Saturday 23 November 2013

The tipping point

Autumn is very definitely upon us and it leaves me with lots of tough decisions to make. When does that architectural seed head I have been enjoying, get the chop and join the rest of the season's growth on the compost heap ? What is the tipping point from lush to mush, keep to heap, ornamental to detrimental ? Sometimes I just don't know.

In some cases the tipping point is clear to see, usually after the first frost has taken its toll, and the  poor old plant has turned into a slimy mess overnight. It's a no-brainer and my secateurs are whipped out without a second thought. In other cases it is obvious that the plant still has lots to give before its last ride in the wheelbarrow.

I think most would agree that this Miscanthus is still giving pleasure. It is still upright and has strong colour and form, only enhanced by autumnal tinges of colour.

But what abut this Sedum ? Interesting textural statement or just a dead plant in need of a haircut? I sometimes think, when I read articles about the attractions of the Autumn garden in Garden magazines, that it is a case of the 'Emporer's new clothes' and that we are kidding ourselves that there is beauty in the skeletal remains of some plants. Are those people who haven't read the articles, peeping over my garden wall and sniggering at my untouched Echinops ? Or worse, do they think that I'm just a lazy gardener who can't be bothered to cut back ? The traditional gardener would have razed the lot to the ground, back in the 1970's, without a second thought. 

Personally, for the record, I do think that my Echinops still have something to contribute to the garden, but their card is marked ... the wheelbarrow is waiting !

So what about this Aruncus Dioicus ? Keep or cut ? I can't decide ? 

This one is easy, and in my opinion, it's a keeper. One of my favourite grasses, Hakonechloa Macra, is still looking lovely, as it gradually turns colour.

This Liatris is also still looking good, for the time being and still deserves its place in the border.

Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and so I suppose it is all down to personal choice as to whether there is still beauty in these dying plants. 

Trouble is, with some of them, I just can't make up my mind!

Friday 15 November 2013

What's still flowering out there ?

Floribunda 'Joi de Vivre'

Although we are into mid-November, there have only been a couple of frosts so far. The last one has killed off some, but not all of the dahlias and the last of the bedding.

The roses are behaving in very different ways - some are still blooming as freely as they did in June, while others are leafless and flowerless, well into winter-mode ! 'Joi de Vivre' (Floribunda) still thinks it's summer, whilst Charles de Mills and Rosa Mundi are sleeping deeply. The English roses are still flowering sporadically and 'Geoff Hamilton' has about five fat buds just about to open. Climber 'White Cloud' has the odd bloom, as has the shrub rose 'Buff Beauty'.

'Buff Beauty'

climber 'White Cloud'

All bedding is dead and brown now, although some of the Cosmos has kept going right up to the wire. There are occasional ragged Petunia or Geranium flowers in some of the pots.

One of the best performers in the garden this season has been Foxglove 'Illumination', a perennial, which started very slowly, but has gone from strength to strength, as it bulked up, flowering continuously.

Foxglove Illumination
The hardy fuschias are  untouched by the weather and are covered in flowers. I have grown lots from cuttings which are dotted around the garden, and all are doing well.

My winter Jasmine has just kick started into flower, and it is positioned by the back door, so that I can enjoy it every time I go out.

Winter Jasmine
Annual Marigolds are still blooming, not as profusely as in summer, but still enough to give a welcome flash of citrus across the borders.

This year I have bought in winter bedding which is mainly Violas. They are so lovely, and I wrote about them in more detail in my post But ... you're beautiful !

The one below is my favourite, the very dainty 'Viola Primrose Picotee'.

There are other odd lone flowers, forlornly waving in the breeze, looking like guests at a party who have overstayed their welcome. The Lychnis below will be the last one until next year.

Now, Autumn colour does very little for me, and if I'm honest gives me little pleasure. However, I have to admit that Acer Palmatum below is a beautiful rich red, for a fleeting moment.

I am linking this post to 'Garden Blogger's Bloom Day' on 'May Dreams Gardens' where you can see what's happening in lots of other blogger's gardens.

Thursday 14 November 2013

But ... you're beautiful !

Viola Penny Deep Blue

I started thinking about what this time of year has to offer, in terms of colour, and, after a few rather enjoyable moments of self pity, I began to see the light. There is a fabulous group of plants in full throttle at the moment, often just taken for granted by gardeners.

If I am honest, I have to admit that I have passed over them without so much as a glance for years, although I buy some for winter bedding every Autumn. I usually have a few pots at the back door, and haven't taken the time to really appreciate them.

These plants are the poor old Viola, the workhorse of the winter garden, giving  flashes of colour as we dash past them, enroute to the fire.

 I have never stopped to look, to really look, at those delicate little faces.

Viola Penny Mickey

To look them in the eye you need to get up close and personal. You need to kneel down and be on their level, to gently turn up those faces to appreciate them in all their glory. I think it was only when I looked at the photos I had taken, though, that I fully enjoyed the complexities of their colouring.

Violas look small, dainty and delicate, but their looks totally belie their true constitutions, because in reality they  are tough, hardy, robust and strong. Violas spit in the face of frost and snow, they laugh in the face of cold.

Viola Babyface Marina
Viola Babyface Marina, pictured above, is the loveliest shade of pastel blue, shot through with rich, dark indigo, around a central yellow eye. It is hard to believe that this fragile, ethereal flower can withstand the worst of the winter weather.

I was told a tale of violas today, where they reigned victorious, the only survivors in a garden decimated by the ridiculously low temperatures of the Winter of 2010. Apparently, even Buddleias struggled to survive, but the violas flowered on undaunted.

Although the variety of base colours is huge anyway, the subtle patterns on the face are infinitely variable. Little cat-like faces shine out on gloomy winter days.

Viola Deep Blue

Add caption
Viola Purple Picotee

Viola Purple Brightface

There are pale, delicate colours like the ice blues and the lavenders, and then there are some 'in your face' colours too, gaudy rich yellows and oranges. They don't do it for me personally, but they bring colour to the garden when there is very little from anything else. Even the bright, gaudy colours have interesting, dark faces which give additional interest.

Mixed Violas

I have kept my favourite until last - Viola Primrose Picotee, a very old fashioned, almost Art Deco looking flower. It reminds me of 1930's tea sets and embroideries.

Violas are an easy plant to grow from seed and to look after. They grow very readily from seed, and once grown, need little work. They need regular dead-heading, as for summer bedding, to maintain flowering. They also turn their heads to face the sun, and this needs to be taken into consideration when planting them, or siting pots, to ensure that their faces will be visible.

So, what's not to like about Violas ?  Hardy, floriferous, varied and robust , the little workhorse of our winter gardens.

I am linking with 'Fertiliser Friday' at 'Tootsie Time' where you can read lots of lurverly garden blogs ...        Fertiliser Friday

Sunday 10 November 2013

Brave New World of the Heuchera

Sugar Plum

Years ago, back in the day, you could find a little unassuming perennial at the front of the border. It had small, green leaves and tiny red flowers on the end of tall stems. The Heuchera. It was the sort of plant that reliably plugged a gap and provided a bit of foliage, as a backdrop to more glamorous neighbours.

Then one day, someone looked at the humble little Heuchera and saw its potential, so they began to produce different varieties. It started with some rather nice reds, some of which were dark and rich, like 'Plum Pudding', 'Black Beauty' and 'Obsidian'. They were good, sound garden plants, reliably providing long-lasting colour, especially in the months when colour is a luxury. Lovely little pools of darkness in the borders.

Black Beauty

Almost overnight, the floodgates opened, and a deluge of brightly coloured Heucheras came flooding onto the market. There was a rainbow of lurid lime greens, apricots, sulphur- yellows and purples, and the names, as well as the foliage, were guarenteed to attract attention. Names like 'Berrie Smoothie' sounded more like something attractive to eat, than something to grow. Somehow, they were designed to attract the attention of the 'Sunday Gardener', enroute from the Garden Centre Coffee shop to the bedding plants.

Yellowstone Falls

These plants do not know the meaning of the word 'subtle', they are bold as brass and in your face, big showoffs, dancing in the limelight and outshining all around them.



They are the slightly vulgar cousin of the respectable, hardworking green original Heuchera. The gaudy newcomers in the garden, drawing far too much attention to themselves.

However, not all the new varieties are bright, as there are also some limp, faded colours, like well washed clothes. Some of them look sickly, as though they are already dying off, even when they are in the peak of health.



But am I alone in my dislike of these Brave New Heucheras ? My local proper nursery owner, at 'Appleby Nursery',  says they sell extremely well, particularly at this time of the year, when there is not much else around, so perhaps I am in the minority.

 I can see why they are attractive to some people - you buy them, you plant them, you leave them, you enjoy them. No staking or pruning or lifting or cutting back. They couldn't be easier to look after.


Some of them, I  really do love. The leaves are  delicate and interesting, like 'Tapestry' above and 'Greenspice' below. The colours are rich without being gaudy, and they add to the colour and texture in the border. They all represent fantastic value as they can be bought for a few pounds, and will live for years in the garden.

So why do I feel  that this new generation of Heucheras are imposters in the world of 'real plants' ?  I think it is because they look slightly unreal, like those brightly coloured heathers which are in garden Centres at the moment, and have clearly been dipped or sprayed in dayglo colours. They also remind me of plastic flowers, in that there is an unreal quality to them.

I feel that I am being manipulated by the growers, in this 'stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap Garden Centre ethos, who sell their plants with the same marketing techniques used to sell soap powder or shoes. Give me the old fashioned nursery grower any day. I suppose I feel that the new generation of Heucheras are designed to appeal to people who don't usually buy plants.

Like everything else, the appeal of a plant is a personal thing. For me, this Brave New World of Heucheras is something to be examined variety by variety, plant by plant. There are some fantastic plants in there and some absolute turkeys, and I  will be very interested to see which ones are still being used extensively in gardens in ten years time.