There’s an end of term feeling in the garden at the moment. The first frosts have brought everything to a standstill. For the Ancient Britons this was the end of the year and it’s easy to see why. They celebrated with cleansing bonfires and made preparations for next year’s growth. For me, it’s a time for reflection: to think about what was good and what could be better.
The garden may be on the point of collapse but the structure is still just about intact so it’s a good time for filling in gaps with new plants. Today I planted Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ as a foil to the strappy leaves of the Crocosmia and Hemerocallis in the hot and spicy border; and a Hesperantha (Schizostylis) coccinea ‘Jennifer’ which has a beautiful pale pink flower which I planted in the opposite border.
Both plants were given to me by chance when I was introduced to a couple at Whiteway Colony and they invited me to look around their intensely planted half acre of garden. I happened to admire these particular plants – and immediately they grabbed forks and starting digging up clumps for me to take home in old compost sacks. And they weren’t just generous with their plants, they were keen to share their tips for making compost, strategies for dealing with floppy Sedums and plenty of other bits of fascinating advice. It was a happy chance meeting and typical of encounters with fellow gardeners.
But one of the best things about being a gardener is the way it stretches time. It may be bleak November but I am thinking forward to next year – imaging the baby pink flowers of ‘Jennifer’ working with the roses either side of it or the yellow Rudbekias alongside the fiery red Monardas. This sense of travelling forward in time continues when I start pruning the roses: I am imagining the direction the new buds will shoot in the Spring. And when I rake leaves on a cold November day, I might discover the tips of spring flowers such as crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils.
But I am also thinking back – to the things that worked well in the season just gone. Looking back at my Instagram posts, I see it is dominated by photos of the amazing Hydrangea macrophyllas at Hilles. These, I believe, were planted in the 1970s along with quantities of rusty nails to ensure that the flowers came out blue rather than the pink that they would naturally show in our limey, alkaline soil. I’d heard that this practice was an old wives tale but on this evidence it is anything but. In midsummer they range from a stunning pale powder blue to an intense azure but, as the nights start to draw in, the blue starts to fade in places and the more natural pink starts to assert itself, along with splashes of green and creme. This effect reaches a kind of psychedelic climax round about now. I find it quite mesmerising. They decorated the tables at my wedding, 10 years ago, and I always pick a bunch for my wife on our anniversary in October. Another instance of gardening as time travel….
A guest blog by Mathew Reid