Along with Crocosmia, Sedum and Japanese Anemones, it’s increasingly the Asters which I really look forward to seeing flower as we move into mid September. I’m a fairly new convert to their prolific autumnal show, and by chance we seem to have created a suitable environment for them in our smashed concrete and shale based terrace garden.
We tried them in our much drier previous garden in Bristol, and nearly every year had to contend with sorry, mildew affected plants. Here with the regular, more than soft Welsh rain, they seem to thrive. Sadly an all too common lapse of efficiency means that I’m uncertain of many of the varietal names. Two years ago we stopped off on the way back from a September Oxford wedding at the wonderful specialist Aster nursery in Colwall at the foot of the Malverns, and were smitten by the display of huge swathes of healthy plants in butterfly studded drifts. Bringing them back to Wales, I did what is now a normal routine for new perennials. I bulk them up and get them growing well in proper Welsh soil for a year in a tyre, and then (hopefully) have a bigger plant which in many cases can be divided and planted out into the final garden position the following autumn.
This division happened last year, and it’s always a wrench, since you butcher a plant in full flower (in the case of an autumnal flowering plant like Aster). But this year the display should be pretty good, though a few more years of occasional lifting and splitting will be required to produce really spectacular displays. I do love the colour palette of these plants which matches the wonderful September light and first hints of autumn leaf colour change, on a sunny day. Some, though certainly not all cultivars are also wonderful late season nectar flowers for many insects – flies, bees, bumblebees, butterflies and moths.
They usually keep going well into October, and this year I executed a ‘Chelsea Chop’ on some of the taller varieties in about mid May with the hope of spreading the flowering period and also avoiding the need to stake them. So far it’s working and they’re standing up to the autumnal gales pretty well. The knack also seems to be to plant smaller varieties in front of the taller ones, firstly to provide a bit of shelter, but also to hide the tatty bare stems of the taller ones as they shoot up, just before flowering. Some of the Sedum spectabile also got chopped, and I quite like the look of the clipped form – it almost looks like a different variety, and it will flower a couple of weeks later than the untouched plants.
In the same area of terrace garden we’ve been engaged in the annual chore of bulb planting. Spotting the visually weak areas and time slots in the garden in spring, making a record of what and how much is needed to improve the display, and ordering the bulbs in due course is easy. Putting them in is not, and this year we kicked off with some Pushkinia libanotica and more Scilla tubergeniana/mischtschenkoana which we grew for the first time last year and really liked for its very early pale blue spikes of flowers. However we planted several hundred of these on a damp day (we, because all bulbs in this part of the garden need planting with a digging bar, so we’ve decided that making it a 2 person job is infinitely easier and less tiring). I rarely wear gloves in the garden, but the following day developed a splitting headache which I suspect might have been from handling so many damp bulbs. Whether caused by the bulbs themselves, or perhaps by any post harvest anti fungal application to improve their storage, I don’t know. So lesson learned, I now wear gloves for bulb planting.
In the terrace garden, it’s always tricky to work out where to put in new bulbs. Photos from the previous spring help, but planting this flowering underclass which will emerge from beneath where now tall or luxuriant foliage covers the ground always ends up being a real chore. We now try to stagger the planting over several weeks and usually end up with the tulips in late October or November, but this year will aim to get our skates on with the memory of last winter’s early onset of frosts fresh in our minds.
September brings two other regular, and noticeable seasonal changes in our garden. Firstly the robins start to serenade us quite regularly after summer months of quiet. They have specific spots throughout the garden which they seem to move around in a ritual routine. This makes up for the day, quite soon, when all the swallows will leave us for sunnier winter climes. Some have gone already, and unlike their arrival, you often only pick up their absence after a few days, since the weather isn’t so good now and they often only appear over the yard towards dusk, apparently after a whole day on the wing. Last week there was a great late afternoon display as they flew low in circuits round the house’s chimney pots silhouetted against a light grey sky – a fast shutter speed freezing an infinite variety of otherwise unseen wing postures as they hurtled through the air.
Another loss has opened up a new perspective in the garden. An eighty year old Norway Spruce with a severe lean was felled into our lower field. Over 3 feet at its base, this was beyond the scale of tree work which I’m prepared to tackle, though once on the ground the task of ringing it up will keep me busy for a bit longer. But it does create an opportunity for a new vista at the end of our central fruit garden path.
We’ve had a few group visits round the garden this month, and whilst the weather hasn’t been as nice as everyone would have liked, I always enjoy feedback from visitors. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Japanese Anemone potted up for a request from one visitor, so took a fork to a large clump. The resulting carnage required a lot of cutting back of flowers and foliage to produce a hopefully viable mass of root and shoots to be carried away in a plastic bag. The spent flowers looked too attractive to throw on the compost heap straight away, so they ended up in a vase, which two days later enabled me take the photo below, which I really like – an interesting tangle of stems, buds, flowers and developing seed heads.
In the same group was an elderly gentleman, who must have had a very keen eye, since he came up to me and commented that I had a “Walter A Wood” seat on one of our chairs. He remembered sitting on such a seat in his youth, and that it was not from a tractor, as we’d previously thought, but rather a horse-drawn mower.
Other seats he said were from horse-drawn hay ricks. Intrigued, I went on-line and eventually found on ebay (where else?) a newspaper advert image of the Walter Wood machine, dating back to 1869.
The gentleman even remembered that the firm was based in Hoosick Falls in the U.S.A.- quite impressive since the cast iron embossed lettering is now pretty faded. My guess is that Walter Wood survived as a viable business for longer than Pierce – their simpler design of seat does not have sufficient holes to allow water to drain away, a prerequisite I would have thought in a climate like that of West Wales. However both are now faded agro-industrial memories unlike the firm of JCB, which as simple ‘Bamford’ was cutting its manufacturing teeth in the same marketplace.