In between heavy rain, showers and the gale-force winds which lashed the valley for the whole of the weekend the garden beckoned; what would I find outside? Donning the family raincoat, my own wellington boots, pulling my hood down and grabbing the camera, I set off outside, starting with Mimir who guards the entrance to the hollow tree stump at the bottom of the drive.
Mimir seems to have protected us from the worst excesses of the storms; I could find no structural damage; naturally, a lot of wood has come down from the trees, but that happens every autumn, it's the trees' way of regeneration. Luckily, the hybrid tea rose border got away with only minor root disturbance; it is high time for the bushes to receive their autumn cut-back. I have found whole bushes uprooted in other years after the first autumn storms. Each new storm weakens and pulls further at the root system, until the bush loses its hold in the ground completely.
The mixed shrub border is protected by the wall behind it. Daphne, Cotinus and Weigela are doing well. Only the Cotinus is deciduous, the other two will keep their leaves, giving me something to look at out of the kitchen window for the whole of the winter. The stiff, upright, stems of the michaelmas daisy in front of the shrubs are turning a deep dark brown, the flowerheads are fading to the palest purple, but I won't be cutting them back until early spring. I prefer to grow herbaceous plants which give pleasure even in death; I'm afraid, the ones whose foliage turns a mushy, slimy, mess are chopped off as soon as the flowers fade.
Grasses are good all the year round but some of them really come into their own in autumn when they turn a lovely colour, sandy, deep straw, russet or ochre. The blood grass and wavy hair grass here are particularly attractive when there is so little else left. Grasses are easy to grow, they certainly earn their keep; I don't mind them spreading and self-seeding; they seem to have a knack of popping up only in those places where they add to the display. And, if not, the smaller ones are easy to pull up. In a gentle breeze the quiet rustle of the larger grasses, like miscanthus and calamagrostis, is wonderfully soothing.
A high wind will make the plumes flutter like streamers.
I also love hydrangeas, of all sorts. They have been out of fashion for years now and it is true, they take a long time before they emerge to their full splendour, but once the huge, blowzy, flowers are out, hydrangeas shout out their presence until the following, early spring when they need pruning. No shrinking violets here. I love all hydrangea flowers, be they mophead, lacecap, the cone shaped paniculata, or the plate shaped petiolaris. I prefer white and blue flowers to pink ones, but, hey, live and let live, in the garden as well as everywhere else. The one shown here is a petiolaris, dying back beautifully.
The Leycesteria is not a thing of beauty in winter. Neither is it particularly eye-catching at any other time, except for the dangly flower heads; I always think of them as large, colourful, flamboyant earrings the kind which looks good depending from the ear of a beautiful lady with a mane of upswept hair and bare shoulders.
Perhaps that's why the Victorians loved the Leycesteria.
The schizostylis is a South African lily, which flowers from mid-summer through to the first frosts in autumn. It is totally hardy and, in mild winters, I have even cut a few blooms for the christmas table.
Schizostylis spread easily, they belong in the give-away group of plants, until everyone you know has them, and your gardening friends hide when they see you coming with a bag full of spiky, green, strappy leaves. A bit like crocosmia, in fact.
Although there is much less to do in my garden from now until next spring, there are still a few tasks remaining. Once the roses have been pruned they deserve a light sprinkling of bonemeal. It is very important that the moisture levels of evergreen shrubs are kept up, as otherwise they will dry out. Both camellias and magnolias have refused to flower for me because I deprived them of water during winter. The compost heaps and leaf mould cage need attention and the ornamental elder bushes will have to be pruned between now and early March. A major task during the weeks ahead is the protection of slightly tender plants, either by means of straw and conifer cones and pyramids, horticultural fleece or just pretty, upturned basket cones stuffed with leaf mould or the fronds of ferns.
But the main work is to be done indoors; seed and plant catalogues are arriving in the post, there is a pile of gardening magazines kept back during the summer to read in the winter and envelopes stuffed with pictures ripped out of catalogues, garden brochures and advertisements are all waiting to be studied and dreamt over; some of these plans and dreams might even become reality next year. And if not, they allow me to dream of summer in the depth of winter.
photos can be enlarged