Mid-autumn is one of my favourite times of the year. By now we’ve shaken off the humid hot days of high summer and the garden starts to come alive with a new, physical, energy as winds and breezes start to pick up. Yes, I concede, there are the occasional intimations of approaching winter, but these merely serve to heighten my enjoyment of the present: make the most of it while you can. I always think of autumn as more informal than summer. It’s a time when you can sit back, say ‘Phew!’, and start clearing up the accumulating seed heads, leaves and debris. In summer, for some reason, I always religiously put my wheelbarrow and tools away in the shed at the end of the day; but not so in autumn, when somehow it seems OK to leave them out over-night – providing, that is, there’s no rain in the forecast. In autumn, I often stray away from the more formal parts of the garden and find quieter places where I can enjoy the deep shadows and once-luxuriant, but now slightly fading, plants around me. This year, with my left hip hurting so much, I’ve taken to sitting down quite a lot. In fact I sat on the seat shown in the next picture immediately after I took the photo. One or two people have been kind enough to ask if there’s any news about the hip replacement surgery. I phoned the surgeon’s secretary a month ago and she told me there were 15 people in the queue ahead of me and that I could expect to undergo surgery in early November. So that’s something.
Maisie and I are fairly conservative gardeners, inasmuch as we try not to take too many risks – especially if they involve financial expense! A few years ago we felled an old willow which wasn’t thriving and while I was able to log-up most of the branches and burn them in the house, the trunk had heartwood rot and was too much trouble to convert into firewood. So we decided to make one of the fashionable ‘stumperies’, which you can see, for example, at Highgrove or Biddulph Grange. There are even books and articles on how to construct them. But life’s too short to start ‘constructing’ a pile of old wood, so I dumped them in a heap, kicked them a few times and then stuck one or two plants in the ground around them. Over the following winter the Stumpery began to acquire a life of its own. Some wood mice took up residence, as did a hedgehog. Slugs loved the wet surfaces of the logs and the birds fed on them, covering everything with bird poo. One bird, and this was completely without our permission, poo-ed out the seed of a Formosan fuchsia (Leycesteria formosa), which promptly germinated. It was a tiny seedling, growing on the logs, last year and then, this summer, it decided to get going, and now looks splendid. We also planted a variegated ivy, which was also quite slow to start, but which loved the warm, wet summer and is now looking very decorative. I just hope it’s a variety that is frost hardy. Only time will tell.
The Stumpery aside, there is only one other set-piece mini-garden. The tiny sink garden consists of three of old stone or ceramic sinks set on a patch of paving in the Rose Garden. We’ve planted it with sundry succulents and Alpines and we stand pots around it, filled with with similar sorts of stuff. The main problem is the hardy geranium that fronts this little garden. It’s too tall, even after a good cutting-back in late summer, after the first and main flowering. We’re currently contemplating Euphorbia myrsinites, which grows very well with us, but I fear it might be a bit too vigorous. Can’t decide.
The previous three pictures were taken a few days after we opened the garden for the NGS in mid-September. It’s now approaching mid-October and the weather hasn’t improved much. It’s still quite cool, and although we haven’t yet had a frost – not even a ground frost – the grass is growing rapidly. I’m still having to mow the lawns every week and tomorrow I plan to cut the hay meadow with the farm tractor, because the grass is too long and rank to go into the winter. More to the point, it’s too long to allow the cowslips and snakes head fritillaries to flower, in the spring. The wet summer meant that the potato crop was depleted by blight, which has also hit the tomatoes, although the superb Italian cooking variety, San Marzano, doesn’t seem to be particularly prone. And we’ve had a HUGE crop! This photo shows a week’s production from the vegetable garden. The greenhouse plants were far less productive – so I don’t plan to do that again.
The large pergola, which we call the Poop or Poop Deck, at the back of the house has been bare for about ten years. Five years ago we planted a wisteria, following the success of the same plant at the front of the house. It took three years to get established, as I now realise I had planted it too close to the house wall, where growing conditions were too dry. Eventually I realised this and emptied buckets of water on its roots throughout the summer of 2014. As a reward, in 2015 it sent out two long shoots which I trained up to the top of the pergola. Then in 2016 these sent out two further shoots which I managed to tie in about half way across the great expanse of roof. Last summer (2017) I assiduously tied-in the side-shoots from the two leading shoots and despite winds and rough weather, managed to keep most of them intact. The result is quie impressive: about three quarters of the Poop roof is now covered by at least one shoot. Next year these will send out their own side-shoots and with any luck that should complete the job.
When one plant takes possession of a space, in this case the Poop roof, others have to give way. In that instance it was the later autumn-flowering Clematis maximowicziana (now called c. terniflora). We were going to remove it entirely, but at the last minute relented and cut it back severely to half-way up one of the Poop’s supporting posts. It had to be cut back three or four times over the summer, but eventually gave up trying to reconquer the roof and decided, instead, to burst into flower, which it did a week ago. I took this photo yesterday and I have to confess it’s looking much, much better than ever it did up there, high above our heads.