Pictures Speak Louder than Words, Fading Gracefully and Last Pickings

I managed to find a seed of an Erodium manescavii about to be released which I’ve included below, after mentioning the fantastic form of its seed in my last blog, and how the seed augurs its way into the ground courtesy of its pointed tip and attached tail which spirals round according to changes in humidity. There are still some flowers on the plants right now, but the photo included was taken in May, so it really does give value for money in the garden throughout the summer and autumn – better than most Geranium species.

The unpeeling beautifully formed seed and awn of Erodium manescavii. The seed detaches in about this form with a long ‘tail’ leading to the spiralled 3 twists or so closest to the pointed seed. Changes in humidity will then create tensions and movement in the tail which help to drive the pointed seed into the ground. This is a sophisticated refinement of the flinging action of related Geranium species seeds. 25/10/11

Still flowering after 5 months, Erodium manescavii

In the last week before the clocks change and we lose ‘summertime’, the landscape’s moisture laden condition often gives rise to dramatic mists and fogs here. Unfamiliar with the physics or meteorology of what is going on, I’m just inclined to enjoy these dramatic and fast changing displays around dawn. A wordsmith could do better; for me the sequence of images taken below at roughly 20 minute intervals will have to suffice.

Whilst the Saxifrage fortunei are still flowering full tilt, with several less vigorous cultivars now joining rubrifolia in flower, there are lots of single second flowers on plants this year, completely out of season – Welsh Poppy, Clematis montana, Bugle, to name but a few.

I think that this is Saxifraga fortunei ‘Obtusocuneata’, again flowering about 3 weeks after rubrifolia and being a very dwarf form, but lighting up a shady sheltered corner at this sometimes gloomy time of the year

Saxifrage fortunei ‘Pink Mist’, about 3 weeks later flowering than rubrifolia so it needs a spot with a bit of shelter from early frosts, but very pretty for late October

It really is the time of year to appreciate the plants whose leaves fade and change colour to give a final burst of interest before slipping into wintry dormancy. Over the years we’ve come to realise that like the cloud and mist scenes above, they are never the same from one year to the next, and this year has overall been poor. But equally there are some trees and shrubs which even in this generally disappointing season still perform brilliantly. Of equal importance for the impact of a display is how long the leaves are actually retained on the tree or shrub.

As an example, Parrotia persica is a lovely fairly slow-growing tree, which we grew in both Bristol and here in west Wales. It always had the hint of greatness, but over more than 18 years experience in 2 places, for us it’s let down by the fact that just as you think a real firework display is about to explode the leaves begin to fall sequentially, along the branches. Maybe we just don’t get enough sunlight?

Always seems a bit of a disappointment with us, Parrotia persica leaves 22/10/11

In this regard where plants are planted relative to the prevailing winds is obviously critical, but in its current well sheltered position the Welsh Parrotia is still a little disappointing.

By contrast Sorbus sargentiana always colours up dramatically, and retains leaves for long enough to be able to appreciate the display.

Reliable fiery leaf colour every year from Sorbus sargentiana 22/10/11

Liquidamber styraciflua does even better with some of the most dramatic leaf colour changes and also a display that starts in late September and has even now barely lost any leaves in spite of some very stormy conditions.

Consistently one of the longest lasting autumn leaf colour displays from Liquidamber ‘Worplesden’ 22/10/11

Many Cornus also seem to have dramatic consistent leaf colouring to add to the effect over the winter of coloured stems on the current year’s growth.

In a strong blow, the pale undersurface of the leaves of Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’ and its red/orange stems consistently light up the garden in a rare sunny moment

Mainly grown for its wonderful deep red stem colour in winter, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ has consistent, early autumn dramatic leaf colour.

So a mix of some of these in the garden gives a real colour boost at a time when colour in the wider landscape is becoming more limited to the green, grey, brown palette with the sky taking over as a source of changing dramatic images.

By the end of October the last hard fruit have been picked. After the promise of all that sunny dry weather at blossom time, a generally dull summer has meant unspectacular crops of apples, disappointing pears and the usual issue with our one productive quince tree – most of the quince start to split towards the end of September. If you can pick them at this time then they doo seem to ripen reasonably off the tree. This year I missed the critical point, and so had considerable wastage. Like pears they seem to rot really quickly with discolouration spreading right the way round the outside of the fruit.

Some of the last apples to be picked ‘Cornish Aromatic’ 20/10/11

A good crop of Quince ‘Meech’s Prolififc’, but the usual problem with fruit splitting of fruit left on the tree into mid October developed. I think picking late September is preferable here to avoid spoiled fruit. 13/10/11

The only bullet proof pear we seem to be able to grow, and the problem is that it is bullet like! Pear ‘Winter Nellis’. This year ‘Concorde’ and ‘Louise Bonne de Jersey’ have both succumbed to split fruit and  consequent rotting. At least they help to pollinate the ‘Winter Nellis’ 22/10/11

A decent crop of carrots for the first time this year after growing them in a Dumpy bag under fleece. The advice from most organic gardeners is that carrot flies hug the ground, so one would have thought that Dumpy Bags would provide an ideal solution. In fact I’m sceptical about this here – perhaps the Welsh Carrot flies are fitter and stronger, and fly higher as a result. In any event the fleece helps create a warmer growing environment early on, but in spite of its use there were still some signs of fly larval damage to the roots, but I’m more than happy with the yield from the initially poor soil used to set up the Dumpy bag, and growing the carrots with no added fertiliser.

A first year’s crop from a single Dumpy Bag…. a reasonable start in a poor year, and much easier to manage than carrots in the ground….about 1 metre square of soil surface area.

What I have done though this year for the first time, is to create a root store in an outbuilding after being caught out with the severe and sudden onset of winter last November. With the added move of buying a set of winter tyres for the first time ever, it would be nice to be shown to have over reacted – we shall see.

Finally, when does one start tidying up herbaceous plants? Again after last winter, I’ve already cut off most of the Hellebore leaves, since they’re underplanted with spring bulbs, especially snowdrops, and  if we get heavy snowfall again then the chance might be lost. However in many areas of the garden this doesn’t leave bare soil since we grow a lot of Chrysoplenium davidianum, Brunnera macrophylla and Cornus canadensis which all seem to survive under the Hellebore foliage during the spring and summer, only to be revealed when the Hellebores get their autumnal trim.

We grow many Hellebores as groundcover between shrubs, but when we cut back the leaves just about now, we reveal…… the real groundcover layer, which survives amazingly well beneath the Hellebores.. mainly Chrysoplenium davidianum, Bugle, Brunnera macrophylla and Cornus canadensis

Finally, a couple of photos of lingering summer before the clocks change and we start to settle into winter.

Evening light silhouettes the west facing trees

Late October warmth brings a Red Admiral to an Eryngium alpina flower 22/10/11


2 thoughts on “Pictures Speak Louder than Words, Fading Gracefully and Last Pickings

  1. Excellent blog and lovely photos. I’m particularly a fan of Saxifraga fortunei. The RHS will be trialling them from 2012 at Wisley to try and identify the most garden-worthy forms.

    • Hello Andy,
      Thanks for the kind comment, and I’ll look out for the RHS trial report in due course. By co-incidence, we were at Wisley the day after your comment en route to Paris for a week, hence my delay in replying. We didn’t spot any Saxifrage fortunei in our travels, but were bowled over by the extensive naturalsistic Aster/grass plantings behind the Great Wisley glasshouse, as well as several French gardens…perhaps a bit in my next blog. No chance to inspect the home turf yet since a late return this evening. Best wishes

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