Growing plants, comparing plants, writing about plants.
The world of plants is vast and can be daunting, but the pleasure of gardening is in learning what works; for you, for your garden and for the natural world around you. There’s no right or wrong, no better or worse, you’re free to decide for yourself what to grow.
Join me in an exploration of plants. I’ll be making visits to different gardens, nurseries, trade and public plant shows throughout the year, where I’ll be looking at the plants being grown and sold so that I can share ideas that you might want to try in your own garden. I’ll also be writing about vegetable growing on my allotment, and I’ll be taking a look at some of the many new plant introductions that come onto the market.
October and November
I hope I’m not the only one who felt they’d been taken by surprise by the onset of autumn. After that long, hot and very dry summer I somehow expected September to be more of the same and was a bit disappointed to find it turned into a damp squib. Yes, we needed the rain but sunny Septembers have become the norm in recent years so I had an expectation of mellow, warm days rather than the chilliness and cloud we got. I have to admit it was great for the garden, though. You could almost hear the sigh of relief from the grass as it greened up and the plants as they plumped up and had a late growth spurt.
Driving to the garden centre recently to buy some peat free compost for late veg and potting up bulbs, I was struck by how much colour there is now. During the summer there was a suspicion that this would be a dull autumn as the trees were too stressed and had already dropped a lot of leaves, but the cooler conditions and rain in September has given them enough of a boost and we do seem to be getting a good display after all.
To prove my point, here are some recent pictures I took at Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge
And let’s face it, it wouldn’t be autumn without dahlias. Which Anglesey Abbey also have plenty of – here are a few.
If you like a bit of sky with your garden, RHS Hyde Hall in Essex is the place to be. At this time of year the muddy hues of fading grasses and perennials act as the perfect foil for vibrant tree colours.
What have we learnt from the hot summer
Well, a hot dry summer certainly leads to fewer fungal diseases. The roses at home and on both the rose trials I’ve been assessing this year were remarkably free of black spot until the rain started to fall in September and both potatoes and tomatoes were free from blight (plus I found none of the tomato skins split until the temperatures cooled in September).
Watering plants takes forever and gets boring very quickly, but you feel less guilty when you start to re-use washing up water and shower water – yes I really did stand in a plastic tub when I took a shower so I could use the water on the garden.
Many plants we grow without thinking in a ‘normal’ year don’t like dry weather. Japanese anemones were half their normal height in my garden, and the flowers were half their normal size. My Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ nearly died and didn’t flower till September, when it finally produced some miniscule heads. But my clematis have flowered their socks off. Clematis ‘Wisley’ is reflowering – again – in late October and Clematis tangutica was twice as big as it’s ever been before, and was smothered in bee-attracting flowers.
Plants for autumn
There’s plenty of flower power in the garden in early autumn, though how long it lasts might depend on how soon you get the first frosts. In my area, north London, this tends to be early November. Here are some plants that can be relied on to flower well as the days shorten.
Dahlias often flower from mid summer, of course, although this year a lot of people have been finding they only got going in September. Whenever they start they can usually last well into autumn. Japanese anemones generally start flowering in late August or early September, then keep going till October and hydrangeas will flower from summer into autumn, too. Even when the flowers fade, the reddening bracts keep the colour going. The one in my picture is called ‘The Bride’ and it’s one of the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas. These flower on new wood that has grown during the current year, rather than just flowering on old wood as many hydrangeas do. This means that as well as the fading flower heads turning pinky red there are fresh white flower heads, and the plant can keep producing these into late autumn. Verbena bonariensis is the perfect partner for the biscuit brown of ornamental grasses as they fade into autumn, while heleniums and rudbeckias reflect the russet and buttery yellows of many trees. Asters (seen here with kafir lilies) are autumn stars, attracting huge numbers of pollinators and ceratostigma lights up dark days with it’s luminous blue flowers which are set against green foliage in early autumn which later turns bright red.
As we head into November the flowers may fade but the shrubs and trees really hit their stride. Rose hips the size of crab apples carry plenty of colour, and leaves take on their kaleidoscope of red, brown, orange and yellow.
A few more autumn pics below. The aster is called A. amellus ‘Forncett Flourish’ then there’s one of the autumn flowering Camellia sasanqua ‘Rainbow’. For the dahlia fans, there are currently five beds full of dahlias in the Award of Garden Merit trial at RHS Wisley garden, and the welcome sight of my own Japanese anemone, which I think is probably ‘September Charm’, as it started to recover in late September.
To sum up, it’s been an interesting summer when we’ve been able to see the effects on plants of drought and heat like never before. We’ve also seen the plants that struggled bounce back as soon as normal service was resumed, including a resurgence of all the normal autumn diseases.
The copyright of all images and text used in this website belongs to Janice Shipp unless otherwise stated.