Autumn coming

As a new season looms on the horizon, Charlie Wilkins exults in some garden delights

Mid August marks the advancing autumn and a change in the way flowering plants behave.

They seem to sense the shortening days and try to produce as much seed as possible in the hope that their off-spring will be as bountiful as ever, but during another season, in another year.

The first indication of autumn’s arrival is a chilling of the air and a dampness which creeps up from the soil, alerting the gardener to quite a few new, yet oddly familiar scents.

Fruit and ripeness may be the key elements to this powerful mixture of plenty and decay, but there are still memories of a disappointing summer left in the fragrance of late lilies, chocolate cosmos and phlox. Dare I add the sugar-sweet aroma which comes from well tended lawns and freshly-cut grass?

I love all these smells, their subtle, musky, rotting aromatic exhalation. And yet, I have to check myself in not doing too much ‘clearing up’(for it is still August) and hopefully, many a sunny day will shine before the job of clearing away the blown foliage and faded flowers is even begun.

So in looking around the garden this week I am delighted with certain aspects of its plantings, especially one of the newer forms of Agapanthus bought at the Mallow Show.

A. ‘Northern Star’ is a tremendously good thing that ought to be in every decent garden centre within the next few months. The stems are quite high, up to 4ft, but well able to support themselves.

The flowers are a deep blue, which is extremely striking and an invitation to all sorts of new artistry. Best of all, this new plant introduction is reliably hardy. I have also seen (but must wait to sample) another cracker called ‘Back in Black, which has extremely dark purple flowers, ink-purple stems and dark maroon buds.

Their flower heads are like strong drumsticks and the colours are really bold. Until now the best agapanthus in the world were the flowers painted on big canvasses by Claude Monet, but these introductions from New Zealand have outdone him.

Great gardeners used to complain that August was too full of flowers that were yellow. If you are stuck with too many yellow daisies I do not pity you because the best of them are extremely pretty, in particular those Rudbeckia goldsturm commonly known as ‘Black-eyed Susan.

Of course if white is more to your liking have a peep at some late summer anemones! Japanese anemones, along with Chrysanthemums, have been enjoying a revival of interest in recent years. They are easy and adaptable plants that flower in late summer for an extraordinary long time — months rather than weeks given the modest conditions they demand.

Usually seen growing in association with earlyflowering asters and late roses, their blooms lighten the scene wonderfully, becoming graceful companions in striking shades of pink or white.

A planting of ‘Queen Charlotte’ in pink, or ‘Whirlwind’ in white, will certainly bloom if planted immediately and will continue for weeks before making a sizeable clump in just a few seasons.

Initially, these can be strangely difficult to get established but if you have room and can afford the space to let them run a little, you will be rewarded with massive carpets of deep green leaves which will send up tall, elegant stems bearing the blooms illustrated.

These can be difficult to resist for vase work and general indoor use, for they last well in water.


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