Autumn advances with daylight hours diminishing; with this comes light levels which enhance the colours of the turning leaves, particularly when the sun is shining! In particular these include the wonderful shades of the Japanese maples, Sargent’s Cherries and deciduous azaleas as they quickly develop their hues of gold, orange and varying shades of scarlet to burgundy.
Another excellent shrub showing its autumn colour is Cotinus of which there are many new forms; these have been planted in areas of the Garden where honey fungus is prevalent as it is recommended to be tolerant of this highly destructive pathogen. Cotinus ‘Flame’ is aptly named with small shrubs planted three years ago coming into their own now; as well as autumn colour, they have large panicles of flowers which resemble a “cloud of smoke”, thus its common name of “Smoke Bush”. There are many tried and tested varieties with excellent red or golden foliage in the summer as well; it performs best on less fertile soil in good sun but requires protection when young from rabbits.
Yet to change colour, but evident in the Arboretum is the Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). It is the delightful smell of caramel or burnt sugar which signifies its presence, long before it is seen. The lowering of the temperature, just before leaf fall causes it to emit this wonderful scent in the air; in full autumn colour it is a delight in clear yellows and touches of reddish pink.
There are so many tasks keeping the team busy in the Garden:
Harvesting of fruit and keeping up with the windfalls is a daily task – it has been a good year for the apples and pears with the late summer sun ripening the crop before the final harvest; many will go into storage, but a large proportion will be made into juice or as a base for jams and chutneys.
There is a constant hum in the Garden of hedge cutters as the autumn push to complete the topiary and intricate hedge work is progressed; this is somewhat quieter than in previous years, as the team trial the new generation of electric equipment – this will in years to come be the way ahead as this equipment is generally lighter with less vibration, but at present not robust enough for all the work at hand.
Bulb planting is in full swing with new areas of narcissi, daffodils and crocus being planted as well as enhancing areas where bulb numbers are sparse. Three tranches of bulb planting is done at Highgrove: a small number of prepared hyacinths and narcissi arrive in late August for pot work in the House, at the end of September the bulk of narcissi, daffodils and crocus are planted, and finally at the end of October any tulips, anemones and small numbers of bulbs are planted either as outdoor pot work or in pockets in the Stumpery once tidying and clearing has been done. This “staged” planting ensures that bulbs are kept by the supplier in good storage until the timing is right for the Garden team to fit this task in with all the others needed during the season.
The late summer/autumn flowering bulbs are always a treat at this time of year – so easy to forget to plant in the hectic spring rush of planting. Permanent plantings of Cyclamen hederifolium (Ivy-leaved Cyclamen) increase year on year with self-seeding developing large colonies especially in light shade conditions under trees. There are bulbs to be treated as annuals such as Gladiolus murielae which give wonderful scent and long lasting late displays where early perennials have finished – these are potted early in April/May and planted out wherever “needed” later in June/July. This year they have done worked exceedingly well in the Cottage Garden with the asters.
Many think that autumn is not as exciting as spring in the Garden; far from this! The list of late flowering perennials is immense, the angle of the sun heightens the richness of blue and red flowering tones and the yellows and oranges stand out. The ground is welcoming, warm and moist to new plantings, and there is a fullness in the air with the ripening of buds, fruit and larders. Highlights at Highgrove are the borders in the Kitchen and Cottage Garden, the ongoing display in the Carpet Garden, autumn colour throughout the Garden and the pastoral welcome by the Shropshire sheep grazing the Meadow!
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