Flowers into Autumn…

Now that the weather is turning colder, and the days becoming shorter, many of the plants we rely on for summer colour have finished flowering. But there are many perennials that flower late, allowing us to extend the season well into autumn. Asters, for instance, will have been inconspicuous in the borders as steadily growing clumps of dark green foliage, but now, they are bursting into bloom…

You may know that most of the asters we grow in our gardens were recently renamed by botanists as Symphyotrichum (I’m sure they don’t deliberately make our lives more difficult!) Another familiar garden plant that was renamed recently, and which flowers at this time of year, is sedum (now Hylotelephium)…

This is a dark-leaved variety called ‘Xenox’. Being relatively low growing, sedums (sorry; Hylotelephiums!) work well towards the front of the border. They are succulents, so quite drought-resistant, and the small, pink flowers are a magnet for bees (though not when I took this photo!)

At around eight or nine feet tall (depending on the variety) a plant you wouldn’t put at the front of the border is perennial sunflower…

While the annual sunflowers that children delight in growing from seed (especially the really tall varieties) will for the most part have finished now, perennial sunflowers are only just starting. Their blooms are smaller and less showy than their annual cousins (both are varieties of Helianthus), but they are a welcome ray of sunshine on a dull autumn day. And the flowers look great, and are long-lasting, in a vase. Just one note of caution – perennial sunflowers tend to send out rhizomes in all directions, so you’ll need to dig around the clump regularly, otherwise it’s likely to take over your whole garden!

There are many more perennials that provide a splash of colour at this time of year. Rudbeckia, for instance (this is Rudbeckia fulgida var. ‘Goldsturm’)…

Japanese anemones, or windflowers (in this case Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’)…

Hesperantha coccinea (previously Schizostylis coccinea!)…

And this is Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’. The flowers are pretty, if a lot more restrained than some of the previous examples, and have a very sweet fragrance. It’s a useful plant, because it’s happy in some shade…

And the list goes on! The message is that with a little thought, it’s possible to design a garden that will give you flowers and scent, and provide for wildlife, all year round.

text & images © graham wright 2021
NOTE: this post also appears on the blog for my new garden design company Strelitzia Garden Design

Lovell Quinta Arboretum

It’s been a difficult year. For too long we’ve all been trapped; unable to visit the places we love, and those we’d love to discover. When Autumn arrived, and having missed out on so many garden visits, I was looking for somewhere to see some autumn colour. A web search suggested the nearest arboretum to where I live (about an hour away) was the Lovell Quinta arboretum in Swettenham, Cheshire. It’s just down the road from Jodrell Bank – the arboretum was created by Sir Bernhard Lovell, who was also responsible for the Lovell telescope at Jodrell bank.

The Lime Avenue

The arboretum entrance is beside the Swettenham Arms pub, in the little village of Swettenham, and after somewhat longer than an hours drive, it would have been rude not to pop in for a socially distanced coffee and desert. Refreshed and ready to go, we (Mrs Pullingweeds and myself) headed for the trees. The entrance fee is £2.50 with an honesty box at the entrance. It’s free to RHS members, but I felt they were underselling themselves, so we put a fiver in.

Our visit was perhaps a little early to catch the very best of the autumn colour, but there was still a lot to see. They had a Taxodium distichum (Swamp Cypress) planted as a focal point behind the lake…

Taxodiums are, as the common name suggests, one of the few trees that will flourish in waterlogged soil. They are deciduous, and produce good autumn tints. The lake looked somewhat scruffy, with a low water level, but that’s because it’s managed for wildlife.

The arboretum has an impressive avenue of Lime trees, from which pale yellow confetti was falling at a slow but steady rate…

This old oak had a hollow trunk, and exposed wood showing intricate patterns…

The arboretum has an astonishing range of trees, with those of different types arranged together. It holds national collections of Fraxinus (Ash) and Pinus (Pine). I was interested to see a little grove of Dawyck beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’, ‘Dawyck Gold’ & ‘Dawyck Purple’. Last winter I planted two of these in our garden; one each of ‘Dawyck’ and ‘Dawyck Purple’. You would need a very large garden to accommodate two standard beech trees, but the Dawyck varieties are tall, columnar trees. They give you the height and grandeur of a large tree, but only spreading to a width of around 2.5m to 5m, depending on who you believe (and perhaps it may depend on the individual specimen – trees of the same variety are not identical; they’re all individuals, with their own character).

I loved this combination of Eucalyptus (I can’t remember the variety) with the finely cut leaves of a rowan (I think this one is Sorbus commixta ‘Embley’). With the blue sky in the background it could almost be Australia…

I said we were there before many of the trees had reached their autumn peak, but our timing couldn’t have been better for this deciduous euonymus (Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’)…

There are longer walks leading out from the arboretum, with some great views out over the Cheshire countryside, and of an impressive brick viaduct. Being limited for time (when are we never not limited for time!) we didn’t head out too far. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the arboretum, admiring the diverse beauty of all those trees, enjoying the peace and quiet. It’s a place that I’m sure we’ll b going back to this year (lockdowns allowing).

I was very restrained when it came to taking photographs – I probably could have taken more, but hopefully the ones here will act as a teasing preview that will encourage you to take a look yourself, should you find yourself anywhere near. It’s a Lovelly day out! Ouch! Bad, I know, but it had to be done ;¬]

text & images ©Graham Wright 2020

Stars of the Autumn Border

By this time of year, so many of our flowering plants have done their thing and are in various stages of decay – some more decorous than others. In autumn we rely on the turning leaves to provide colour and interest in our gardens. But there are some flowering plants that are at their peak now. One of these is the plant we know as sedum.[1.]
A dark-leaved sedum, sold as an unnamed variety, but which is probably ‘Xenox’).

A closer view, showing the intense colours of leaf and flower.

Another Autumn favourite is the aster, or Michaelmas daisy. The one below was actually taken last month at Picton Garden, near Malvern, which holds the national collection of autumn flowering Michaelmas daisies. Continue reading

Is it autumn already?

With leaves changing colour all around us there’s no chance of pretending autumn isn’t on its way. All we can do is to embrace the season and enjoy the show. What’s your favourite plant for autumn colour?

Parthenossisus cinquefolia (Virginia Creeper) is early to colour up.

It’s been an unusual growing year. It began with an apparently very early spring, which turned out not to be spring at all; just a mild spell in winter. The cold and the snow that followed was harsher than anyone would have expected and the winter, far from ending early, dragged on.
Continue reading

Autumn Gardening Tasks

It’s come round to the time of year when the lawn mower morphs from a tool for cutting grass, into a vacuum cleaner for fallen leaves.

Autumn seems to have pounced on us this year. I can trace it back to a day about a week and a half ago, when the air took on a chill, and the heavy dew on the grass lasted the whole day. The trees seemed to start turning in an instant response, with leaves colouring up and beginning to fall.

By then, the asters were barely into bud, but the sudden change seemed to kick them into action, and they’re now fully out and looking good. Asters are pretty much the last summer perennials to flower. When everything else is going over, their leaves are fresh and vital, their intricate daisy flowers in purples, blues, pinks and white, are pristine and vibrant – oases of shining beauty among a sea of decay. If you want to extend your garden’s flowering season into the autumn, you can’t do better than to plant some asters.(1)

Aster novi-belgii ‘Audrey’ – for the bad news, see note (1)

We typically think of autumn as a time of tidying and clearing up – clearing leaves, cutting back dead foliage and flower stems on perennials, pulling up spent bedding plants, taking out tomatoes and cleaning the greenhouse. But it’s also a busy time for more creative tasks. Now is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs, in pots and in the ground. Daffodils need to be planted as soon as possible, but most tulips can wait until November – in fact it’s best not to put them in the open ground until then, particularly if you have heavy soil. It’s a good idea to cover bulbs with wire mesh to stop rodents digging them up (easier to do with pots than for those planted directly into the ground).

Now is a good time to divide many perennials, although some people prefer to wait until the spring to do this, as there’s a danger that the reset plants could be killed by the cold weather. On the other hand, doing it now gives them a chance to establish a good root system, so they’re ready to get growing in the spring. And it’s easier to see what you’re dividing at this time of year, because by the end of the winter, perennials often don’t have much showing above ground.
Aster novi-belgii ‘Climax’ – again, see note (1)

And of course, autumn is a great time to plant roses, as well as most other shrubs, and trees. The soil is still warm (even if the weather isn’t) and reliably moist, giving them a chance to develop their root system so that, as for the perennials, they’re ready to start into growth the following spring. And woody plants can be bought bare-rooted, which is much cheaper than buying potted specimens – particularly relevant if you have a lot of plants to put in (say, for a deciduous hedge).

When it comes to the autumn clearing up, there are decisions to be made. Ideally, fallen leaves can be collected up and made into leaf mould. If you’ve got a lot of leaves, you can make a leaf mould bin by wrapping wire mesh around four wooden posts set out in a square. If you don’t have enough leaves for this, or anywhere to put it, you can fill a black plastic bag with leaves, tie it up, put a few holes in it with a garden fork, and leave it somewhere out of sight. Either way, you should have leaf mould by this time next year.

However, for some plants that are diseased, such as roses with black spot, apples with scab ,or quince with leaf blight, experts suggest collecting the leaves and burning them. The theory is that if you compost them, the spores of the disease may survive and re-infect the plant the following year. The problem comes where your leaves have blown about and intermingled – you can hardly sort them one by one!

The other decision is whether or not to cut back the dead foliage of perennials. Some people can’t bear to see them making the garden look untidy over the winter. Others think that they can look attractive, particularly when the frost is on them, or when they’re backlit by the winter sun. And they do provide homes for insect wildlife to spend the winter. Personally, I tend to wait until the spring to cut back the dead growth.
Canna Neubert, taken only a few days ago – who said the summer was over

(1) In what appears to be an ongoing scheme to make our lives difficult, botanists have recently re-classified some (but not all) asters, and given them the new name ‘Symphyotrichum’. Maybe they’re jealous of our ability to speak horticultural latin. Or perhaps they’re just trying to justify their own existence. It seems to be the later flowering novi-belgii group that have been renamed.

Words and pictures copyright Graham Wright 2017

If Trees Could Talk…

We’re not long into September, and I’d like to think it’s still summer, if only just. But it seems that many of the trees think otherwise. I can’t help feeling a little antagonistic towards them. It’s as if they’re trying to deprive me of what little summer is left; as if they somehow know there isn’t any more good weather to come, so they might as well get on with the autumn business of dropping their leaves. I have an instinctive sense that trees are wise, but in this case it may be less about being in touch with the rhythm of the seasons, and more about giving up regardless. If trees could talk, they’d be saying ‘we’ve had enough!’

My Quince Tree (Cydonia oblonga ‘Vranja’) has suffered a lot this year. In spring, its freshly emerged leaves were ripped to shreds by strong winds. Likewise its second growth. It’s lived through prolonged drought, excessive rain, vastly fluctuating temperatures, and now a long period of dull, humid weather. And now it’s losing its leaves at an alarming rate. Continue reading