The Garden in October
Kari-Astri Davies is discovering fresh colour in the early autumn garden and ringing the changes in her borders
On misty mornings, the rising sun washes the garden with gold. A friend who lives in France misses these autumn moments; and apple pies. I don’t have a garden companion at the moment. My wobbly old black and white cat, Nusse, finally called it a day at 19 years old a few months ago. The new slinky black kitten, Mig, isn’t much interested in gardening, preferring shinning up trees and stalking shrews in the undergrowth. A gardening dog would be nice to have. I used to look after a Patterdale terrier from time to time. Although companionable, he would often unhelpfully dig up what I had just planted and have great fun pelting flat-out over the beds. There is still fresh colour appearing in the garden. In a small sunny border under a bedroom window, I have planted nerines and crinum around highly scented magenta Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’. Initially, I invested in a knockout dark pink crinum, ‘Ellen Bosanquet’, earlier flowering than the nerines. The huge bulbs did not survive a winter in cold clay: she is from Florida. Asters add vibrant colour to an increasingly greening garden palette as other flowering plants tail off. I particularly like the intense bluey-lilac of low-growing Aster amellus ‘King George’, which I first saw at Cragside Gardens in Northumberland. In the rose bed, tall, rich-purple Aster novae-angliae ‘Marina Wolkonsky’ and vibrant pink ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke’ vie for attention. Lilac cupped Crocus speciosus are popping up; yellow stamens like snakes’ tongues testing the air.
“Hear not the wind – view not the woods; Look out o’er vale and hillIn spring, the sky encircled them – The sky is round them still” Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘The Autumn’
With cooling days and rain, the ground is loosening up while the earth is still warm. I have some re-thinking to do. A raised border behind our workshops is dubbed the ‘Himalayas’, although only a few plants come from that region. A couple of years ago, I planted three hosta ‘T. Rex’, which, as the name suggests, are fairly substantial. They are now out of scale with the other plants. As the bed cannot be extended to create space for a better transition, it can either be planted up with more big, bold foliage plants or, as originally intended, a range of interesting plants of different
heights and habits. I am choosing the interesting route, so at least one hosta has to go; but where?
In the wood bed, a number of plants have also matured and shifted the scale. Extending the bed will require digging into rather rooty lawn, so an investment in compost needs to be made to get the shifted plants well settled in. This makes room for at least one ‘T. Rex’. As the hostas are now dying back, with a bit of luck, they won’t take it too hard. Hopefully, any plants I move to a new position will make some root growth before fully shutting down for the winter. Grasses will not be shifted around: they do not like an autumn move.
With the risk of frost now spurring me on, it is time to clean the conservatory, ready for more tender plants to start coming in for the winter. I am also planting scented narcissi, yellow martinette and sweetness, and white-with-orangecentre geranium in pots for the patio, as the bulbs are starting into growth.
“In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil. And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects as from August to November” Rose G Kingsley, The Autumn Garden, 1905
Left to right: Asters in the morning mist; a kitten on the prowl in a carpet of crunchy leaves; the showy arching leaves of Crinum asiaticum; a great tit surrounded by autumn colour.
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: The full, reddish flowers of Aster novae-angliae ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke’ bring outstanding colour to the autumn garden; digging up turf to extend a flowerbed.