Autumn in the Walled Garden - Alastair Gunn

Monday, 9 November 2009

Autumn has arrived, bringing rain with it. Like most gardeners in the south-east I've been longing for rain most of the summer and finally it arrives, too late to keep the zinnias in good health and too late to stave off powdery mildew. But now it's November all of that is irrelevant.
Dense greenery has turned to russets and golds. Trees are gradually shedding their leaves and there have been heavy autumnal mists in the mornings, dissolving the landscape into ambiguities. The ancient celts believed that the fabric between the physical world and the shadowy realm of spirits was fraying at this time of year and I feel like I understand why.

There are a few plants soldiering on into autumn; the amaranths are still vivid, Scabiosa wear occasional late, stray blooms and the roses flower on. Few are of a quality that permits cutting but they look beautiful amidst the dissolution of the year. Dahlias bloom with gaudy abandon. Schizostylis get better and better. The Nerine would be lovely now, had they not been shredded by young pheasants recently released from wherever the gamekeeper was breeding them. Evidently Nerine flowers look better than they taste since none are thoroughly consumed. The young birds strut through the garden in the morning and evening, but largely depart for the cover of trees beyond the walls during the day, particularly when Ashley's puppy is around. The puppy watches them with growing interest.
Miscanthus are only now beginning to bloom and Panicum virgatum is at its best. Pensetmon cultivars - surely every lazy gardener should grow them? - are mostly between bouts but will be flowering again soon, weather permitting.

There is much to be done. I'm still taking cuttings for next year but only from those evergreen penstemon cultivars and the developing basal shoots of Achillea millefolium cultivars. The weeds don't mind the lower temperatures or dropping light levels and are beginning to outcompete some of the sweet william so we'll pull the worst offenders up this week. The others will go later and the soil from where they've been yanked will be mulched with rotted manure, green waste compost or even decomposing wood chip. Fall and winter are also good times to get all our paths properly laid out, ready for use in spring. And of course, there are many, many bulbs to plant. Right now I'd prefer not to think about them: I'll be back to that task tomorrow...



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