The Gar­den in Septem­ber

Landscape (UK) - - Contents -

Kari-Astri Davies is savour­ing the flushes of late-flow­er­ing plants as the gar­den moves gen­tly into au­tumn “Hedge-crick­ets sing; and now with tre­ble soft The red-breast whis­tles from a gar­den-croft; And gath­er­ing swal­lows twit­ter in the skies”

John Keats, ‘Ode to Au­tumn’

Over­head, chit­ter­ing clans of swal­lows are gath­er­ing, swirling high over the gar­den to feed be­fore em­bark­ing on the long jour­ney south. Their mi­gra­tion marks the end of sum­mer and the be­gin­ning of au­tumn. On my gar­den walk now, I am drawn to the south- fac­ing gar­den with its raised beds. The cool­ing nights favour some of the ten­der plants, which get a sec­ond wind. Nas­tur­tiums re­cov­ered from cater­pil­lar sea­son fes­toon the abu­tilons and bud­dle­jas. Fuch­sias put on more flow­ers, and be­go­nias heave a sigh of re­lief be­fore fi­nally go­ing back into the con­ser­va­tory for the win­ter. Trop­i­cal-look­ing B. lux­u­ri­ans is huge, more than 6½ft (2m) tall, so needs to be cut back a bit for over­win­ter­ing. The kneed stems root hap­pily in wa­ter.

A sec­ond try

In the main border, sun­flower He­lianthus de­bilis ‘Vanilla Ice’ adds up­right dabs; so­lid­ity among the late sum­mer plant jum­ble. I haven’t grown it for a cou­ple of years, so it has made a wel­come re­turn to pep up the plant­ing, tak­ing over from the fi­nally flag­ging white cos­mos ‘Pu­rity’. I did say a cou­ple of years ago I would not choose this cos­mos again, as it grew too big. But frankly, the lower-grow­ing ‘Sonata’ was such a washout last year, the more ex­u­ber­ant ‘Pu­rity’ has re­turned, but lo­cated with more con­sid­er­a­tion for its even­tual girth and height. Op­po­site, in the tawny border, Red Ad­mi­ral but­ter­flies take ad­van­tage of the fairly non­de­script but late-flow­er­ing bud­dleja ‘Bei­jing’. The threat to take one of the two bud­dle­jas out of this border to cre­ate space for more in­ter­est­ing plants has yet to be car­ried through.

The time for dahlias

I’m a lit­tle stuck. Four years ago, I wrote about Dahlia im­pe­ri­alis, a sin­gle pink-flow­ered gi­ant which grows to just un­der 30ft (9m) in its na­tive Mex­ico and Gu­atemala. It is sum­mered in the ground and in pots, and each year, the tu­ber gets big­ger. It is now so heavy we have to use a sack truck to haul the pot about. Dig­ging a hole for the tu­ber is be­com­ing a ma­jor ex­ca­va­tion, so this sum­mer it stayed in a large pot. The sub­stan­tial stems can take up to 2 gal­lons of wa­ter a day. Although very late into flower any­way, so far, not one bud has ever been at­tempted. In late au­tumn, the stems are cut down and the tu­bers left in the pot, packed out with bub­ble wrap, in an un­heated wooden work­shop. It has sur­vived the last three win­ters like that. How long do I carry on work­ing with this un­grate­ful mon­ster? D. cam­pan­u­lata is an­other big­gie from Mex­ico, known as the weep­ing tree dahlia.

Both dahlias can be bought as rooted cut­tings from the UK’s Na­tional Dahlia Col­lec­tion. At least last year D. cam­pan­u­lata pro­duced buds, although they didn’t quite get to open be­fore the frosts. I dug up the tu­bers and stored them in the un­heated work­shop as well; one sur­vived the win­ter de­spite the tough love. I am check­ing daily now for form­ing buds.

Cut­ting and sow­ing

Last year in early Septem­ber, I tried tak­ing stem tip cut­tings of se­lected dahlias: it didn’t work. An in­ter­net source sug­gested dahlias were sen­si­tive to day length, and to root cut­tings suc­cess­fully at this time of year needed ar­ti­fi­cial light. I’ve found that D. im­pe­ri­alis cut­tings tend to sit all win­ter in the con­ser­va­tory, in a cov­ered prop­a­ga­tor with no ex­tra heat, mostly not rot­ting, but not root­ing vis­i­bly un­til spring. I am also go­ing to be sow­ing seed as it ripens. Dig­i­talis in the tawny bed, in­clud­ing D. fer­rug­inea, are gen­er­ally short-lived and need aug­ment­ing. Most um­bel­lif­ers en­joy a win­ter freeze. Seed should ide­ally be sown fresh.

“Crown’d with the sickle, and the wheaten sheaf, While Au­tumn, nod­ding o’er the yel­low plain, Comes jovial on” James Thom­son, ‘Au­tumn’

He­lianthus de­bilis ‘Vanilla Ice’.

Left to right: Bells of abu­tilon ‘Mar­ion’; flow­ers of palm tree­like Be­go­nia lux­u­ri­ans; re­mov­ing a tuber­ous be­go­nia from its pot for over­win­ter­ing; ray-like petals of

Kari-Astri Davies started gar­den­ing in her twen­ties with pots of roses, gera­ni­ums and sweet peas on a para­pet five storeys up in cen­tral Lon­don. She’s now on her fifth gar­den, this time in the Wilt­shire coun­try­side. In­spi­ra­tion in­cludes her plant-mad par­ents, as well as Dan Pear­son, Beth Chatto, Keith Wi­ley and the Rix & Phillips plant books. Kari de­scribes her ap­proach as im­pul­sive, mean­ing not ev­ery­thing is done by the book.

Left to right: Tall spires of rusty fox­glove, Dig­i­talis fer­rug­inea, with pur­ple cone­flow­ers, Echi­nacea pur­purea ‘Ru­bin­stern’; Cos­mos bip­in­na­tus ‘Pu­rity’ with its del­i­cate ap­ple-green fo­liage.

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