The Turning Year

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Apologies for the late delivery of September news : operator malfunction - don't ask!!

September turned out to be a more old fashioned form than recent years with some sunny days, cold nights, heavy rain, occasional strong winds and a few ground frosts. The asters were very late but cosmos and rudbeckias continue to steal the colour show and cabbages and sweetcorn are the current stars of the vegetable garden.

Roses too have continued to flower almost continually. and one of the best, a new acquisition this year, is a modern shrub rose called "Jacqueline du Pre" a lovely tribute to a fine musician


A very busy month with visitors to the gardens, the talks season starting again, and a few days away visiting friends, nurseries and gardens.


Additional weather report

Several days in the early part of the month temperatures peaked at 21C, with a night time min of 2C on 22 September but no damage done. Some torrential rain in the last week of the month


Garden update

The most significant feature has been the vibrancy of plants and flowers in all corners of the gardens. Shrubs and trees have grown significantly and all the moisture lovers continue to thrive especially hydrangeas which are still pumping out new flowers when normally they would be slowing down at this time of year.


A freshly opened flowerhead of hydrangea paniculata "Phantom" taken at twilight. The paniculatas are reliable every year because unlike the mopheads they flower on new wood



Vegetables continue to be plagued by rabbits (sorry to mention them again but they are driving me nuts in spite of all my best efforts with an electric fence and horticultural fleece). And talking of nuts they recently invited their grey squirrel friends to feast on the wonderful sweetcorn which was moister and sweeter than I can remember - not that my memory is up to much these days!! 

Weeds and slugs as in all gardens are having a wonderful year and have I mentioned bitter cress in previous news items? (There you are, my memory again). It is well named as I feel very bitter towards it. However many times I weed the borders and paths it comes back and sets flowers within just 2 weeks. Fortunately it is our only seriously invasive weed and thanks to a rigorous weeding regime over many years we have largely eradicated most perennial weeds from the gardens except for a little ground elder in a few shady, moist locations.

The lawns continue to look wonderully green and lush as they have done all "summer" but the weather is preventing scarifying and aerating them which is an important early autumn job. Hope I can get this done before the winter sets in.

There are some understated performers at this time of year whcih thrive in some shade and moisture that never get a star billing. Saxifraga fortuneii is one of these I have referred to before and is just coming into flower with frothy heads of white or pink in a variety of cultivars. Another is roscoea, a hardy member of the ginger family, usually flowering from July onwards. It too comes in a variety of forms and one I am particularly pleased with which has been in flower for well over a month is a cross between r. peacockii and R,rubra "Red Gurkha" with large purple flowers on strong bronze coloured stems.


Roscoea peacockii x rubra


The trees and shrubs have only started to take on autumn colours in the last week or so, much later than we have seen in the parts of England we have visited during the month. I feel it could be a vintage year for autumn colour provided there are no strong winds in October - a vain hope but gardeners always cling to hope and optimism!

In the nursery we have been looking to build up good stocks of plants for next year's visitors (we already have a few bookings) and to find new plants from nurseries and seed companies. As always we will look to propogate as much as possible from some of the most admired plants in the Gardens.

As an antidote to gardening (even I need a change sometimes!) and in the drier interludes, I have started to saw up wood for the winter from my large and much admired woodpile in the adjacent field. I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of some recently felled willow and ash which had become dangerous to livestock and propery. It always amazes me how well ash will burn even when fresh confirming once again the old rhyme that "Ash logs green or ash logs brown are fit for a king with a golden crown" A really good burning wood.


What's looking good?

The main flush of asters mostly comprising the imposing New York form - nova belgii (mildew prone) and New England - nova angliae (the midew free ones) has only just started, but they were magnificient at Waterperry Gardens, Oxfordshire when we saw them a couple of weeks ago.

An aster that has been in flower here since late July, is mildew free and at just 18 inches or so tall with very stiff stems it needs no staking is the star performer. It is called aster frikartii "Monch", bulks up well over the years and is deservedly a personal favourite and a popular aster.


The fabulous display of asters at Waterperry Gardens



And the marvellous aster frifartii "Monch" in the foreground, with possibly the best blue aster nova belgii "Marie Ballard" in the centre picture.



The colchicums, "autumn crocus" have come into flower, as they always seem to overnight. Goblets of pink all over the gardens, even in some moist shade, but all the recent rain and wind is spoiling their show and causing them to collapse. They continue to throw up new flowers over a number of weeks so I live in hope of a very good late show. There are a good range of cultivars to choose from, usually in shades of pink occasionally white, also including I recently discovered, a yellow one. We saw a very nice species form at Waterperry called C. aggripinum quite dwarf and more like a true crocus in habit, with pink streaked purple flowers in an impressive clump in a rock garden in sharp soil and in full sun - another one on the shopping list!


Colchicum aggripinum



Tomatoes are still cropping very well in the large tunnel and some are now on their 14th truss, being trained overy the roof of the 9 foot tall tunnel. I wonder if we will be able to crop from the uppermost trusses at Christmas as we did last year? - such a treat in a dark time of year. "Rosada" a plum shaped small tomato is proving to be a very reliable form with tender skins and the best flavour of all and "Sungold" is also doing well with a very sweet taste but it's only drawback is that the skins tend to split easily on the plant. Moira has been making soup for Wales from the total of 30 plants we have in the tunnel!

Peppers are very slow ripening although there are already a good number of ripe fruits on the chilli peppers (only a mild form you Scoville Heat Scale nuts will be disappointed to learn). I am a whimp when it comes to heat so no "Scotch Bonnets" here!


Wildlife and countryside

The surest sign of the arrival of autumn is the turning of the leaves which began in the last week of the month with the native wild cherries. Acers in the garden are already turning red after a few cold nights and the sorbus "Olympic Flame" is well named for its vivid burnt orange colours.

The swallows have been massing on the wires in the last couple of days, many having raised a second brood in spite of the adverse weather conditions. House martins have been far less in evidence with just the odd birds sighted and for once, none have attempted to nest on the north facing wall of the Lodge.



There are abundant blackberries but no hazel nuts which were in short supply anyway and the few  that remained were plundered by squirrels long before they were ripe (when they haven't been eating the sweeetcorn).

The dragonflies and butterflies are gone but a few cabbage white caterpillars survived on the brassicas until I caught up with them!

On colder evenings there is a real call of the wild in the valley with foxes calling to each other at the start of the mating season, their high pitched screams piercing the night air. 



Visitors to the gardens continued until mid month and in just 4 weeks of opening for the National Gardens Scheme we raised £816 for the charities supported by the NGS. A big thank you to all those who visited us. Next year we will be opening for By Appointment visits from June to September and already have a number of dates booked including two from The Dutch RHS and one from the Dorset Group of The Hardy Plant Society. To arrange a visit in 2013 please get in touch with us. Please note that we will not be having any more Open Days.

The garden talks season has started well, not surprisingly "Autumn Colour" being the most requested talk of the four we delivered in September. There are 5 more in October before we go to North Wales for Medwyn Williams Vegetable Masterclass weekend in November.

We have had some visits of our own to gardens and nurseries far and wide, including Hidcote, Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire and Oxford University Botanic Gardens. Malvern Autumn Show was also a not to be missed outing with wonderful displays of produce in the Harvest Pavilion, a tribute to the persistence and skill of the many exhibitors. The Pavilion is the essential heart of the show for me and perfectly captures the mood and spirit of September. Alongside the vegetable competitions are displays by numerous plant societes and those by the British Streptocarpus Society took some beating.


A simply stunning plant grown from seed crossed by a member and subsequently named.  Quite unique and a shame I wasn't there on Sunday as it was for sale at the end of the Show!



And a footnote to the Malvern Autumn Show. Medwyn won another Gold Medal for his magnificient display of vegetables - it was difficult to believe it has been a very difficult year or that he was concerned about the quality of his leeks!


The entrance to Hidcote. Lawrence Johnston is often fittingly referred to as "the quiet American" but had a major influence on garden design in the first half of the 20th Century.



 The famous Red Border at Hidcote but sadly not much red in evidence - somewhat disappointing.



This lovely "theatre" at the entrance to Waterperry Gardens with a display of cut asters.



The entrance to Oxford University Botanic Gardens. What a backdrop!!



The Botanic Gardens have several glasshouses exhibiting plants from different climate zones and with the Amazonian Waterlily "Victoriae" and tropical waterlilies it is quite clear which one this is.




An imaginative display of vegetables at Malvern was worthy of its first prize in this class.



A view of the showground visitors rarely see, taken after closing time when all the crowds had gone home.