Posted on | October 18, 2008 | 2 Comments
What a difference the sun makes to the garden at this glorious time of year, setting off those gorgeous autumnal colours. I walked around the garden this morning to inspire myself for this, my penultimate article of the Exotic Garden open season.
Visitors to the garden at this time of year are always pleasantly surprised at how wonderful the garden looks, with so many colours and shades of green blending with the rich, fiery colours of autumn.
The mornings here usually start with mid- October mists softening the outline of the garden and giving a warm, soft milkiness to distant trees and buildings on the horizon.
I have mentioned in past articles that two or three of my six cats usually accompany me on my ambles around the garden and, of course, my latest wander was no exception.
They always appear aloof, doing their own thing, though I only have to move a few yards and they reappear, running in and out of the undergrowth or suddenly appearing high up in a tree, precariously hanging from a rather thin branch from which they occasionally fall. This happened just as I was trying to photograph some fruit on a 15ft high Clerodendrum trichotomum.
Although there was virtually no wind, Lawrence, one of my Devon Rex cats was determined to clamber in the uppermost parts, making the tree wobble – not very helpful when you’re trying to focus on some rather small fruit. This is a superb small tree at this time of year.
The deliciously scented cymes of pure white flowers have all but gone over now, making way for small steel blue fruit in the middle of wine red calyxes which will remain attractive until Christmas, providing they are not all consumed by the blackbirds who find them similarly attractive!
Near the entrance to the garden are a group of six towering Cupressus sempervirens ‘Pyramidalis’, more commonly known as the ‘Italian funeral Cypress’, a conifer that was considered non-hardy in all but the warmest gardens only a few decades ago.
They are imposing, tall, narrow, evergreen conifers often used in formal landscaping. They will reach 7m (20ft) rather quickly and then continue to grow more slowly to heights of 12-18m (40-60ft) or more in a favourable location. In our gardens though, they are best kept at a height at which they can be clipped to maintain their slim shape. These majestic plants have been cultivated since ancient times in the Mediterranean region, where they can live up to 1,000 years. Young plants should be firmly staked as they blow over easily until they are fully rooted.
Of course, the many bamboos come into their own at this time of year, appearing rather like ghosts gliding through the early morning mists. One of my favourites at this time of year is Phyllostatchus aureosulcata f. Aureocaulis – as with most bamboos, the name is a long one.
This handsome plant is loosely clumping and grows to about 5m tall after eight years. The culms (canes) are rich golden yellow and are often tinted reddishbrown on the sunny side of new growth. On the more tender side of the planting here at the Exotic Garden, plants such as Ricinus Communis in all its forms have done well this year with the fairly warm nights and days over the last six weeks or so, producing, in the process, massive plants, with some topping 10ft with leaves up to 18ins wide.
My favourite is R. c. ‘New Zealand Purple’. This fairly recent introduction has rich glossy dark purple foliage and at this time of year they produce flowers followed by clusters of spiky fruit hidden inside the foliage. These massive plants are all produced from seed sown in April. Many plant such as the cannas are now so tall that some are falling over with the sheer weight of their foliage.
As long as the old flower spikes have been removed, they will keep on flowering until frost cuts them down. In recent years I have been leaving them in the ground during the winter, covered with their own foliage to ward off the frost. On the really tender side, my collection of bromeliads has exploded in the last year. Boy, have they grown! This is certainly a headscratching time as I have to find even more room to store them through the winter. Most of my bromeliads are neoregelias which seem to tolerate over-wintering at about 7C with the more tender forms going into a large propagator with overhead lighting at around 14C, thus keeping them cosy on the dullest winter days.
These ridiculously colourful plants look amazing in foliage alone, though when in flower they are a real treat. Much of the summer bedding has gone berserk this year thanks to all the rain we’ve had.
One in particular, which is planted under some tall purple Abyssinian bananas, is Iresine herbstii ‘Brilliantissima’, which has never reached such proportions before, with some shoots reaching 4ft tall with a similar spread. This stunning and much-admired – visitors always want cuttings – plant has vivid magenta leaves with lighter veining and magenta stems.
Over the course of the next week I will be taking my own cuttings of this brilliant plant to be over-wintered snugly in a propagator. The exiting thing about exotic planting is that it goes on until the first frosts, which at the Exotic Garden rarely occur before mid- November, and those are usually light.
Of course the hardy planting, such as the bamboos and palms to name but two, take the garden through the dullest days of winter and into the new year.