Below are our 12 favourite plants from the garden in early October 2016. Many will already have been in flower for a short period, and, of course, overlap with the previous fortnight’s favourites. It’s an important time for choosing flowers to accompany the first hints of autumnal leaf colour which are often appearing by the end of the month.
1: Clematis rehderiana At any other time of the year, and with no sense of smell, this plant wouldn’t make it into these lists, but since it’s late September/early October when it flowers,and since it has the most fantastic scent, this has to be a great autumnal plant. Ours is still a young thing, gradually making it up into a purple cobnut. Mature specimens can get quite large, but the tiny pale yellow bell shaped flowers, mainly hidden from view above a path, create drifts of perfume that have you looking around to find its source.
2: Paeony lutea var. Ludlowii I have also featured this at the time of flowering, although the pretty clear yellow bowl shaped flowers give it its name are, like many paeonies, a very fleeting presence. They are loved by bumble and honey bees… However it’s also a very reliable source of fabulous autumn leaf colour, and the stems look appealing even later in the year. Finally the new shoots in spring are wonderfully architectural as the initially pink new leaves begin to unfurl. Ours are seedlings from a plant in our Bristol garden, which in turn was sourced decades earlier, from the old Bristol Botanic Gardens as a tiny seedling. Can easily develop into a thicket 8 to 9 feet tall, and survives in really poor soil with us.
3: Stewartia pseudocamellia The first of 2 of these plants was moved twice before it seemed to settle and become happy. It’s now almost certainly been planted too close to our spirally trained apple trees, but it’s a lovely thing already and, unlike many trees, begins flowering at a young age producing exotic white flowers not unlike a single rose. These are popular with bees and so are quite fleeting in early July, but the real bonus is the form of the leaves and branches, and the reliable early autumnal leaf tints. Unlike some trees these colours don’t last that long, but fortunately the plant is now in a more sheltered part of the garden, so less vulnerable to strong winds.
4: Cornus alternifolia Another, for now, small tree with an interesting tiered form and attractive mid green leaves, which consistently begin to turn red in early October. In some years, they are blown off before creating an impressive display, since the leaves seem to colour in waves. But when, as in 2016, filtered sunlight catches them en masse, the effect is delightful. There was much debate over this tree, an option being to plant a variegated form which in the end we agreed to avoid. I don’t know whether this has the same wonderful autumn leaf colour change. In early June, the tree becomes covered in white flowers…
5: Cornus alba “Kesselringii” I think that this is the correct name for a form of C. alba which we acquired as a few stem cuttings, and have propagated in many points throughout the garden by simply pushing in cut stems in November, where we want new plants to grow. Most root and in a few years produce clumps of stems which are cut to the ground in early spring. The result is one of the most reliable early autumnal firework displays as the leaves change colour, before dropping to reveal the deep red/purple stems which add garden interest throughout the winter.
6: Cornus kousa “Miss Satomi” We think that this is one of the best forms of Cornus kousa, which is a delight in early summer, usually June into July with its strikingly coloured pink “flowers”/bracts, which are followed by tiny strawberry like fruits, making an attractive small tree through much of the year. It’s another reliable source of autumn leaf colour, and unlike some other Cornus seems to hang on to its leaves for quite a long time. Though whether this is just because it’s in a more sheltered part of the garden, I’m not sure. I hesitated to include it in June’s Palette since we have suspicions that all may not be well with it. It’s planted into very poor shale rather than soil, and put on very little new growth in 2016. The leaves coloured early. We had a sense of foreboding, that all was not well. And then, perhaps too late, in spring 2017 I spotted that the spiral plastic tree guard was completely inflexible and acting as a tourniquet on the trunk
7: Aster (Symphotrichum) Mrs. ST Wright Over the years we’ve planted quite a few Asters. Some thrive, others don’t, and since we’re a little disorganised, plant locations can become muddled. So we think this is the correct name for this mid season, mid height Aster, which makes about 1.2 metre height growing in the very poor rock/shale/smashed concrete of our magic terrace garden. Like many it becomes a little bare lower down its stems by flowering time, but using a shorter plant surrounding it, this failing can be hidden. In a dry autumn it glows, a rich mid purple/violet, throughout October.
8: Aster laevis “Acturus” We definitely (?) have the correct name for this striking tall Aster with black stems. In our retyred matrix garden, it reaches nearly 2 metres, and does need some support to stop it flopping. But it’s a good doer, and mid Aster season flower, which associates well with other taller plants in this part of the garden.
9: Malus atrosanguinea “Gorgeous” Living up to its name, this is indeed a fabulous crab apple. Wonderful pink flushed blossom in late May, or sometimes into early June, followed by masses of bright red crab apples which make a fabulous well flavoured jelly. So always a dilemma as to when to pick the fruit, since they form such a display in the garden through October. Usually reliable, but not in 2016, when a very late frost took off a lot of developing fruits berry early, so no jelly this year, and also in 2017, when although the lower flowers escaped frost damage, a very late frost took out all the upper blossom.
10: Buddleia davidii Gelli Seedling. Most of our Buddleia finished flowering weeks ago, but this vigorous bush has been in flower for well over 2 months now, with minimal dead heading. Not perhaps the most vibrant colour, but a very valuable late nectar source plant. I’m fairly certain that it’s a seedling that appeared in our shrubbery bed.
11: Miscanthus sinensis “Silver Tips ” (?Silberfeder?) By early October the striking plumes of this grass are really dramatic, with a faintly pinkish tinge of silver. Certainly as they emerge in mid September, they have a deeper red/ pink hue… but lose this as they mature. In fairly stony ground they reach a height of about 1.5 to 2 metres, and bulk up fairly quickly. For some, no doubt climatic, reason, very few of our grasses flowered in the summer of 2015, so it’s great to see them performing very well in 2016.
12 : Aster ageratoides “Asran” Another queried name, but I’m fairly certain of the species form. This is a toughie/thug/vigorous depending on your viewpoint. Confined reasonably well by the tyre walls in our matrix garden, it produces dense clumps and complete weed suppression. Early spring bulbs do seem to survive beneath it, provided it’s cut down after flowering.Beginning to flower in mid September, it keeps going for several weeks and is of medium height. But in an open fertile site I suspect it could prove to be difficult to contain.
Thanks for reading.