The October Garden at Aberglasney
It’s hard to believe that we are nearly in October as I sit down to write this blog. The month for autumn colour is nearly upon us again and let’s hope that 2021 is a ‘good’ colour year when the right weather conditions such as night frosts and sunny days combine to produce a spectacular show. Of course autumn colour is not just about leaves turning from green to red, orange and yellow, it is also about fruit, seed heads, bark and stems as well as the autumn flowers of plants such as Nerines, Colchicums, Japanese Anemones, Schizostylis, Cyclamen and Michaelmas Daisies. It is also a time to plant trees and shrubs, to gather the harvest of fruits and vegetables and to collect and store seeds.
However, before we get there we should look back at what September brought us. For us in our west Wales garden September was the best month of the summer for sunshine and warmth rather than the first month of autumn. The pots on the patio continued to flower well and there was also plenty of flower colour to be found throughout the garden. Our September stars were undoubtedly the two plants of Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ which on sunny days were covered in both, bright yellow flowers and dozens of bees, our ‘September flowers’ of Asters (now Symphyotrichon! ), the Sedums or Ice Plants (now Hylotelephium!), Japanese Anemones, the Hydrangeas still full of colour if a little faded from their summer beauty, Leycesteria formosa (Pheasant Berry) and right at the end of the month Schizostylis coccinea (Kaffir Lily). In the vegetable plot the runner beans were at their best and in the greenhouse the tomatoes after a slow start from a rather cloudy summer were at last starting to crop well.
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ swamping the 5 foot obelisk I made for it last winter!
Michaelmas Daisy adding to our pink-purple theme
At Aberglasney there is much to look forward to in October as in every month something which I hope you have discovered with me over the last few blogs. The entrance bed is still a riot of colour, as I write this in late September, even on a cloudy day as it was on our visit. This will last into October for as long as the weather is kind but at some stage the tender plants will be lifted and given winter protection and the bed will be replanted with spring flowering bulbs and plants such as Tulips and Forget-me-nots as it was last spring. As always I look forward to seeing what Joseph and his team have planned for next year.
Further into the garden under a very large conifer is a wonderful display of Cyclamen hederifolium which cover the ground in patches of pink and white. There are very few of the patterned, ivy-like leaves at this stage as most leaves appear after the flowers have finished and set their seed. If you have an area of dry shade beneath conifers or evergreen shrubs where nothing else will grow successfully then try this autumn flowering Cyclamen. It can be grown from dormant tubers, often referred to as corms, but I have always had more success by using plants already in flower and then allowing them to spread naturally by seed over the following years. In other areas of the Aberglasney garden these Cyclamen are growing alongside the rather more flamboyant Colchicum (Autumn Crocus or Naked Ladies) which as the name suggests also flower before the leaves appear.
On the terrace flanking the Cloister Garden the summer planting is also still going strong with the tall Cosmos really catching the eye. With regular dead heading these will continue to flower well into October until the weather turns against them.
The Upper Walled Garden is also still full of colour as October approaches with the yellow Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and the blue Monkshood (Aconitum) making a striking combination. The large pink-purple flower heads of Eupatorium purpureum (Joe Pye Weed) are also imposing as are the white flowers of Cosmos and Phlox which are repeated throughout the borders. These are joined by numerous hardy Geraniums which are still flowering well and by many different cultivars of Michaelmas Daisy. The Yew cones which hold the whole design together have also recently been clipped to give a neater shape as we near the end of the growing season.
The Lower Walled Garden, the Kitchen Garden, is also still full of summer colour from the Cannas, Rudbeckias, Tithonias, Salvias and Dahlias but there are also signs of autumn with Chysanthemums now in flower, fruits on the Crab Apple tunnel and lots of interesting ornamental Squashes.
The Woodland and Stream area is dominated by green and lots of seed heads rather than flower colour although there are still some flowers to be found, for example Clerodendrum bungei with its deep pink flower clusters and early yellow flower spikes on some of the Mahonias. Here also there are signs that autumn colour is not too far away with hints of reds, oranges and yellows on some of the Beech leaves, the tops of Euomymus shrubs and on some of the Virginia Creepers growing on the trunks of trees.
Just up the slope from the woodland a plant in one of the new beds caught the eye, Desmodium elegans Dark form with its pink, pea-like flowers above a mound of bright green leaves. This is a plant from warmer regions and it will be interesting to see how it fares in the Welsh winter to come. Further along the path the visitor comes to the border in front of the Melon House which at this time of year is dominated by a selection of Tobacco Plants (Nicotiana).
Desmodium elegans Dark form
Just around the corner the Sunken Garden is a perfect place to sit and enjoy the unusual water feature and reflective pool.
Back around the wall now clothed in the autumn reds of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus) the seasonal border by the lake is still looking good with its purple Salvia, white Cosmos and graceful grasses although I suspect on our next visit in late October the whole bed will look very different as it is prepared for its winter and spring display.
On the Cloister side of the lake near the Tearoom is a very impressive example of what I know as the Wedding Cake Tree, Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, with its variegated leaves arranged on beautifully tiered branches.
In the other woodland area leading up to the Asiatic Garden we came across a very strange but interesting plant growing on top of an old tree stump. It reminds me of a Bromeliad with its central flower and long, narrow spikes of leaves, the lower parts of which are bright red. It looks completely out of place but it certainly stops you in your tracks even if it is not to your taste! I will endeavour to find out exactly what it is. I’m sure that I have seen similar plants for sale in garden centres but I just can’t remember the name.
A little further along the path is another unusual flower which I do recognise, the strangely beautiful Toad Lily (Tricyrtis) with its very interesting pink and marked flowers.
Also at the top of this path where the stream passes under the path is another intriguing plant with wiry, purple stems, palmate leaves and tubular, pale yellow flowers, Kirengeshoma palmata. This is a woodland plant from Korea and Japan and is a member of the Hydrangea family. Coming across more unusual plants such as these three is one of the great attractions of Aberglasney as Joseph and his team continue the tradition of including in the plantings both newly discovered species from the wild as well as recently developed cultivars.
The view back down the stream from this point is dominated by two groups of plants- Ferns and Hydrangeas, both of which are found all over the gardens as you would probably expect in moist, west Wales. The Ferns provide a green, textured background with the Hydrangeas producing the masses of flower colour. By late September these flower colours are beginning to fade to produce what Teresa describes as the’ French Chateau’ look but they remain beautiful to look at and are such an important part of the Aberglasney gardens.
Throughout the gardens despite summer colours still to be found in abundance there are also signs that autumn is just around the corner. In the Asiatic Garden some of the Japanese Acers are beginning to show some colour which contrast well with the rich red-purple leaves of Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. This is a very attractive shrub with heart-shaped leaves which turn an even deeper red as autumn progresses and small, deep crimson flowers on bare stems in the spring and is used to good effect in several parts of Aberglasney.
Other signs of autumn are the strange red-orange fruits of the flowering Dogwoods, Cornus, many of which are found on the lower slopes of the Asiatic Garden. At a distance these appear to be crab apples but close up they look more like strawberries- but don’t be tempted as they do not taste like them!
In terms of leaf colour two plants in particular are well into their autumn hues, the Virginia Creepers (Parthenocissus) on the lake side wall are truly spectacular as is the vine on one of the walls of the Upper Walled Garden, Vitis coignetiae, with its large, five-lobed leaves turning plum purple and then dark purple in autumn. Another, but less dramatic, sign of autumn is the wild flower meadow near the Asiatic Garden which is very different to how it looked just a month ago having been completely cleared of top growth after allowing the seeds to ripen and fall ready for next year’s show.
Finally the Ninfarium with its tropical and sub-tropical plants growing within the ruined walls of part of the old mansion is always worth a visit especially if it is a little cold and damp outside. The lush growth and exotic blooms are perhaps a little incongruous in a Welsh garden but never fail to bring enjoyment and interest.
As always there are plenty of jobs to keep us busy in the October garden and to get us outside during the better weather days. A full list can be found in the blog archives for October 2019 and for a reminder of what Teresa and I will be doing in our own garden have a look at, for some unknown reason, the archive for September 2020. They will include collecting fallen leaves to make leaf mould, giving the lawn some tender loving care before winter, adding new plants to any gaps which we can find and cleaning out the greenhouse once the tomatoes are out.
We will be back at Aberglasney at the end of October, if not before, to prepare for the November blog so until then continue to take care and enjoy all that the autumn will bring over the coming weeks.