Whatever the Weather

Since the end of August the garden has taken one battering after another. In Broadstairs we have experienced gales from every point on the compass, heavy rain and unusually chilly nights. By the end of September both the Jungle Garden and the Gin & Tonic Garden looked more like they usually do in early November. Any hopes of an Indian summer were dashed by some of the soggiest October days since records began.

When conditions change for the worse in autumn, the garden quickly reaches the point of no return. In some ways this is a blessing. I stop stressing about everything looking picture-perfect and start to think about how I might sensitively manage the journey towards winter. The tenderest plants are steadily moved inside, others are cut back so that they don’t act like a sail in the wind, and others are introduced to keep the dream alive for a few more weeks. Late-flowering gingers, nerines, passion flowers, salvias and brugmansias are a godsend at this time of the year. They flourish in cooler, wetter conditions than we’ve enjoyed for many months. Some of the coleus are still good too, especially the smaller-leaved cultivars such as ‘Lord Falmouth’ and ‘Burgundy Wedding Train’. Those with larger leaves are already starting to look like ancient handkerchieves that have been boiled for too long. The limp and faded will soon be cleared to make way for bulb planting. Over the coming days I’ll need to find new homes for a growing collection of bromeliads, including the airplants that adorn the trees in the Jungle Garden. They are considerably more resilient outdoors than one might expect, but they won’t like it when it gets properly cold.

Solenostemon ‘Lord Falmouth’ flourishes in cool shade
Our ‘Coleus Corridor’ still providing colour on route to the front door at The Watch House

The allotment took the same pummelling as the garden. In some respects our plot, being on an open site, is more exposed and therefore more vulnerable in stormy weather. In other respects the lack of obstacles funnelling the wind and intensifying its strength is a blessing. Half the Jerusalem artichokes were toppled; one plant was lifted clean out of the ground, tubers and all. The main dahlia bed, planted three deep, was pushed over to one side with several plants broken or twisted at the base. No amount of staking was going to save them from 60mph winds from the north. This is enough to tear single blooms clean off their stems.

These dahlias survived vicious gusts of wind during September and October
Grown from a cutting, Dahlia ‘Lake Ontario’ has proved to be both wind resistant and floriferous … as well as lovely to look at

Our chrysanthemums and helichrysums have proved very resilient. I have not grown either since I was a teenager and it’s been great to reacquaint myself with these wonderful, long-lasting flowers. The chrysanthemums appear to be rudely happy on the allotment. Most were grown from cuttings delivered in June and they have made substantial plants. ‘Spider Bronze’ has yet to flower but is covered in buds, whilst ‘Blenda Purple’, ‘Dixter Orange’, ‘Bruno Bronze’, ‘Littleton Red, ‘Smokey Purple’ and ‘Patyon Blaze Red’ are all putting on a cheerful show. I know chrysanthemums are not everyone’s cup of tea. They’ve been cast into the horticultural shadows by dint of the their ubiquity, but surely they must be due a comeback soon? If dahlias can do it, so can chrysanthemums. Personally I love the scent, it’s one of the top notes in the bittersweet perfume of autumn. There will be more chrysanthemums next year, that’s for sure.

Chrysanthemum ‘Littleton Red’ on the allotment
Chrysanthemum ‘Dixter Orange’ is a wonderfully informal, sprawling plant with pumpkin-coloured flowers

I was on the road for much of this week; in and out of the car, on and off with the wretched facemask, seeing people I’ve not seen for months. It was refreshing but I missed home. How quickly I have become used to staying put! On the journey through Hampshire I stopped off at Longstock Park Water Gardens, lovingly maintained by the John Lewis Partnership. I have visited these sublime gardens on the River Test many times, but always in May. It was marvellous to enjoy them in a different guise – a little scruffier, a little more natural, overblown and fading. Vistas were fuzzier and the water surface sprinkled with fallen oak leaves. As I progressed ducks landed clumsily in the chilly water and frogs plopped in to its shallow greyness from the slippery grassy banks. It was all splendidly magical, if a tad melancholy; a different perspective on a garden I thought I knew well.

A magically primeval scene
A magnificent drift of toad lily, Tricyrtis formosana, with a gorgeous clump of golden bamboo, Phyllostachys aurea, in the background

Back at home my list of jobs to do in the garden is extensive. I’ve purchased more bulbs than ever before; what possessed me? Now I shall have to plant them at the same time as lifting dahlias, finding homes for ever-larger gingers and brugmansias, repairing the edges of allotment beds, clearing out the workshop and so on. The Beau sees a list on the dining room table and scuttles off in the opposite direction. Whatever I do I am always on the back foot in autumn. This year I don’t have the complication of being in China, so whatever I achieve over the next two weeks will be more than I would have accomplished normally. I shall press on with the soul aim of staying one step ahead of winter. By Christmas everything should be put to bed. TFG.

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14 thoughts on “Whatever the Weather

  1. Wholly agree about chrysanthemums. Here in New York State, they extend our season significantly, especially the late (and old-fashioned) varieties like Emperor of China and Sheffield Pink. But my favorite variety this year, and new to my garden, is Homecoming. I recommend, if it’s available in the UK.

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  2. To me Chrysanthemums have never gone out of fashion. Like Dahlias they are more and more varieties to like. I guess you have been receiving all of our rain. I am surprised that the allotment has held up so well against 60mph winds. That is almost hurricane strength wind. Leaves are coming down in droves. It is so dusty outside I dread getting out to get them mulched. I usually like this chore. One of these days it will rain and hopefully the weather will go back to more normal conditions. Have a good productive weekend at home.

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    1. Thank you so much Lisa. We had the wettest October day ever in the U.K. in October 3rd. It’s still pretty soggy. Such a stark contrast to the summer which was warm and dry. I hope you get some dust settling rain soon.

      Next year we are going to grow a lot more chrysanths as they are so easy, so colourful and so late to flower. X

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  3. What a lovely post. thanks Dan…I can just imagine how many bulbs you have ‘over bought’ – no wonder John’s eyes glaze when he walks past the to do list on the dining room table!! David does the same…. I can see the look of horror on his face as more and more ‘add to cart’ parcels arrive at the door. Let alone everything I am now getting through the Dahlia Society – they have bulk buying deals on all sorts of things with major suppliers here – its fabulous!

    Yes I must say no travel has certainly resulted in a much better garden this year….No one is allowed to go into HK at all from anywhere – just like Australia. China the same. Makes work quite a challenge.

    Our garden has never looked so good and I am near to achieving an English lawn! so excited….that glory will soon disappear once the 35 plus degree days arrive.

    Thanks lovely – have a good week
    H x

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  4. Good to read that someone else is also behind with the autumn list! And the phenomenon of “overbulbing”, as I call it… This year I decided to buy no new bulbs. I’m out of space, thanks to the last 2 years of hoarding. Of course one or two tulips may not hurt…so I’ve planted about 80 tulips so far, 100+ crocuses and iris reticulata are awaiting and 50 narcissi are to be delivered.

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    1. Hello! We spent all weekend playing catch up, making space for things and getting organised. Still a long way to go. Why do we do it to ourselves? Hope you have a beautiful display come spring, goodness knows we all need something to cheer ourselves up at the moment! Dan

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  5. Oh, I suppose autumn must get here eventually. I do happen to enjoy it. Many of us may enjoy it more this year because of the proximity of the CZU Fire. Fire season ends with the beginning of the rainy season.
    However, I will miss summer. I was too busy to enjoy it as I should this year.

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  6. Lovely post and amazing photos – as usual. Thank you for sharing, Dan. Though for some reason, I can’t put a finger on where or why, I sense a bit of a depressed mood this time? Maybe it’s just exhaustion and fatigue. Wouldn’t be surprising with all the plates to juggle and things on your list.
    Oh, would you care to do a post on your chrysanthemums (with pictures) sometime? Pretty please! I’m fairly new to them in that I know there exists an incredibly vast pool of exciting varieties but know next to none by name. I’ve been looking for a true pink one (not salmon or purplish) but the one recommended to me as “pink like little girls’ clothing” (and bought) didn’t live up to expectations 😦 Well, the search clntinues.
    All the best to you and the Beau. May you get well through these strange times.

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