I have been reading that the Autumn colours this year should be lovely, following an unusually warm September and the coming month will provide an opportunity to get out into the gardens to experience these first hand.
One of the most spectacular displays may be at Stourhead in Wiltshire, where exotic species such as tulip and katsura trees stand alongside natives such as oak, beech and birch. Tom Hill, who looks after sites at Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey and Petworth Park in West Sussex, says he can already see the colours beginning to change. And it isn’t just the colour of the trees. At Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland, the assistant head gardener, Oliver Johnson, says he loves the light at this time of year.
Living as we do, on the edge of Kent, within fairly easy reach of a number of lovely gardens, it might be worth taking advantage of our privileged location. With the evenings already drawing in and with the potential of further localised lockdowns due to coronavirus, taking the time to notice nature and to take in the colourful landscapes that we can see at this time of year seems more important than ever.
Simon Toomer, a plant specialist at the National Trust, says that “The particular dusky, heavy scent of autumn and the sounds of crisp leaves crunching under foot, will all serve to help our wellbeing through the next few colder, darker months.”
In his gardening column, Allan Jenkins has recently written about the colours he is using in his garden this summer, which he calls ‘candy colours’. He describes petunias and pelargoniums brightly clashing. ‘In these fearful, difficult days it seems I am cheered by childish colours’. By contrast, a friend has said that she is using a lot of white in her garden this summer, which she feels is calming in these uncertain times. I too am using a lot of pastels this summer, mainly in pots, as later in the year the dahlias will be providing bright splashes of colour.
Colour is a funny thing as I have written before. Dahlias were considered ‘vulgar’ by some people at one time, but are enjoying a renaissance as they are promoted by Monty Don, Sarah Raven and of course Christopher Lloyd and Fergus Garrett who have been using them to great effect at Great Dixter for many years. Nothing can match that eye-popping brightness of these fabulous plants. CABAHS members, Alex and Joe had some lovely colour clashes in their front garden last year!
But this year, for me, a limited palette will suit. I remember one year at the Chelsea Flower Show the overwhelming impression from a large number of the show gardens was that green was the dominant colour. It was remarkably soothing.
With many of us working from home, keeping a distance or self isolating, plant catalogues and planning your garden are a welcome way of passing the time.
I already have a few dahlias in my garden, but have just ordered a few more: Ambition, Blue Bayou, Leila Savannah Rose and Tartan. You may think that is an odd mix of colours, but I already have good selection including Waltzing Mathilda, Café au Lait, and Labyrinth, to name a few. I figured the new additions would complement the existing collection. There used to be a view that they were rather vulgar in a showy kind of way, but there is nothing quite like a dahlia for superb saturated summer colour!
Colour is a funny thing! As ‘fillers’ a few years ago I bought some diascia plants, which, if you were feeling generous you might describe as apricot in colour. My daughter considers them the colour of Elastoplast! I have left them outside in their pots each winter, but they come back every year, much to her disgust! They are ridiculously tough and I am not very good at getting rid of plants.
I sow a few Cosmos each year, which work equally well as cut flowers. This year I have seedlings of Purity, Candy Stripe and Antiquity coming through. There is not really a lot of room in my borders for anything less robust! A lot of summer colour has to go into the pots. Gazanias have successfully over-wintered outside for the third year in a row. My mother loved these and I continue to grow for her. I am hoping that the begonias I bought from Alec and Joe last year will return. As a contingency plan I have also ordered some Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. All the pelargoniums have successfully over-wintered and I am currently trimming these back and making cuttings. Last year, I bought two beautiful Coleus plants, aptly named King Kong as they were absolutely huge. I was hoping I would be able to over-winter these in the greenhouse, but sadly they are looking pretty dead at the moment. Spring is definitely a time for surveying your losses and triumphs.