An Extraordinary Autumn


There comes a moment every autumn when I leave home and return again under the cover of darkness. Since I have been living full time at The Watch House that moment has arrived earlier in the season. On Friday I experienced dawn in the garden for the last time, on a weekday at least. The bruised sky was inflamed with orange and scarred by criss-crossing vapour trails, as if it had been in a fight with a cat overnight. Everything in the garden was grey and still, coated in a thin veil of dew. I noted with a heavy heart that it would be April before I start commuting in the daylight again. Until then I will only see my garden in the daylight at weekends for the next 6 months.

The Jungle Garden from the top of the house

Looking around the garden this morning I am struggling to identify any evidence of the advancing year. We’ve had wind and rain and the nights are getting colder, for sure. One or two plants are becoming a little raggedy around the bottom, but my dahlias are still going great guns, there are lilies in bloom and the greenhouse is heady with the scent of brugmansias. I am watering almost as frequently as I did in July, only by torchlight rather than sunlight. A fortnight ago I chose to bring a philodendron and an anthurium indoors, but everything else is coping admirably with the onset of autumn. So spectacular has this season been that I am loath to it come to an end.

Dahlia ‘Nicholas’, still looking splendid

I must not complain about the dark since the garden continues to give me great pleasure. My imminent departure for the Far East will be all the more bittersweet knowing what I am missing at home. By the time I return even my most optimistic self knows that it will be game-over for the vast majority of tender plants, for this year at least. I am leaving them in the capable hands of Mr and Mrs M, who are coming down from Sheffield to babysit them whilst I am away. Before I go I need to plant a lot more bulbs, especially narcissi, and to get my house in order for my guests.

Dahlia ‘Labyrinth’ and Salvia uliginosa nestle beneath Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelli’

Whilst I know this annual was not universally popular with readers when I planted it, I must commend Petunia ‘Night Sky’ for its vigour and reliability. It has grown so strongly that I have had to prune it back twice, and yet it has flowered incessantly since April. A nice bonus is the fragrance, which is warm and comforting, like vanilla. No two flowers are ever the same, each sporting hundreds of blurry white dots on a violet background. Another plant I would not be without is Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’ which I grow in quantity and use to plug gaps all over the garden. It flowers non-stop whatever the weather and will continue to do so until the first really cold weather arrives.

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ with Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, Beschorneria yuccoides, Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’ and Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’ in the background
Kitchen sink drama

With my collection of gingers growing so rapidly I have been worried about having too much of the same foliage in the garden. Gingers produce all sorts of different inflorescences, but their leaves are generally very similar. Then I purchased a reasonably-sized Cyathea australis (rough tree fern), destined for the garden room, and realised it was ferny foliage that I had been missing all along. Next year there will be more ferns and at least as many coleus. I will post separately about my coleus trial (I know I keep promising!), but I am already kicking myself for not trying these for size sooner. Coleus are such marvellous plants for cool, semi-shade. Varieties such as ‘Strawberry Jam’ and ‘Bronze Pagoda’ are giving me little flashes of autumn colour and helping to break up the abundant greenness. ‘Henna’ is still the star of the show, having reached 4ft, although I will stake it earlier and more robustly next year.

By October the plants have all but taken over
Lilium ‘Lion Heart’ planted after the Hampton Court Flower Show

In the greenhouse my nerines are putting on a good display despite me neglecting them for the rest of the year. Their flowering is a clear signal that the gardening year is drawing to a close, and their glistening vibrancy a constant source of fascination for me. Like many bulbous plants a nerine’s  foliage is nothing to write home about, and yet the flowers are supremely flamboyant. Like Monty Don in this week’s edition of Gardeners’ World I am uprooting my tired tomato plants in order to make room for overwintering plants. I have taken a lot of cuttings this year especially of Plectranthus zuluensis, and these are somewhat taking over. What a terrific plant this is for ground cover in a mild, sheltered space.

In the greenhouse

So, enough writing and more doing. If you’d like to see more of my garden I have recently updated the My Garden section with images taken by esteemed garden photographer Marianne Majerus. Marianne was kind enough to let me use a selection of her images within this page for which I am very grateful. I shall continue posting whilst I am on my travels, with more reports from my recent visit to Cornwall. In the meantime, enjoy October and Happy Gardening. TFG.

An autumn cavalcade of foliage and flowers