Another month when it’s largely a case of ‘steady as she goes’ and not ‘all hands to the pump’ – as long as the weather behaves itself. The process of putting the garden to bed, which began last month, continues with the completion of tasks such as trimming formal hedges before it gets any cooler.
The risk of sharp frosts, or prolonged periods of cold weather, is still low but it is sufficiently cold, and wet, that all tender perennials and less than hardy exotica should be brought into frost-free winter quarters. Tidying, cleaning and fettling of the greenhouse, or other frost-free place, may be necessary if you’ve been using it for growing tomatoes etc. during the summer. Check that any heating apparatus is in full working order and clean the glass to maximise winter light levels. If you haven’t done it already, scrub off any white-wash which was applied to the exterior of the glass for summer cooling.
I banged on a fair amount about statuesque Miscanthus grasses last month and how they really come into their own at this time of year. In my garden they form the perfect backdrop to another star performer of the late summer / autumn garden: the Asters. I am sufficiently old and set in my ways that I still cannot get my head around the taxonomical changes which have seen a lot of the ‘old favourites’ get new botanical names.
I remember, as a young horticultural student, how easy it was to adapt and change when a taxonomical wind blew a whole set of plant names away in order to replace them with new, more correct, nomenclature. We students used to roll our eyes when the ‘old guard’ of the gardening world complained about any unwanted (presumed ‘unnecessary’?) renaming of gardening favourites. Now I find myself firmly in the Luddite camp and get faintly annoyed with myself for not being able to take on taxonomical renaming as easily as the new, young, horticultural hot-shots.
My Aspergic trait of getting frustrated with inaccuracies and abhorring lies / deceit / manipulation now begins to act against me when trying to write about ‘asters’. The problem with knowing that these days they are not all ‘Aster’ (the italics are important as they denote that I mean Aster as the genus—not the general garden term ‘aster’ which is the common name for these particular perennial plants).
I know that being taxonomically correct is important, so I MUST get it right but, annoyingly, I know that my compulsion to not deceive, or knowingly ignore the confusing changes, is probably of very little significance to the ‘normal’ gardener. I am already beginning to regret going down this route but, especially knowing that recently these traits have landed me in a lot of trouble, it is important to at least try to explain this to you, gentle reader!
What I am trying to say is that the most worthwhile asters, improvements on the mildew-ridden ‘Michaelmas Daisies’ of old, are those with the species name ‘novae-angliae’—the ‘New England’ asters. These are now in the genus Symphyotrichum which is much more of a mouthful than good old Aster. Having said that, I think that using the taxonomically outdated term will still be understood for many years to come. In everyday gardening I doubt that Symphyotrichum novae-angliae will ever totally eclipse ‘New England Aster’ in general horticultural parlance—at least I hope not.
To prove just how set in my ways I am, my favourite ‘Michaelmas Daisy’ remains the reassuringly ‘non user-friendly’ named ‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’. Her shocking popping-pinkness, when first glimpsed during my salad days at Dixter, made such a deep impression on me that I doubt any new introduction will usurp her position as my all-time favourite aster. Having said that, ‘Purple Dome’ is a usefully short New England Aster, carrying a profusion of purple blooms, with good mildew resistance and worthy of a place in any garden.
Returning to pink hues; many of the late summer and autumn flowering bulbs occur naturally in shades of pink, although many of them have been selected over the years to gain colours ranging from pure white right through to the deep reds. They tend to flower over the course of about three months beginning when the cooler, wetter, autumn conditions begin. I am thinking of such stalwarts of the late garden season as; autumn crocus, colchicums, cyclamen and Schizostylis—all helping to keep your garden ‘in the pink’ as the temperatures drop.
To heighten the impact of autumn flowering gems, see above, it helps to remove any decaying herbaceous foliage, in beds and borders, which otherwise could dilute the impact of those border inhabitants which are still looking good. Dahlias will continue blazing, amongst the less exotic border plants, if dead-headed and propped up, until the first frosts. Plant spring flowering bulbs into any gaps which are revealed, marking the spot with a label so that you don’t dig them up by accident before they emerge.
The other weekend I had a lovely day out, with my faithful hound, at ‘Toby’s Gardenfest, Forde Abbey’. It was a great way to see a number of nurseries, bulb firms and sundry suppliers all in one place, at a time when planting things is not only possible but actually advantageous. I did succumb to a few impulse purchases, one of which was a real autumn flowering gem; Nerine sarniensis x bowdenii ‘Afterglow’.
Being a hybrid between the reliably hardy ‘bowdenii’ and the less than hardy ‘sarniensis’ species of Nerine (‘Guernsey Lily’) it needs a sheltered spot in the garden where it won’t be frozen solid, or sat in winter wet, for months on end. I have a gravelly bed, at the foot of a south facing wall, which should suit it impeccably and has proved beneficial to other doubtfully hardy bulbs which I’ve established there in previous years. It’s always a joyous fillip to be able to add a new component to an already established area of the garden. Happy days 😉