The plants in our two gardens seem divided on the question of whether autumn has arrived or not. The majority are getting a bit too big for their boots, which will cost them dearly when the cold weather finally arrives. November’s weather has been wet and mild, which has really slowed the onset of any fiery autumn colour, replacing it with apologetic yellows and sad khakis. A trip down to Dorset on the train today revealed a landscape dressed more appropriately for a wet August Bank Holiday Monday than an early November Thursday, with only abundant sloes and glowing rowan berries giving the game away.
In London, a potted fig tree has been baring its naked branches for a good week or so, whilst a larger specimen by the coast has only a few leaves that are wavering from their customary verdure. The potted tree probably suffers more water stress during the summer, causing it to shut down earlier, although the microclimate in London normally means the leaves hold on for longer. Meanwhile our newly planted hostas are holding on to their perky leaves for weeks longer than established plants, both in the ground and in pots. I can only think that planting them in August has made them want to invest in strong growth before the winter sets in.
The first hints of autumn’s cool touch in our London garden.
Begonia semperflorens, one of the very best annual plants for a shady London garden, is still going strong, its simple white flowers set against fresh green foliage. The plants look as good as the day they were planted and will persist until the first frosts. Likewise our tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica, is revelling in the cool, damp air. It receives no mollycoddling and has come through two freezing winters unscathed.
There are a few plants that positively revel in cooler autumn temperatures, namely Melianthus major, Digitalis sceptrum and Agapanthus africanus. All are in rude health and looking the best they have done all year. Melianthus major, the honey bush, annually puts on an enormous growth spurt between now and Christmas. sometimes resulting in tall marroon flowers which drip their sticky nectar all over the terrace. Caught in the sunshine last weekend, the silvery leaves smelt strongly of peanut butter.
Despite nature’s persistence, one thing is for sure – the cold weather will come, and it’s a great leveller. However resilient, deciduous trees will be stripped of their leaves and perennials will disappear under the cover of the insulating earth, preparing themselves for the rigours of spring. A good cold snap will kill off the bugs (lily beetles would be first in my firing line) and prompt the tulip bulbs into action. The decision will be made. Rather than the end, I prefer to see it as the beginning of the long road to spring.
Utterly oblivious that winter’s approaching Fuchsia arborescens, in our coastal garden.