same way to be repllaced by virtual reality games and other largely sedentary distractions.



For the first time for ages I can say that it has been an enjoyable month with a balanced mix of weather which you would expect at this time of year. No severe weather events made for strong continous growth and although we have had some torrential rain at times much of of it was overnight raiising river levels and turning the Paddock Pond brown, which is fed by a small stream rising on the hill behind us. A settled spell of weather at the end of the month was very welcome  as was the unbroken sunshine . Some cold nights but no air air frosts thank goodness !9 night time temperatures below 10c

Min 2c on 6th, 25th and 26th  Max 20c on 10th


Garden Update

I alwaye feel that September is the first month  for a long time when we can relax and fully enjoy the gardens with no pressures  of visitors or to keep up the high standards of excellence that we strive for. So no rush to clear the fallen leaves and apples, to mow or edge the lawns, to deadhead quite so regularly ( except for the hanging baskets that still look good) or to keep the nursery quite so tidy. Work of a different sort takes over including maintenance jobs, gathering seeds for sowing later on at home or to donate to The Hardy Plant Society's seed exchenge scheme and taking cuttings of tender perennials to overwinter in the polytunnels. Cutting hedges and trimming back overgrown shrubs is an essential task that I like to complete by the first week of October if weather permits.

Many summer flowering plants are still going strong, parttcultarly dahlias, crocosmias, roses, anemones, chelone, actaeas, hydrangeas and salvias to name just a few (see pics below and for more of the starring cast). In the cooler conditions that prevailed for  most of the late summer, a range of annuals has continued tio flower well and make a significant contribution to the autumn borders. Asters on the other hand  are very reluctant to get going and their colour show at the moment is very spasmodic and rather disappointing even though they are plastered in buds and totally mildew free

  The Paddock Garden with masses of colour against the background of a newly mown field



Alonsoa is a wonderful, long lasting annual from S. America



Another annual new to me this year is rudbeckia "Prarie Glow" with wide 1 metre branched stems in different shades of  deep orange and yellow



In this north facing moist border is this lovely autumn colour combination with yellow kirengeshoma palmata var. koreana paired with hydrangea arborescens. "Annabelle" and aster n.b (recently renamed as symphiotricum) "Marie Ballard" a personal favourite For more details about the name change of some asters go to  then type "the splitting of asters" in the search box



One of the stars of the autumn borders is the japanese anemone in this case the white and justly popular "Honorine Joubert" At least that is what I bought it many years ago. Recently published reports have suggested that many anemones in circulation are incorrectly named.



Another autumn star is the hardy fuchsias which has revelled in the cooler moist conditions.



We have a good range of dahlias in all forms and colours; one quite different form is a type called "Honka" a good upright form with outward facing star shaped flowers



An unknown sanguisorba over 6 feet tall with upright pendant flower heads looking great with a Jap anenome



 And in the north facing Paddock Border is a more common white sanguisorba behind the white hydrangea



Although a house plant this poinsettia desrves special mention. It has never been out of flower year round since I bought it in November 2012!! They rarely flower for more than a few months either side of Christmas so this one is special



Last month I published a pic of an unusual form of hydrangea with balloon shaped buds quite unlike other hydrangeas. This is h.  kawakami group x involucrata in full bloom - attractive and very late 



During the month I scarified the lawns, an all day job then scatterd 2 tons of sharp sand and  a top dressing of grass seed. It was clear when doing this and from all the holes dug in the lawns by blackbirds.  that there are patches of lawn that have been infected with lawn grubs mostly May bugs or cockchaffers, and leather jackets from daddy long legs or crane flies. At this time of year there are few remedies that can be applied so we will just have to wait and see what long term impact they have

The tools of the trade - Scarifier and rotary mower to pick up the thatch



After the application of sharp sand



And in just 10 days almost no trace of the sand



As already mentioned we are at last enjoying an unprecedented late vegetable harvest  with the latest peas we have ever had and courgettes cropping as if it were high summer. An extended sowing season of runner beans has proved its worth with  less surplus than previous years  and plenty to come well into October. Considering all the rain in August and their late planting out we have had a good crop of Sturon onions , small but blissfully free from onion white rot which can be  a real pain in a wet summer.

French bean "Amethyst" and pea "Hurst Green Shaft"



Sweetcorn "Lark"


As to pests and diseases we have been lucky on the whole: clubroot has largely been kept at bay, carrot fly has continued to affect crops but some late sown varieties missed the worst of the fly and are coming in relatively clean'

Very few cabbage white butterfies around so for the first time in many years I have been able to avoid spraying by picking off the few caterpillars from the 100 or so brassicas we have doing very well. 


Capsid bug is a well established pest here affecting a wide range of host subjects including hydrangeas, fuchsias, impatiens, dahlias, and some salvias. They can wreck the new tip growth and emerging flowerbuds throughout the season. This year they have been very late but have now begun to infect a few plants, a bit late to do much serious damage. It is one of the most reported garden pests to the RHS, but is treatable with Provado for those who are not organic or alternitive  non toxic sprays such as those based on garlic. One thing you can't do as with caterpillars is to pick them off  ( have you ever seen one?!) as with the naked eye, they are impossible to see.

The biggest disappointment has been the tomatoes, our worst crop for 8 years, partly as the  result of a poor sunless summer, early tomato blight, and having been sent the wrong seed form an online company purporting to sell our favourite mini plum tomato called "Rosada"  which turned out be the most mediocre and tasteless small bush that you could ever imagine! We do still have a crop but less than half of what we normally expect and definitely no bragging rights of tomatoes at Christmas this year! or unlimited tomato soup, a speciality of Moira who likes it so much she consumes most of it!!


Tomato "Gourmet" is a really good taste but it is so slow to mature that the skins are tough. Notice the large number of green fuits so late into September"



What's looking good?


Just for a change how about what's smelling good? A wide range of the many autumn flowering plants we grow here have the added bonus of strong perfume particularly later in the day after 6 0,clock. Planting them near to the house or adjacent to frequently used paths brings them even closer to our olefractory senses. Top of the list are the brugmansias which have flowered continuously since early August and show no sign of stopping,  protected from frost at night with a double layer of horticultural fleece.

Yellow brugmansia (again!)



 Actaea simplex "Brunette" A tall imposing shade lover for a moist spot with long bottlebrush highly scented flower in Augist and September. Dark foliage sets off the flowers beautifully



A very late tall lily in mid month. Var unknown



At 17 years old a very special friend is a huge clump of impatiens tinctoria with large flowers from June until the frosts. Hardy with winter protection coming back every spring from large tubers.



Honeysuckle lonicera "Heaven Scent" - enough said!



A rarely sighted Red Admiral butterfly this year on cowslip scented flowers of clematis rehderiana



There is a surprisingly strong perfume on the flower heads of sweetcorn which is quite strange as they are pollinated by the wind and not insects



There is a huge cast of old favourites jostling  for attention, old,  long established and much treasured contibutors to the autumn feel of the borders. Many gardens start to look past their best at this time of years but with a little imagination and effort the garden in September can be one of the most vibrant and colourful of the year. 

Of all the fine plants on display in this border the eye is immediately attracted to the yellow daisy rudbeckia sullivantii "Gold Sturm" (it does help it is at the bottom of the picture but all joking apart it is for me a top 10 plant and one I could not be without



Unobtrussive in its part shade situation is the ginger family relative roscoea, a seedling from Brown Peacock superbly set off with a real thug persicaria "Purple Fantasy" Pull it all up every spring and replant small sections  to keep it in check



Of  the many fine tall umbellifers  for all seasons, one of the best is the 5 foot tall red stemmed selinum wallichianum. It flowers later than most from early august until end of Sept, it is generous with its seeds but not invasively so



Comos is a great choice for late colour when others are fading. Here paired with annual Ammi visnaga "Casablanca" it makes a pleasing entrance to the gardens.




Wildlife and countryside

Throughout the month tawny owls have been regular visitors on most evenings very close to the house but rarely seen, ususally two calling to each other. An indelible sound of autumn on colder and drew drenched evenings.

Other birds seen regularly have been the departing swallows and martins, jays intent on raiding the ripening sweet corn, red kites in large numbers exceeding 10 or more and herons.


Having waited for years to capture a pic of a heron visiting the Paddock Pond, I snapped this one on a large lake at Penllergare Woodland Trust just outside Swansea. Go to for more details of this fascinating restoration of an historic formal garden, lakes and pictorial landscape



Butterflies as last month have been almost non existant after such a cold damp summer. Even the  usuall butterfly magnets such as sedums, echinaceas and rudbeckias,verbena bonariensis have failed to attract them.

An unusual event for September has been a late grass harvest for silage mostly, with a good few neighbours trying to make up for the poor harvest earlier this summer. Modern machinery makes it easier to gather the crop quickly before the weather turns to spoil it.


Harvesting the "Lodge Field" opposite Cilgwyn Lodge (our "car park" for visitors) is now blown silage whereas for many years it was old style square bales of hay which took at least 4 days to make and needed masses of manual labour. Now the harvest comes in over the course of a couple of hours



And after the harvest is cleared red kites and all manner of other birds particularly corvids, descend to find rich pickings



Swallows and martins came and went in just a few days mid month with none of the "shall we, shan't we go" on the overhead wires.


Native trees  ( beech, elders, maples started to show autumn colour much earlier in the month than normal, and those in the gardens are much more advanced.


Visits and visitors


It was a great  honour to welcome to the gardens Tom Hart-Dyke, from Lullingstone Csstle in Kent, whom we have known for 6 years. Tom is a superb plantsman,  a plant hunter and the very best of company. Tom  gained widespread national publilicity in 2000 when he was captured and held hostage for 9 months whilst botanising for orchids in the Panamanian rain forest - one of the most dangerous parts of the world. At gunpoint and threatened with his life on numerous occasions Tom and his friend Paul Winder survived their ordeal  (Tom told us that he bored his captors to death talking about plants all the time!!) and returned home just in time for Christmas 2000. Given up for dead it was the best present their families could ever have wished for. Their story was told by Tom' in a captivavating book  entitled "The Cloud Forest". Whilst in captivity he used the time to devise a  "World Garden" to be built in a 2 acre walled garden at his ancestral home. He subsequently fulfilled his dream and it is now open to the public. For more details of Tom and his amazing garden go to to,uk

Tom and Moira in front of the Lodge



Tom and I try to completely obliterate Moira from this picture. At 5'2" it was proving difficult! for her to stay in the picture!!


During the month it has been good to go garden visiting ourselves  whiich has included National Botanic Garden of Wales, The Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury, Wilts. An NGS tea party for people who open their gardens in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire is an eagerly awaiited annual event at the home of the County Organiser Jane Stokes and her husband Ivor and a good chance to meet up with peolpe who have become friends through our common bonds

And finally as always in September there is the annual pilgrimage to Malverrn for The Autumn Show now in its 20th year. A superb event with all the  sights, sounds and scents of the season.








Have an enjoyable and bountiful autumn and enjoy your garden.