These striking late season perennials add a wonderful splash of vibrant colour to the autumn garden. In many respects they don’t fit the normal colour palette of burgundy, mauve and yellow so common in autumn flowering plants. Instead the bright, almost iridescent, reds and pinks create a strong contrast when set against plants like New-England Asters in the flower border.
According to Anna Pavord in “The Bulb” these South African rhizomatous plants naturally grow in stream banks and damp meadows. In the garden here at Waverley we have had very mixed success in getting them established. Once established however they grow away strongly and even self seed freely.
Our most successful clumps grow in partial shade in a most challenging spot on the edge of the paved patio where there is little competition from other plants (perhaps slightly reminiscent of a stream edge as the soil beneath the patio remains damp throughout the year).
We have had less success in some of our flower beds where there is more competition from other plants and the soil is very damp all winter due to the heavy clay beneath the top soil. Most writers seem to indicate that these plants prefer moist but well drained soil in full sun. Once established the clumps need very little attention and come back strongly year after year starting in September and flowering through to the end of November (and beyond if you are lucky).
The bright scarlet and hot pink flowers with their neat cup shaped blooms make very good cut flowers and contrast particularly well with mauve and lilac. Even in late November the plants are still throwing up new fresh flower buds.
We have two main varieties growing in the garden currently (names unknown I’m afraid) but in Ludlow market earlier this year we came across ‘Pink Princess’ and just could not resist it (it happens I know!). This is a delicate blush pink and we really hope that it settles in quickly as it will be a wonderful addition to the new flower garden.
In placing Schizostylis in the garden it is worth remembering that it does tumble forward so make sure it is not planted right on the edge of a flower border or it will get damaged by all the wheel barrows, mowers and feet brushing past it all the time on the path.
Hardy rhizomatous perennial
Origin: South Africa
Latin name:Schizostylis coccinea (also called Hesperantha coccinea). The latin word Schizostylis reflects the cut or divided style in the flower and coccinea highlights the rich scarlet colour.
Family: Iridaceae (Iris family)
Hardiness: H4 on the RHS hardiness scale (Hardy through most of the UK (-10 to -5))
Height: 45 – 60cm
Flowering period: September to November
Cut flowers: Yes
Conditioning: Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.
“Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)
“The Cutting Garden” by Sarah Raven (ISBN 978-0-7112-3465-9)
We may not notice the presence of fungi in the garden for most of the year but in the autumn the reproductive part, the mushroom, begins to appear around the garden. There is such huge variety of forms and species that beginning to understand them more can be both challenging and fascinating.
A brief introduction
A fungus is made up of long strands or filaments called hyphae which form into cobweb type nets called mycelium. Unlike plants, fungi do not have chlorophyll and so cannot build up there own carbon compounds through photosynthesis. Like animals they take their sustenance from others, either dead or living plants or animals. Some fungi are particularly valuable to the gardener as part of the annual cycle, decomposing dead plant matter and returning nutrients to the soils.
Three groups of fungi that gardeners and flower growers should be aware of are:
Decomposers that break down and convert dead organic matter so that the plants can access it to make new fresh growth.
Mycorrhizal fungi that grow on or within plant roots and help enable plants to gain greater access to plant nutrients. These are commonly sold in garden centres these days particularly for use at planting time with shrubs and trees.
Pathogens that either reduce plant vigour or cause death. Typically you will notice these if your seedlings or young plants ‘damp-off’ but there are also many other disorders that are fungal in nature (as opposed to bacterial, viral or nutritional).
We will return to mycorrhizal fungi and pathogenic fungi in future blogs but for now we will concentrate on the very visible fungi in the garden, the autumn mushrooms. The mushrooms that you see are the fruiting bodies that produce and release microscopic reproductive spores. As far as I can see the words mushroom and toadstool seem to be interchangeable.
Identification of mushrooms
I must admit that I am very much a novice at identifying mushrooms but it is a challenge that I want to start to get to grips with.
If you find a specimen that you want to identify then taking a picture on your phone (though useful) is really not sufficient. You will need to note some or all of the following:
the size, shape, colour and texture of the cap;
the length and width and colour of the stem and whether it has a ring;
flesh colour and smell;
whether the mushroom has gills, tubes or teeth;
the attachment of the gills if they are present and their colour;
the colour of the spores; and
where you found them and whether they grew on grass, wood, leaf litter, dung etc.
If like me you struggle to tell the difference between all the many mushroom genera (and even more species within those genera) there are some places where you can get help:
Reference books – there are many of these but one that I have found very useful is “Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain and Europe” by Roger Phillips (ISBN 0-330-26441-9)
Facebook groups – these are always great fun and the Facebook Group “Mushroom Spotters UK” is very active at this time of year and is very informative
Identification phone Apps – I have been trying out the “Mushroom Identify – Automatic picture recognition” App on my Android phone. Great fun but I am not entirely sure how good it is yet. Basically you take one or more pictures of the specimen and let the phone have a go at identification. It typically gives you 4 or 5 suggestions and provides very effective links to further information and pictures. It certainly gets you started but you need to refer to other references as well.
In reality I find that I use all of these techniques on a single sample to try and hone down the list of ‘possibles’. Bit by bit the same suggestions appear and you begin to get more confident in your choice.
Two examples of recent finds (November 2017) in our flower garden are shown in the pictures below (possible Clitocybe nebularis) and at the start of this blog (possible Mycena sp.). It’s a fascinating subject and the diversity of what you will find when you begin to look closely is amazing. Have a go!
Just a final warning: Do not eat any mushrooms you don’t know. You could die.
Our large Madame Alfred Carrière rose is at least 15 years old and may be approaching 20. It is a truly beautiful rose with large white flowers with a blush of pink and a sweet delicious fragrance. It is a repeat flowering rose starting in June with a tremendous flush of flowers and continuing throughout the summer until October if the weather is kind.
Popular since Victorian times, Madame Alfred Carrière is a rose from the Noisette group which have virtually thornless stems and fragrant double flowers. It seems to be very healthy and copes very well with its exposed location with virtually no protection from south-westerly winds.
Originally we planted this rose to climb up a pink cherry tree and provide a continuity of flowers after the spring cherry blossom had faded. The cherry tree is alas long gone having died and rotted away. We so love the Madame Alfred Carrière that we really wanted to find a way of allowing it to continue even though its support had gone.
The rose now grows up within a metal frame and its long arching branches cascade from the top. However, this climber certainly grows strongly each year and the metal tubular frame is really not man enough for the job. To help provide greater strength we have placed a large chestnut stake in the centre to give it greater strength and depth into the soil.
When in full leaf the structure has to carry a huge weight and the winds in late October have taken their toll.
Left to its own devices I think it would not have lasted the winter in this exposed part of the garden. Drastic action therefore had to be taken to release the weight of the top foliage and straighten up the metal frame.
It doesn’t look pretty I admit but this severe pruning is really the only way to give it a chance over winter. From experience it is a really tough plant and has bounced back in previous years. Next spring new fresh shoots will emerge and in no time it will be growing strongly again with bright green, clean foliage.
Madame Alfred Carrière is a wonderful garden rose and a much admired treasure in the here at Waverley. We don’t find it a useful cut flower because it drops its petals too quickly and has flimsy stems but it would make good petal confetti.
With a name like Himalayan Fairy Grass, Miscanthus nepalensis should be associated with a rich and intriguing folklore. I have not managed to find anything specific on this grass but “The Fairy Mythology – Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries” by Thomas Keightley 1892 does make an interesting diversion on a wet afternoon. It does make reference to the “enchanted gardens on the summit of the Himalaya”. I leave the rest to your imagination.
Grasses are increasingly valuable plants for the garden and for use in floral arrangements. Miscanthus nepalensis is exquisite with tall, delicate branching flower stems and pendant seed heads that turn a lovely bronze/gold colour in the autumn. This bronze, light reflecting sheen makes an unusual addition to a floral arrangement providing movement and some natural bling.
Miscanthus nepalensis is a deciduous, perennial grass and grows to about 1.5 metres in our garden. Ideally I think it needs space to look at its best allowing the stems to move freely in the wind and add the movement to a border that grasses do so well. Its flowers, and the seed heads that follow, look good for a long period of time and are therefore good value plants. Many writers advocate planting this grass in a gravel garden.
It is such a lovely plant that this year we have collected seed in the autumn in order to build up the numbers. The blog from Barn House Garden indicates that it self seeds readily. We have sown some seed immediately after collection and will sow again in late winter as Barn House Garden suggest to see which works best. We will let you know whether we succeed!
Hardiness: RHS hardiness rating H6 (hardy in all UK and northern europe -20°C to -15°C)
Origin: West China, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal (ref: RHS website)
Maintenance: As a deciduous grass this should be cut back to ground level in late winter before the new shoots appear.
As florists and cut flower growers one of the ultimate aims of the garden at Honey Pot Flowers is to have a wide variety of country garden flowers that we can incorporate in our wedding bouquets and venue arrangements.
A couple of years ago we were asked to provide bouquets and hair flowers for a wedding ceremony in the Orangery at the wonderful National Trust Hidcote Gardens. Perhaps a slightly daunting prospect sending flowers to Hidcote but an exciting challenge all the same. We also provided DIY buckets of our cut flowers for the wedding party to decorate their wedding venue at nearby Mickleton Hills Farm.
The cutting list
The brief was for relaxed bouquets of fresh country flowers in blues, pinks and whites with a pop of yellow. This style has proved popular with many of our couples over the years. For this design we used the following flowers:
Astilbe (Pink & White)
Larkspur (Pink & Blue)
Gladiolus nanus (White)
Veronica (Pink & White)
Sweet William (White)
Clary Sage (Pink)
Also popular are our buckets of flowers for decorating the tables, bar area and entrance at the wedding venue. These are typically delivered the day before the wedding and allows family and friends to meet (possibly for the first time) and decorate the venue in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.
Mickleton Hills Farm is a lovely barn conversion and the couple decorated the tables with small bottles and jars filled with our cottage garden flowers. The flowers provided included many of those used in the bouquets with the addition of Ridolfia, blue Clary Sage, drumstick Alliums, Cosmos, Shasta daisies, Antirrhinum, Amaranthus, green teasels and Liatris along with a variety of different Hosta leaves and Lonicera nitida stems for foliage.
Planning and preparation
Typically our weddings will have an agreed colour theme. However, we grow all of our flowers outdoors and are therefore at the mercy of the British weather. Seasonal flowers are by their very nature, seasonal, and so the flowers that will look at their best on a particular date will vary. I think all the Brides we work with appreciate this and it is very much part of providing wedding flowers that are locally grown and ‘of the moment’. We work closely with other growers and suppliers to ensure everything comes together on the day.
Our planning for each wedding usually starts in earnest two weeks before the event. A walk around the flower garden identifies what flowers will be available and ideas for the bridal party bouquets begin to form. Initially we will be looking to identify our feature flowers, the spikes, balls, umbels and discs in appropriate colours and then the fillers and foliage that will complement the design. Detailed bouquet and buttonhole designs are then developed and a full list of the flowers required is created. From this schedule we identify what additional flowers and materials we may need to order in.
For a Saturday wedding we will usually cut and condition on the Thursday, carry out all the arranging on the Friday ready for delivery on the Saturday. Cut flowers for venues are typically delivered in water the day before.
One of the major challenges for a mid-summer wedding is keeping all the flowers (and the florist!) cool. All our bouquets are kept well hydrated right up to the time of the wedding so that they remain at their very best.
For this wedding the Bride wanted individually wired fresh hair flowers for herself and the Bridesmaids. These have to be prepared at the very last minute and the blooms selected very carefully. Fresh flowers out of water on hot heads in the summer heat is definitely not ideal from a florists perspective but it all worked out in the end!
The overriding features of the garden this month are the rich colours of the autumn leaves and the bright red berries so loved by the birds. The birds have just about finished off the Pyracantha berries but the Cotoneaster still remain for the time being. I am sure these will be next.
Usually October sees the finest autumn leaf colour but this year the leaves seem to have held right into November. The high, gusty winds of the last few days (22/23 Nov) have removed a lot of the leaves but the stunning bronze shades of the flowering cherries (Prunus incisa ‘Paean’) still remain.
There are, however, sparks of interest all around the garden. The Fatsia japonica which sits in full shade just behind the house has been in full flower for a good month now with is large, white architectural flowers. These flowers, along with the ivy, are a great source of late autumn pollen and nectar for a wide range of insects and bees.
Still in full flower throughout the garden is Schizostylis (Kaffir Lily) in its range of intense red and pale pink flowers. Even in November it is still throwing up new fresh buds. In our recent visit to Ludlow we managed to pick up a new variety (to us) of Schizostylis ‘Pink Princess’ which is a delicate blush pink and we look forward to it settling well into the flower garden. The plant was already established enough to divide into three so we already have a reasonable clump for next season.
There are also a number of unseasonal surprises including Astrantia and Centranthus which have thrown up a second (or even third) flush of flowers having been cut back after flowering earlier in the year. The Centranthus (Valerian) in particular is looking very fresh and almost glows in the dim autumn light of the afternoon.
It is noticeable that some of the evergreen shrubs are putting on a last flush of new growth before the temperature gets too cold. Our variegated Pittosporum is looking particularly fresh and healthy at the moment. It is something we use often in our floristry and it is pleasing to see it growing so well. Also growing well are our recently planted Rosemary bushes which are putting on long straight stems that will come in useful for both attractive, fragrant wedding buttonholes as well as kitchen use over the coming months.
One of the major jobs for the winter months is to prune back and refresh all the roses around the garden. This is a significant piece of work and something that we spread over a number of weeks once the cold weather sets in and the roses have lost their leaves. All the climbers will be untied from their supports, the old stems taken right out and a few new stems selected on each plant to tie back in. Any remaining flowers heads will be taken off and all the small side branches will be pruned back to 3 or 4 buds making a neat and tidy look throughout the winter.
But the shrubs are not all going to sleep. Some of the winter flowering shrubs like Viburnum x Bodnantense are now coming into bloom. This is one of those shrubs that offers a wonderful waft of scent on those cold winter days as you wander around the garden.
Another main stay of the late summer and autumn garden are the hardy fushias. These really are low maintenance shrubs and continue producing the characteristic blooms way into November.
Rather unexpectedly the Japenese Quince (Cheanomeles) is already flowering, something we would not normally expect to see until after Christmas. Other spring flowering perennials like Bergenia are also already in bloom and looking fresh and bright.
Before the winter sets in a lot of of preparation has been going on to ensure that we have a wonderful flush of colour in the spring. Tubs have been emptied and planted up with tulips, crocus and topped with winter flowering Viola’s and Panies.
All of the dahlias have now been lifted from the old rose garden and the areas cleared. Tulips, English Iris, Crocus and Alliums have all been planted. We have planted a number of Allium cristophii which we hope will establish and create a real statement throughout the flower garden next year and beyond.
The biennials that were seeded last June and planted out in September (wallflowers, sweet william, foxgloves, sweet rocket, hollyhocks and campanula) are all establishing well and look like they are now big enough to survive the winter without problems. The hollyhocks have grown into large plants already but do seem to be suffering from a little rust. Hopefully this will not cause problems further down the line.
Things in the garden may be slowing but the greenhouse is full of newly seeded perennial plants that will over winter under protection and be planted out in the spring. These include Lupin ‘Noble Maiden’ (white) and Lupin ‘Chandelier’ (yellow), Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’, Delphinium ‘Black Knight’ and Achillea ‘Summer Berries’. Sown in September, these have all developed into good strong little plants for the winter.
Also in the greenhouse we continue to grow on our fresh herbs (coriander and rocket) for use in the kitchen.
In preparation for the cold winter weather we have now brought all the Agapanthus in pots into the cold greenhouse. The hardier, deciduous varieties with their narrow leaves will need little further attention until the spring but the non-deciduous larger leaved varieties will be covered in fleece or bubble wrap when we get very cold nights. We have also brought the Ornithogalum into the greenhouse to overwinter.
The non-hardy Chrysanthemum’s that have been flowering profusely outside in the flower garden have all been dug up, cut back and potted up in the greenhouse to overwinter.
In the orchard pretty much all of the apples have fallen now. Some remain on the Tydeman’s Late Orange and the Bramley for later picking. We have had a huge, wonderful crop and those that have not been used for cider making, putting in the freezer or been given away are unfortunately now falling to the ground and need to be cleared and put on the compost heap. I keep thinking I need to find someone that keeps a pig to help me out at this time of year.
The woodland walk is quiet at the moment but there are already signs of the promise of spring. We are slowly developing a snowdrop walk in this part of the garden complemented by cyclamen and beautiful yellow primroses that we were given from an Aunt’s garden on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.
The yellow-stemmed willow that is close to this wooded area has now lost its leaves and stands straight and tall at the edge of the copse. This will look stunning right through the winter particularly on days where the weak winter sun shines through the bare stems of the copse.
We have also recently planted a new Acer palmatum in this sheltered area. This was one of those irresistible buys from our recent autumn visit to Hergest Croft Garden in Herefordshire. We have not been very successful with Acers in the past but the one in our neighbour’s garden looks stunning in the autumn so it is certainly possible to grow them in this part of the world. Fingers crossed this time.
As we move towards December the gardening will continue. Seventy new roses will shortly be arriving from Griffin Roses and these will be planted into the new flower garden. All the beds are now dug over and prepared to receive these bare rooted shrubs. Busy times ahead!
I think that all young children are fascinated by mini-beasts and my interest in the garden ecology around us has not gone away. It never ceases to amaze me just how many different bugs and small creatures you come across whilst digging and working among the flowers. This virtual tour of the garden gives me a great excuse to find out more.
I must admit that I have probably been rather undisciplined in what I have called a ‘bug’ over the years. The Green Shield Bug (Palomena prasina) is in fact a true-bug in the Order Hemiptera.
This intriguingly shaped bug with its shield shaped flat body, tiny head and long red segmented antennae is very common and a native in the UK. It has sucking mouthparts and feeds on the sap of deciduous trees and shrubs. Writers indicate that their impact on cultivated plants is negligible though.
Most accounts indicate that they are active from April/May through to October after which they hibernate over winter. This individual was seen in mid-November basking in the autumn sun. The green shield bugs become active in the spring, mate and lay their eggs. Once hatched the shield bugs go through a larval and four nymph stages before reaching the final stage. To me the nymphs look like little green ladybirds (but they are not) and we have often wondered what they are when we have seen them during the summer.
Interestingly the bugs change colour from bright green when they are feeding in the summer to brown when the hibernate. Presumably this is a camouflage mechanism for when they are hibernating in the winter undergrowth.
If you are interested to learn more there is plenty of information and many detailed photographs on the appropriately named British Bugs website at www.britishbugs.org.uk .
The following shared YouTube video by ‘Bugs Summer’ shows the green shield bug nymph very nicely: