It is always a shock and a surprise to get back from holiday and re-see the garden through new eyes. We are often away from September to October, and though I love travelling, there is always a strong sense of regret at having missed the Autumn beginnings. Usually there is some rain and this brings out the colours from what has been a pretty summer-parched garden.
This year, we returned to be lucky enough to have 10 glorious days of warmth before Storm Aurelie turned up yesterday. The morning light was soft and colours shone in it without being bleached out. Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Tiny Wine’ is a perfect shrub, gorgeously coloured foliage in spring and autumn, pink flowers in early summer, tough and very hardy. In my view it is a bit on the giant side to be described as a ‘dwarf’ shrub- at 4 years old, it is nearly 2m x 1.5m, but no complaints from me.
Leonotis leonorus has been a real delight from seed this year, and even with a bashing from Storm Aurelie, it continues to flower even up to the top tier at 2m tall. I have taken some cuttings and will also try to overwinter the two parent plants- even if only to try and get a headstart on the flowering period for next summer. I adore everything about it, the flaming colour, the sputnik flowerbuds, the stateliness of it….I won’t go on.
The Stumpery is getting ready for it’s best season, winter and early Spring when it gives green and verdant in great quantity. Right now, Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ (front of scene)has given fabulous red and copper tones to the view, Rosa ‘Marguerite, Reine d’Italie’ is still blooming, and another favourite shrub, Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ is looking very relaxed now that the heat of summer is over. This Mahonia is probably just at the limit of what it will take in terms of dryness in the Stumpery, but the semi-shade is what saves it, I think.
I love this plant, Plectranthus ecklonnii ‘Erma’ and grew it from seed last year in a pot. It likes moisture and semi-shade, but is such a beautiful golden-green with an upright vase shape that gives it great elegance. The bonus is these lovely violet flowerspikes which come really late in the season. Backlit by evening sun, it is glorious. Cuttings have been taken and I will do my best at the overwintering.
I also love a second Plectranthus, Plectranthus argentatus, which I grew from seed a couple of years ago. If you take cuttings now, they will root and produce new plants at the drop of a hat. This plant is better known for silvery foliage alone, but does flower with small blue-white flowers at the end of the season. I am toying with the idea of giving this one a little less water next year to see if that will hasten the flower production. I also grow these in pots and overwinter them.
I nearly always miss Tagetes lemmonii flowering- as it waits, I swear, until we have left for holiday. This year I just caught the end of it when we came back. This Tagetes adores dry, hot soil, and will keel over if it gets too wet although it is hardy in the ground if you have razor-sharp drainage. The leaves have a powerful aroma, a sort of foxy-lemony scent, and the Birds Custard flowers are a real kickass colour at the end of the season.
Another Tagetes, Tagetes minuta, has a different super-power. This unassuming plant with finely-cut foliage and a tall habit is not a great looker as Sarah Raven says, but it seems to drive out bindweed and couch grass- in my book, a serious super-power. It self seeds like mad with me, but that’s an easy problem to have considering the super-power. To be sure you grow it where you really want it, start off with seed in the spring.
This Vernonia, at a compact Im tall, has been a complete star this year. I grew it from seed to plant it in the new bed, in stony, dry soil in full sun. From the smallest seedling, it has made mature flowering plants in 7 months, and is still flowering from the many buds that each plant carries. Totally hardy, adored by insects…and me. Roll on next year as my next batch of seedlings plump up.