Autumn rages against the dying of the light

Sunday, October 28, 2012


A vibrant and enjoyable month full of colour from a wide range of plants. Leaf colour on trees and shrubs came almost overnight from the end of September onwards but it seemed that almost as soon as they coloured the leaves dropped - no long lingering autumn there!!  Unlike the border plants with dahlias, salvias, later flowering knipfofias especially k. rooperi and a range of annuals still belting it out in an impessive show of defiance to the approaching winter.


Evening sunlight on larch trees - our view to the north from Cilgwyn Lodge


There were a few nervous moments when the thermometer plunged to around freezing on several nights mid month but with some emergency covering of more tender plants with horticultural fleece, no damage was done. Just as I was thinking that we would get through October without a real frost Last Friday night put paid to that and by Saturday morning the colour show was brought to an abrubt end. In such an abysmal summer it was even sadder to see it go than usual - you always want it to go on for ever - just like life itself! Dylan Thomas got it right .. "rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light"


Red hot pokers living up to their name. Kniphofia rooperi the latest form we grow which does take a degree or so of frost




A mixed month with some strong winds, heavy rain (nothing new there!) sunshine and some surprisingly warm days and nights.  Good weather for growth. Max 17C  min -2C


Garden update

It's the time of the year with less to do that you can enjoy the garden more. There is no doubt that planting with autumn in mind pays dividends; dahlias, asters, crocosmias and sedums to name just a few are border stalwarts for this time of year but tender salvias are something relatively new  and a range of annuals especially cosmos, late sown nicotianas and rudbeckias really raise the colour threshold. I wish I could grow nerines well because their sugary pink confection in mass is a sight to behold.


Just a few miles away from us  is a cottage garden which year after year has a fantastic show of nerine bowdenii - the owner told me they thrive on neglect. Obvioulsy I must be trying too hard!




Back at Cilgwyn a good stand of late flowering nicotiana silvestris from seed sown in early April. Still a good scent on warmer days and proving reasonably frost resistant


It's also time to consider the composition of flower borders and to remove clumps that have become too large or are starting to go back. Autumn is a good time to split herbaceous plants. There is no doubt that at Cilgwyn if we don't address planting in the borders, they start to look stale. Removing and splitting herbaceous plants at this time of year gives them a chance to establish themselves in pots for sale next year or in new locations elsewhere in the gardens.

In the last few days days I have been giving the lawns a major scarifying to clear the masses of thatch that has built up during the summer. They look a bit sorry for themselves at present but with a good feeding with autumn lawn fertiliser they should look fine by next spring.


The Padddock Garden lawn the day after the scarifying


As far as vegetables are concerned this year, the only hope we have is to look forward! Our own veggies won't get us through the winter as they did last year. It has continued to be the most difficult year with poor growth, weeds, slugs, rabbits and cabbage white caterpillars causing havoc. If it wasn't for the brassicas I would be desperate. There were some other positives too: celeriac is the biggest I have ever had and celery has enjoyed all the rain and is tender and virtually stringless - that is quite and achievement for me as I believe that good celery is the hardest vegetable to grow well. We harvested our last runner beans "Stenner strain" on 19 October and are still cropping a few courgettes from heavily protected outdoor plants.


What's looking good?

Raspberries have flourished in the wet cool weather which has produced a good crop over a long period. "Autumn Bliss", a good old fashioned late season cultivar with a strong flavour has provided berries almost continuously from late June to date. It achieves this by flowering firstly on last years wood during summer, then on this years wood into the autumn. Very good value if you only have a small space. Only the varieties classed as primo canes can do this, but I have to say that the flavour in my opinion is not as sublime as the summer flowering forms.

There are some good late clematis still in flower, the star of the show being clematis viticella "Blue Belle" a vigorous and very reliable form with a 2 - 3 month flowering period. We also have the last flowers on c. rehderiana, and flowering for the first time with small greenish yellow flowers, c. tibetana ssp vernayii, a member of the tangutica group, the so called "orange peel" clematis.


Clematis viticella "Blue Belle" on 23 October




Clematis rehdereana seed heads and the last few flowers. A big plant that will easily spread to 15 feet in a few years



The rudbeckia show continues untroubled by all the weather, fantastic value for a few packets of seed; they are anuuals but have all the ruggedness and sense of permanence of a perennial. The latest to flower has been a vibrant orange/yellow with a deep magenta centre the name of which has escaped me!!


The mystery rudbeckia



The Red Border in the lower light of a sun filled afternoon looks more ethereal than in high summer, with dahlia "Wittemans Best" a wonderful semi cactus bright red showing up well in the front of the border, a planting decision I made in the spring to bring the colour up closer. Ocasionally it pays to move away from the conventional border design of short plants at the front and tall plants at the backand a few taller ones brought forward can make a big impact but I am not thinking any time soon of putting short ones at the back!


The Red Border showing dahila "Wittemans Best" at the front of the border and the mellow late sunshine


Aconitums are familiar plants for autumn colour usually in good shades of deep blue. A more muted alternative but a very interesting and attractive colour break in light lavender can found in aconitum carmichaellii Wilsonii group to around 4 feet tall. It is usually about 50% true from seed.


Wildlife and countryside

A few fieldfares spotted in last week or so but not the mass arrivals with their cousins the redwings we often get at this time of year. I was saddened to read recently that because of high winds and fog many may have perished at sea on their journeys to the UK from Scandinavia and Russia where they spend the summer.

There are a lot more jays around this year, colourful birds with a raucous call. The corvids (crow family") are much in evidence with crows, magpies, jackdaws, and ravens a common sight.

A couple of months ago I wrote about the sun bathing blackbird on the Paddock Lawn. I should have known better to put a human interpretation on animal behaviour. Earlier this month all was revealed: the blackbirds had mites or fleas and their plumage was in poor condition and by spreading themselves on the grass they were giving ants the chance to devour the pests.

The rams have been busy this last couple of weeks and one of my favourite breeds the texels are doing their stuff in the Park which adjoins Cilgwyn Lodge.


Meet one of our neighbours - the 2 legged kind are much better looking!




Talks at 5 clubs this month with some very lively and well attended meetings. I appreciate all the feedback I have received from club members. "Growing Vegetables" and "Autumn Colour" are currently the most requested topics. 

Excitement is mounting as we are getting closer to our trip to North Wales for Medwyn Williams "Vegetable Masterclass Weekend" at Llanberis between 9 and 11 November. I never thought I would be asked to speak at such a presitigous event and although somewhat apprehensive I am looking forward to it immensely and to listening to the fantastic range of other speakers who will be appearing. Hopefully some pics. next month and a full report.

It wouldn't be October without a visit to Hergest Croft Gardens, Kington, Herefordshire for the annual Plant Fair. A good range of stalls but a lower attendance than usual even though the weather was superb. Nevertheless a lot of plant buying was in evidence and the event was lifted by the presence of Roy Lancaster and other luminaries from the RHS including the current President whose family own the Gardens. A must see garden, it is open from Easter to the end of October. Make a note in your new diaries to visit next year. You won't be disappointed.


Hergest Croft sits comfortably in its 40 acres of gardens and arboretum



The Plant Fair at Hergest in full swing



One last garden outing closer to home to The National Botanic Garden of Wales with so much to see in the shorter opening hours for winter - The Double Walled Garden looking superb with fine stands of hedychiums (gingers) in several forms. The Tropical House has matured very well in the last few years. This, with the iconic Great Glasshouse housing collections from Mediterranean climates around the world, make it worth a visit at any time of the year (and it is only closed on Christmas Day!!)


 The Great Glasshouse and surrounding parkland



A fine stand of hedychium densiflorum a reliably hardy ginger in the Double Walled Garden