Six on Saturday: 04 Sep 2021: mellowing

Who captured the feel of autumn better than John Keats, with his ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’? Well, we are not quite there yet, it’s a bit early for mist, and fruitfulness is a bit disappointing, as we’ve had very few apples and no grapes this year. But there is most definitely a mellowing of the light, which is to be welcomed, making the plants glow softly in a most appealing way. Add some blue skies and sunny days, and things are on the up after the dog days of late August. I prefer September, when the garden might be slowing down, but the rhythm of the year re-establishes itself: that back to school, back to work feeling, which in gardening terms is back to planning for next year, with my first bulb order arriving and awaiting planting (Camassias, Fritillaries, Alliums). Let’s get started with the first Six on Saturday of meteorological autumn:

1 Cricket of considerable size. As I was belatedly staking some sagging Heleniums, this fellow was watching me through the Miscanthus. One of those moments to stop and stare, after running in for the camera, as he slowly crept away with sticky padded feet. He was at least 7cm long. Very exciting, as have never seen one of these in the garden before.

2 Verbena bonariensis. I’m pleased that this plant is gently seeding itself about the place, bringing in the bees and butterflies. It’s moved into the veg patch, which I don’t mind at all as it hardly gets in the way with its narrow stems, in fact there is little for it to get in the way of, as the space is normally occupied by tomatoes, which went out when blight struck. I replanted with radicchio, which all got eaten, despite precautionary anti-slug measures. So the Verbena has free reign.

3 Rosa ‘Compassion’. Now, speaking of mellow, take a look at how this rose is transformed by the light. When it flowered profusely in June, it was predominantly pink. Now the apricot is coming through much more strongly. I’ll let you decide which is prettiest – the bud on the cusp of opening, or the faded bloom (you’ll need to ignore the hoverfly being devoured by a tiny white spider).

4 Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanille Fraise’. Here’s another flower I like best at this time of year, when it’s glory is fading and the pink is gradually suppressed by biscuity buff tones.

5 Hylotelephium. Or Sedum if you prefer the old name. I’m always astonished by the number of bees dining on this mix of a pink sedum given to me by my mother-in-law Marianne, and a white ‘Iceberg’ that I added. These grace the sunny sweet spot of the front path, with lavender behind them and geraniums in front, and further up the indefatigable Nepeta is having a second flush. Lots here for our pollinator friends over an extended period of time.

6 Geranium Rozanne. Speaking of indefatigable, this hardworking geranium is also I think looking better in the softer autumnal light – in brighter summer sun, it looks a bit washed out. Now it’s got a glow to it, and with any luck it will keep this up into October, maybe November: ‘to set budding more, and still more later flowers for the bees, until they think warm days will never cease, for Summer has o’er brimm’d their clammy cells‘ – I’m sure Keats would have made a great Six on Saturday blogger.

So there we have it, a change from the warm reds, oranges, terracotta and turmeric shades that I’m rather partial to – no doubt they’ll be back next week, as those Tithonias are just clamouring to have their photo taken again. Many thanks to our host The Propagator, and to all the participants too, wishing you all a great weekend.

Early autumn stars

It’s been raining heavily for days here, but this morning when the sun came out I could really see how the plants had benefited from a good and long-awaited drenching! They looked fresh and full of life, so I took some pics of my top performers right now. Here they are:

Rain then sunshine: a combo that is made for Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle), a native of southern Europe. It’s worth having a few plants in your garden for this reason alone, as the leaves look like they are studded with jewels made of pure water! I recently learned that the name Alchemilla is from the Arabic, meaning magical or with the properties of alchemy (the prefix “Al” is the definitive article in Arabic, and a lot of English words that begin with Al are indeed of Arabic origin, including algebra, the Alhambra in Southern Spain, or the dreaded algorithm). In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the droplets of water collected from the plants in the early morning had healing and magical properties. If you look closely at my photo, you can see the hundreds of tiny hairs on the leaves that catch the drops and hold them in place. So, another amazing plant then.

The Japanese anemones add a freshness at this time of year, and look particularly good against the crisp autumn light of early morning. Mine are all in a border facing east, and they were suffering rather from the lack of rain earlier in the season, some even succumbing to mildew. The latest deluge has really refreshed them though, and there are plenty of new button-like buds reaching for the skies. I have the white variety, ‘Honorine Jobert’, which is from the Anemone hybrida group, as well as the traditional soft pink varieties, and a deeper, more intense pink which seems to have popped up of its own accord, and has proved very popular with the bees, so it must be richer in nectar than the others.

Still on the pink theme, my aster (can’t remember the variety) is just coming into bloom now. I always wait for this with anticipation, as it makes a wonderful show of daisy freshness, being quite large now, and reaching over a metre tall. In fact, it is getting very floppy, and hasn’t been looking that elegant, slumped over the lawn, so I have grabbed some spare chestnut fencing to keep it upright. This is why the flowers in my photo are all facing the wrong way, as they were previously trying to flower from lawn height! No doubt they will sort themselves out in a couple of days.

OK, now for some berries, of which I am a great fan. I absolutely adore the golden orange tones of this newly bought Pyracantha ‘Golden Charmer’. It’s perfect for the season, and it’s hopefully going to do a good job of covering a modern red brick wall, which I always thought looked odd as the rest of the house is a more mellow, aged brick. I’ve noticed that Pyracanthas grow really well here, and several houses in the area are densely covered in the cheerful orange, red or yellow berries. This plant also has a great name: from the Greek, “pyr” is fire and “akanthos” is thorn, hence the common name of Firethorn. It does indeed have killer thorns – that should keep the burglars away from my kitchen window! They are native to a wide region, from Southwest Europe to Southeast Asia, and they are a brilliant choice for wildlife friendly gardens, as the summer flowers are loved by bees, and birds enjoy the berries (if they dare come so close to the house to grab them, we shall see…).

Finally, some Skimmia japonica putting on a good show. I’ve acquired two little plants that are growing along the shadier side of my front path, next to a privet hedge. It’s quite a tough growing environment, as the soil is rather dry and a bit shallow here, but these are tough plants to I think they’ll do alright. Skimmia is another native of Japan and China, and here I’ve just got the female plants, as I wanted them for the berries. It will need pollinating by a male plant next year, so I will probably need to get one to be sure that it happens, even though to be honest I’m not so keen on their inflorescence, probably because I associate them with municipal parks and Tesco car parks!