As the year turns nature dresses and redresses herself in a succession of seasonal floral and foliage combinations. Mostly this is a gradual affair in my garden, but the boundary between winter to spring offers the sharpest of the mostly blurred, creeping seasonal changes. There is the fading of the scented, late-winter blossom of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ whilst, at the same time, along the top of the fence Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ begins opening into small cascades of white flowers as it weaves its way through a climbing rose.
Around the edges of the budding, deciduous shrubs the shy, drooping hellebores take centre stage for a few weeks pushing their way through between a dwarf hebe or two.
And, it wouldn’t be spring if there weren’t patches of light shade lit with clusters of pale sunny primroses.
From March into April the pace of new growth begins to pick up and everywhere new fresh green shoots remind me of the variety of perennials that will take their place in the limelight at some point all the way through to the Michaelmas daisies of November!
Sometimes as the quality of our northern light cools rapidly into the blue-greys of autumn, bright coloured dahlias can look strangely out of place, but if there’s enough dark green still in the garden their vibrant presence makes a welcome cheery picture.
And, the dark red of dahlia Arabian Night appears particularly rich in the late-afternoon autumn sunlight.
Not everybody’s favourite, but dahlias have seen a huge resurgence of interest in the last couple of decades here (in England) since the late Christopher Lloyd grubbed up his rose garden at Great Dixter and planted an exotic garden featuring amongst others dahlias. Here’s his forthright views on the matter from ‘The Well-tempered Garden’ (revised edition):
Dahlias are now available in such a varied assortment of flower forms and plant habits that there is not justification for sweeping them aside with a dismissive gesture as vulgar or clumsy.
Hear, hear – and what visual inspiration they make too!
All over the weekend this little hedge sparrow has been returning to serenade itself dancing up and down in front of my french windows. Madly chirping away and fluffing up its feathers until it saw me with my camera. When it flew off I noticed that its right wing was significantly smaller than its left. And, that led my train of thought to wonder why it found its own reflection so utterly enticing.
I thought perhaps it wasn’t used to getting attention from other sparrows because it looked odd and uneven. The famous “Nature, red in tooth and claw” line from Tennyson’s poem ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’ sprang to mind.
A quotation that has been lifted from a long, reflective poem on a central theme of grief. This canonical Victorian poem also works in and around the controversial science/nature/faith debate of the time. Although the poem was published nine years before Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ the “Nature, red in tooth and claw” has subsequently become a shorthand summing up the harshness of evolution.
Forcing bulbs sounds like a load of specialist hard work, but for a little midwinter cheer it’s really very easy. Time is the main ingredient. Here is a photo record of some purple crocuses that have been forced. Firstly, ten weeks in a cool dark cupboard, just covered in a light compost and kept barely damp. Then into the daylight on my kitchen window sill and after a further 10 days here we have these spring crocuses in bloom.
You just have to remember that you’ve put bulbs away in a dark cupboard!
Two days on the kitchen window sill in full light.
A brief autumn shower can often bring out the most beautiful glints in the low light of the October evening sun. I looked up from my desk and just caught the sun lighting my front garden.
Obviously, I took the shot first and thought afterwards. Learn from your mistakes, but I just keep repeating all the old habits.
The transient nature of the scene may be frustrating, but it adds to the overall poignancy. And, as usual the camera (or maybe it’s the photographer!) doesn’t quite capture the full experience, but the gently fading echinops and eryngium seed heads dripping in the rain are still beautiful.
So few words capture such a melancholic sentiment – I bow to the brilliance of Robert Browning using autumn to deepen the overall sense of forlorn disappointment running through his poem, ‘Andrea del Sarto’. As for us mere mortals we can only observe nature’s steady familiar preparations for the coming winter and hopefully record tiny slices with our cameras.
It is also time to collect seeds. Salvia sclarea turkestanica will self-seed, but just in case we have a hard winter it always worth having some seeds to sow next spring and they are ready to collect now here in East Anglia.
Poppy seedlings pop up all over newly turned earth, but there’s no harm in helping nature along. So a gentle shake of the heads into a brown paper envelope or bag and you’ve got some seed for next year.
Perhaps the 29th August could be named ‘Dahlia Day’ as here in East Anglia the dahlias are blooming their hearts out and the 29th doesn’t quite sound like the end of summer, yet – well, not so much as the 30th or 31st August. Of course, well tended and regularly deadheaded, or cut for the house, dahlias keeping on flowering until they get hit by the first hard frost.
I like small-flowered decorative dahlias like Arabian Night or cacti type dahlias such as Nuit D’ete (lost last year due to relentless slug attack!). I also prefer single flowered varieties such as Giselle which has the bonus of attractive bronze foliage. My white dahlias were originally bought as part of a pink and white dahlia mix so think they might be ‘Perfection’ or ‘Nathalie’s Wedding’ not really sure which, but not a particularly good white and a bit stiff and starchy for me.
However, I didn’t buy this ‘dinner plate’ variety as I have previously found they are difficult to keep looking good and each bloom needs staking as they are so large, five to six inches across. But this music hall show off has just turned up in a packet of seeds that were supposed to be all very dark wine red, single flowers – and with some amusement I’ve found out it is called Mystery Day.
All my dahlias are planted in large pots that I sink into the ground to mix with the rest of my August flowering plants. The dark red is used to give depth to the planting which is quite relaxed and informal.
By August the pond water is now warm enough for a succession of flowers from a somewhat shy water lily – not very floriferous my fault not the plants as it isn’t in full sun for long enough each day.
When I started planting up the pond, along with the necessary green oxygenating aquatics, I wanted a white water lily. I can only have one water lily as the pond is quite small. After some hunting through the catalogues I eventually found a medium sized variety, Nymphaea Caroliniana Nivea. The flowers initially look cup-shaped, but then open fully into a pure white star-shaped water lily with a centre of yellow stamens.
It has been nearly five years since I first spotted the scarlet lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii) attacking my lily bulbs, but despite their annual attempt to annihilate my plants, I’ve won enough skirmishes this season to achieve a reasonable display of blooms.
Lilium Stargazer (pink) and Lilium Apollo
Not all bugs are bad news and this little fellow sheltering from the sun is a welcome visitor.