A celebration of early autumn

Monday, October 3, 2016

What would life be without the 4 seasons? Vivaldi thought they were so special that in the 17th Century he wrote one of the most popular pieces of music ever about them.  We are so lucky in this country that we have defineable seasons which shape our lives throughout the year. Our gardens too reflect the seasons with a wide range of plants that have evolved to cope with the extremes of the weather and to provide interest in all but the coldest of winters. The seasons do of course vary from year to year especially with the impact of climate change, but this  year September has been a very traditional one in this part of Wales. Masses of flowers that we always associate with early autumn are at their best now with the promise of yet more to come in October, frost permitting.

3 stalwarts of early autumn that need no introduction from me






Trees starting to show autumn colour, ripe apples falling to the ground, cobwebs laced with dew, owls hooting at dusk - a magical sound across the valley, the nights noticeably drawing in, preceded by that low soft light which epitomises the month.


 Strange in such a moist month that there are few funghi in the nearby fields. but this lovely parasol mushroom was found recently at the side of our lane


 A collection of pumpkins and squashes  from the walled garden at Penpont a country estate near Brecon. More on this next month.



With my health condition (which is still stable I am pleased to say) the good start to autumn seems more precious than ever as I look forward to a very slow march towards winter. 



A mixed bag with some hot days and some very wet and windy weather. A feature has been the incredibly mild nights with night time temperatures often exceeding the average daytime max for September. Fortunately this year there have  been no early frosts which can often be a problem and create a lot more work in having to cover the more tender plants with fleece.




15 days with rain, 8 completely dry sunny days and the rest a mix of sun and showers. Min 5C on 22nd and 4 other nights below 10C. Max 25C on 7th and 3 other days over 20C. Max overnight temperature 18.4C on 7th


Garden update

Plenty of good things to enjoy with all the late perennials putting on a good show, although the rain has been a bit too heavy at times for some members of the daisy tribe. Staking is essential for the taller asters, sanguisorbas and aconitums.Lower growing plants too sometimes need a litle helping hand either from stakes or more upright border companions.

Red dahlias are the mainstays of this border with dark leaved shrubs and sedums


 The Paddock Garden shade border with tall white sanguisorbas (staked to within an inch of their lives!)


 Helianthus "Lemon Queen" and aconitum carmichaelii lift the Picket Fence border at the entrance to the Lodge


Hardy fuchsias tumbling over the other end of the Picket Fence. They have really enjoyed the mild moist conditions. 



  Impatiens omiaena acting as support for colchicum "The Giant". Both shade lovers they complement each other very well. When the colchicum flowers fade the yellow flowers of the impatiens take over.


There are many aspects to consider when designing and planting borders chief of which are pleasing colour combinations, form and habit, ( flow and harmony as Gertrude Jekyll succinctly put it), planting for continuity and refreshing the border as necessary with annuals, bulbs and later flowering tender perennials such as salvias. The border also needs to be maintained with regular dead heading to encourage more flowers, cutting back of spent flower stems, weeding and keeping a good straight edge on any lawn adjoining the border. All this should ensure a good late show to rival anything that summer  can offer.

3 Views of the same border taken from different angles creating different perspectives





The heavy rain on and off during the month made it difficult at times to keep on top of all the necessary garden tasks but I have managed to make a final cut to all the hedges and to scarify the lawns which now need to be top dressed with sand and grass seed to establish before winter.

I finally braved the colder waters of the Paddock Pond to remove the excess pond weed that had all but choked the pond just 4 months after I last cleared it and it is good to see clear expanses of water again and to better see the large populations of fish.

Veggies have given us a good range of quailty produce, especially pleasing as I started sowing and planting in late April.  Our third sowing of runner beans ("White Lady") have cropped better than the 2 previous ones, and courgettes  have been very productive with no cold weather to slow them down. Successive sowings of mixed salad leaves have been well judged this year so that we have a good selection for picking now and some late sowings still bulking up.

Tomatoes "Rosada" mini plum and "Gourmet" the best flavoured standard size in my opinion and why else would you grow them?


The star vegetable however is the sweetcorn with large cobs on all 65 plants (about half of which have now been eaten! - such an uncomparable taste of  creamy sweetness). The rain has produced well filled cobs of juicy corn. I always use the variety called "Swift" which is ideal for climates like ours and is very early to crop. I make 2 sowings in 9cm pots  under protection starting in the middle of April with a second in the first week of May to spread the cropping time non stop from August to October.







It wouldn't be gardening however if there was not a problem sooner or later and this year the pesky pests have done their best to drive me up the wall. We have been plagued with whitefly both in the tunnels and outside (especially on the courgettes). Although I have used a variety of sprays nothing has knocked them out. Red spider mite has defoliated a range of plants in the tunnels including brugmansias, salvias, dahlias and passifloras and hitched a lift on them to other nearby plants like tender bananas. There is not much available to amateur gardeners and the only hope if you can introduce them early enough, is to use biological controls. Another pest which has had a longer season than usual is the capsid bug which affects a wide range of outdoor plants  (in particular dahlias, fuchsias, brugmansias, impatiens and hydrangeas) They fall onto  them from overhead trees or shrubs and even now I am noticing new signs of infestation. You can at least us sprays which are readily available from garden centres etc. 

Even outdoors this sad looking brugmansia is riddled with red spider and capsids



Natural ageing on many hostas is always evident at this time of year as in this hosta "Yellow River"



But some like "Krossa Regal" still look good except for the slug damage which has been a major problem this year year on a wide variety of plants.



What's looking good?

A wide range of mighty impressive plants that draw you in with their structure and vibrant colours. This is their moment and they make sure that you will notice them!

Fascicular bicolour is a half hardy bromeliad which in a sheltered, well drained position is a half hardy bromeliad but ours stay in pots to bring out in September and placed in a prominant position where they can be admired. Superb leaf and flower colours.

Fascicularia bicolour



The last of the kniphofias to flower is "Rooperi" with many roundish flowers to 5 feet into October. Here with a background of fennel



Less conspicuous than the kniphofia but nevertheless making quite a statement in part shade, is the wood aster, a. divaricatus which makes clumps with masses of long flowering, white flowers that blend into the gravel path it tumbles over.



Cool and sophisticated white Japanese anemones with seed heads of veronicastrum "Fascination" Seed heads if not cut back can continue to provide interest in the border well into late autumn. If they are prone to vigorous self seeding however, they  are best cut back. None are worse in my experience than all forms of echinops, the so called globe thistle.



Of course nothing surpasses the massed effect of tall asters nova angliae and nova belgii which following a re-naming within the genus we must now call symphiotrichum. Perhaps we should go back to calling them "Michaelmas daisies" which tells you all you need to know!!

We have some nice ones here but having visited  the National Collection at Old Court Nuseries last week, I think theirs look even better than ours!!



Having grown from seed this interesting spider form of daylily. I can vouch for its provenance which came to me from The American Hemerocallis Society. It is the latest flowering form I have ever encountered



My best new plant in 2016 came from a Wyevale Garden Centre - a  most unlikely source of an unusual or rare plant. Only a couple of nurseries in the UK stock it and it is a beauty. Ageratum pedataum is a  half hardy? perennial that has quickly made a clump 2 feet wide and almost as tall, plastered with china blue flowers and is a favourite of butterflies. It has not been out of flower since May and if anything is getting even better. Sun and good drainage essential.


But when you look more closely there are also many unsung heroes doing their stuff as underplantings, many of which are their best now. I always used to encourage visitors to look deeply into the borders as they are packed with treasures waiting to be discovered. It is also important to look upwards too at the shrubs, some of which are adorned with climbers including late clematis, eccremocarpos scaber, dicentra macrocapanos, honeysuckles and a few others that aren't true climbers but use their border companions to elbow their way up to 5 feet tall.

Begonia grandis evansiana  backlit with late evening sunshine - no flowers needed to make an impact!



And a newish and rare form of b. evansiana  "Snowpop". All this group need shade and some moisture to show their full potential.


 Like many shade lovers actaea rubra alba  sits quietly in the background with insignificant white flowers in late spring and then suddenly in eary autumn it produces these fabulous berries on long stems up to 3 feet. There is also a red berried form.


 Late arrivals are always welcome and nymphea "Texas Dawn" with scented flowers  sent up its first flower after being planted in the Paddock Pond 2 years ago.


 Another welcome late arrival is an unusual perennial to 5 feet in part shade, strobilanthes rankanensis, with its strange hooded flowers. Note too at the front one of several flowers of geranium "Salome" hitching a lift rather than creeping across the ground which is its usual habit


Trycyrtis (or the so called Toad Lilies) are underrated stalwarts of autumn for a moist, part shady spot and will reward you with long lasting exotic looking flowers in a variety of colours. They like to lean gently on their neighbours for support or to trail along the ground.


 Cautleya spicata in shade with orange yellow flowers in summer, later on produce lovely grey blue berries formed in the faded red flower bracts, This is the first time this plant has produced any berries.


 One perfect rose in autumn is worth 20 in high summer. This one from the Delbard nursery in France is an unusual lilac shade and like all roses from this nursery, has strong stems with black spot free leaves and a good repeat. Strong scent too - what more could you ask?


Plants which look good from May to October are really valuable and include  artemesias in variety, which with their strong silver foliage, make a big contribution to the borders, going well into autumn and intergrating beautifully with anything that you plant them with. Astrantias too with a little break at the end of July. have a second flush in August until early October and are totally trouble free and long lived. And where would with be without many forms of geraniums and violas and their seemingly never ending flowers.

Artemesias with roses and salvias


A genus that does exceptionally well here is impatiens, otherwise known as balsams, "touch me nots" or busy lizzies. Thriving in our moist climate and in partial shade, they are as long flowering as any other plants in the garden. They have proved to be remarkably hardy although a few do need the protection of a winter mulch. Although there are many species and  cultivars, many are tender or not readily available in the UK. We have so far amassed a total of 16 and are always on the look out for new ones for the collection. 

Impatiens flanaganae a tuberous form to 3 feet may need a winter mulch


 Imatiens stenantha a rare and very hardy form that needs plenty of shade and soil that does not dry out. Good leaf colour and highly floriferous from May until the frosts.


 Impatiens arguta totally bomb proof and long fowering with puce flowers over a long period. The white form is nicer in  my opinion


 The only annual in this gallery is impatiens scabrida a rather impressive form to 2 feet with large yellow flowers over a very long period. Will seed around but easy to control if you want to.


 Impatiens puberula has a lovely exotic looking flower on a somewhat weedy plant but flowers patchily (is that a word?!) over a long period but is surpringly hardy for such a delicate looking plant. A collectors item.


 And if you want an impatiens to turn your world upside down then look no further than Himalayan balsam (impatiens glandulifera).  A very vigorous balsam now overtaking large swathes of the UK especially alongside streams as in this pic of a huge drift in a garden not far from us. If you let this get a hold in your garden you will never get rid of it. Sad because it is a gorgeous flower in a range of colours.


Wildlife and countryside

There is just one item that overshadows all the other news. I lived in Gloucestershire until I was 28 and in the latter years of my time there was painfully aware of the impact of Dutch elm disease, spead by a beetle, on the majority of the elms that were the most widespread field and hedgerow trees. Whole landscapes changed in just a few years from the late 1960's and although there has been some regeneration the impact of the disease is still painfully obvious.

I had hoped I would never again see in my lifetime, similar devastation to our native trees, but sadly this summer I have witnessed in this part of Wales, from a disease commonly known as ash dieback,  the demise of many ash trees which along with oak are the main indigenous trees here. I had observed symptoms over the last 2 years  with leaves dropping earlier than normal and ash keys (seed pods) staying on the trees well into the following year.  It is so sad to see  trees of all ages from saplings to majectic 200 year old trees succumb to this fungal disease for which there is no cure. Some people are hopeful that the trees may come back next year but all the indications are that this will not be the case. Carmarthenshire is one of the worst affected areas of Wales but other areas of the UK especially along the east coast are badly affected too. For more information and maps of infected areas go to www.forestry.gov.uk/ashdieback






 The corvid tribe of birds (crows, jackdaws, magpies etc) are making a takeover bid and are a confounded nuisance with no natural predator apart from the odd peregrine or goshawk. In a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock film this is just a section of them on a telephone wire at twilight - cue suitable menacing music!! Be very afraid!!



On a brighter note we have at last seen a few more butterflies and other flying insects including a few of the larger dragonflies. With lots of insect friendly plants to choose from it is interesting that the large headed sedums attract less butterflies than aster frikartii "Monch" which seems seems to be a special favourite of "Tortoiseshells", and that hive bees prefer the sedums.





It is "tupping time" for sheep with the rams busy all day long (no pictures so as not to offend those with a delicate constitution!). Because of the poor weather the grass harvest was much delayed which made it difficult for some of our neighbouring farmers to find enough grazing for their stock. so we had the unusual sight in fields across the road from us of large numbers of cattle making the most of what available grass there was.


 Daisy and Dorothy were very proud of their earrings until they realised everyone was wearing them!


And finally I am pleased to say that the mole problem we had last month has been resolved - it is amazing how much earth one small mole can move!



With new central heating being fitted this month and many essential garden tasks to do and log splitting, there has not been time to get out and about so there was just time for the annual pilgrimage to Malvern for the Autumn Show which as always was the best of British and the joys of autumn in all its many guises - plants, fruit and vegetables, animals of all kinds, shopping and food, old vehicles and vintage collections. The highlight for Moira was a guest appearance of Anton du Beke from "Strictly Come Dancing" which, with what seemed like thousands of others, she thoroughly enjoyed. if you had told me I would have spent an hour watching his engaging and good natured dancing masterclass I would never have believed you! Especially when there were lots of plant stalls to explore!!














On the way home however we made up for that with a visit to Old Court Nurseries in Colwall and the magnificient National Collection of asters they hold. The superb gardens have been augmented with an extended shade area and some outstanding ferns and other treasures. Well worth a trip and lots of asters for sale you can't buy anywhere else.







Autumn colour next month - always something to which to look forward. Enjoyo as we say in Wales!