Writings from Wales October 2014
As last year I am writing this earlier in the month than usual to get it out of the way before the seed for the distribution starts to flood in (I hope). Seed production in our own garden has been erratic with a few rarities (Eucryphia moorei for example) producing seed for the first time but some old stalwarts (eg, Diphylleia cymosa) producing much less than usual and some (eg Cotoneaster frigidus) failing to produce any at all. I hope others are having a better season.
The apple harvest has also been relatively poor for us. Last year it was very heavy, and obviously many of the trees have decided to take a year off. We have had a few Bramleys and Howgate Wonders, but the major part of the crop this year is from Newton Wonder. Even so, there is enough to keep us in apple pies through the winter. Much better has been the pumpkin crop. Wendy and I both like pumpkin, particularly as soup, roast pumpkin and as pumpkin pie. Most of the big things available in the supermarkets which are grown for the Jack OLantern trade are tasteless and responsible for many people saying they do not like the fruit. We grow the small variety Becky which has a good flavour and comes in a more handleable size for two. They store well into March in a plant crate if kept cool but frost free. Another cucurbit that I have been very pleased with is the yellow Courgette Gold Rush. It has well flavoured firm flesh, but its great advantage for me is that it went on producing small fruit even though I failed to remove the larger, ripening ones. Thus we have had tasty small courgettes into October and some fine orange fleshed marrows ready for eating now.
At the beginning of the month we finally got some rain and the hydrangeas, which had been drooping their leaves pitifully, got a much needed drink. It is surprising how a plant that looks as though it is on deaths door can quickly rehydrate and recover. The garden is now on the path to a colourful autumn and I thought it would be good to show a few pictures of plants which show early autumn colour.
Firstly, Prunus incisia Kojo-no-mai: This was Helen Johnstones plant of the month for April this year, but it is just as glorious in October. I grow it at the back of a small raised bed which features other miniature trees such as Sorbus poterifolia and Sorbus reducta. Also in this bed are a few plants of Sternbergia lutea. We bought these bulbs from Parkers about eight years ago, and this is the first year that they have flowered..... but worth the wait.
Secondly, Nyssa sinensis: This is a relatively slow growing tree. It has taken it 13 years to get to about 18 ft, but it has made a good, upright specimen that is lovely in the autumn.
Finally, a good yellow, Betula lutea: We have a small stand of these grown from seed in 2000. They are now about 15 ft and looking good. Like sorbus, betula are easy from seed and grow quickly in their early years. Good trees for the impatient.
It being autumn, I thought I should describe the area of the garden we call The Autumn Borders, although this has become increasingly a misnomer as the years have progressed. It is an area 80 ft long by 30 ft wide, oriented N/S with a 6 ft wide grass path down the centre. It is crossed by an E/W path leading from The Park and to The Labyrinth. At this point there is a cross shaped pergola. The borders to either side are backed by beech hedges: six feet high on the east, four feet to the west. The south end is reasonably open and sunny. The north end is under two of our line of mature oaks. When we first moved in we had several seedling sorbus that needed a home, and these were planted at intervals down each side of the path. The S. cashmiriana have since died. I think the soil was too rich for them. The others, which were called hupehensis when they were planted, but have since been renamed glabriuscula, have thrived. Originally we planted the whole border for autumn interest investing in several varieties of chrysanthemum, aster and dahlia. The chrysanthemums lasted only a year, with the exception of Picasso which we eventually put into the Conservation Scheme as it was rare, hardy and really pretty. Some of the dahlias lasted longer, but we did not lift them and eventually frosts and slugs did for them. Many of the asters survived, and still contribute a little to autumn colour. The problem is that we did not stick to the autumn principle and gradually stuck things in that needed a home. The result is that the border is now a hotchpotch of plants, most too precious to dig up, but not working together in any consistent way.
In spite of this there are some nice things. The south west section has two fine stands of Cortaderia richardii which look good in all seasons. Syringa reticulata ss pekinensis Yellow Fragrance has taken a place vacated by a dead S. cashmiriana and Romneya coulteri runs around as it pleases.
The other side has a couple of good buddlejas, including a B. colvilei that we have been nurturing for years. It just seems to get to a good size when it hits a bad winter and starts all over again from the base.
The pergola houses some interesting climbers, my favourite being Aristolochia manchuriensis. This is a fully hardy dutchmans pipe with yellow flowers in the spring; a good plant to add an exotic look to a trellis or pergola.
The northern ends get increasingly shady and has been extensively colonised by an ill-advised planting of some Japanese anemones. However there are some good shrubs and a very useful, late flowering campanula relative, Hanabusaya asiatica, which runs through the woodland soil in dryish shade.
If we were garden designers we would have it all out and start again..... But it is easier, and more interesting, just to live with it.
One picture to finish with: Our tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is in flower and you may be interested to see it. We bought it out of curiosity from a local nursery 10 years ago. I planted it in the unheated polytunnel, being afraid that it would not survive outside. I had the intention of producing some tea, but on reading about the process on-line it all seemed a bit too much trouble. The plant has grown, but is not all that happy in the tunnel. I think it is too hot and dry for it in the summer. I plan to move it to a protected site outside this spring.
Text and photographs by Joe Sime of the HPS Shropshire Group.