Late October is the month all the garden writers say we should enjoy for the berries and the autumn colours … it is the time of long nights drawing in , smoke from open fires and the clocks going back at Halloween … well they would say that wouldn’t they as they have copy to fill for editors and don’t write anything depressing etc !!
Well for me I walk around the garden and along with the great autumnal colour I also see death with the plants hunkering down in advance of the harsh winter winds and knowing we are looking at below zero temperatures and realising that the optimism and looking forward of Spring / Summer is over for another year and lets be honest here …the gardening year is over for another year , the wonderful optimism of April / May when you are watching the beginning of a new season is over and there really is not a lot to look forward to is there ?
Of course you get the autumnal colours of the acers and then the bright red bark of the dogwoods and the white silver birch and there is a sense of achievement in getting the garden ready for the cold months and you have to put in the work to cut back , clean up , collect the leaves , top dress the tender borderline plants but really we are grasping at straws here ….like John Snow in Game of Thrones says WINTER IS COMING !
Like every other gardener I put the best face forward at this time of year , take the ritual photos of the vivid leaf colour but there is no denying it , the best months are gone and now it is as Dylan Thomas wrote “ rage , rage against the dying of the light ”.
In the next few weeks I will be busy planting bulbs for next Spring , no tulips as they just don’t give a good return and our garden soil is heavy and doesen’t suit them so very rarely do we get more than a second season out of them . I concentrate each autumn on planting daffodils and in recent years I mainly go for the miniature varieties such as tete a tete as they flower a bit earlier in late February / early march and don’t get knocked about by the wind .
I don’t plant bulbs for Autumn flowering as apart from crocus I do not like most of the autumn bulbs and there is plenty of colour and late flowering tree, shrubs and perennials around in October through to November and in my view Spring coming out of the Winter months is when you need whatever flowers are available from bulbs . However most dedicated gardeners plant Autumn flowering bulbs as they like to have whatever is available throughout the seasons but for me I prefer to priotorise the autumnal leaf colour and of course not having to bother with bulbs flowering at this time of year it frees up the ground more for the spring flowering bulbs …. to each his own !
Sometimes I make an exception on daffodil size and go for the taller daffodil especially when like last week I discovered a local hardware shop in Clonmel , Bob Fitzgerald’s , selling buckets of the Winston Churchill daffodil which is my all time favourite daff , double headed pink flowers in April and unusually for a daffodil with a strong scent … I also like the name Winston Churchill as he is one of my favourites from history both as a writer and politician whose career spanned the 1890’s Sudan campaign and the Boer War to World Wars 1 & 2 … Churchill as a very young officer took part in the last British cavalry charge in the Sudan at the battle of Omdurman .
My Father , a staunch life long Irish Republican , detested the British ruling class and would not have approved of a liking for Churchill from one of his family but sometimes as in the gardening world a rogue plant grows in the wrong place ! Years ago in 1981 I visited Churchill’s house at Chartwell in Sussex , took a tour of the house and garden and loved the ordinary feel to the house and the total informality of the garden where Churchill would spend hours painting and…. brick laying … he had taught himself to lay bricks and between running WW 2 would build brick walls at Chartwell for relaxation !
A plant I love at this time of year is sedum spectabile , the stonecrop , which is also loved by the butterflies that flock to it . It can get a bit floppy and blow over due to it’s heavy flower heads and some gardeners control this with a severe cut back in mid May called the Chelsea chop after the Chelsea Flower Show which takes place at this time … I never have the heart or the nerve to do this and rely instead on planting it close among other plants which will help prop it up .
Throughout the growing season May to September this sedum looks good but when it flowers …. it flowers and they last right up to Christmas .
Another perennial for terrific flowering from late September onwards is the north american prairie plant , rudbeckia or black eyed susan , and while I grow several varieties including a dwarf version called little gold star , I really love using a two metre tall variety called rudbeckia herbstonne which I grow among the tall grasses to peep over the lushness of the grass and of course the grass keep it protected from blowing over in wind .
This week I picked up a second hand copy of Roy Lancaster’s book “ What Plant Where ” which goes by the principle of right plant right place i.e. don’t try to grow a plant in a place not suitable to its requirements . Common sense you would think but then gardeners are all optimistic by nature .. we have to be to take the losses we do in the ongoing effort to create and maintain a garden and we have all been guilty of thinking it will be all right on the night and this time it will grow for me !
Peter Cullen delivered a large number of plants today that a grower we both buy from was going to dump from his tunnels to make room for next year’s new plants and said we could take them for free as he hated to shred / dump plants ….. our garden has enough room and a range of soil , light / shade to suit most plants and I operate like the Battersea Dog Home where unwanted plants are concerned !
Granted the plants were ones I would not normally buy anyway , ground cover cotoneaster horizontalis , pyracantha and ground cover laurels …. real mutts but I bulked them into unloved areas of difficult ground and if they grow they grow and I have lost nothing apart from the time spent planting them .
Last month while doing a mental audit of exactly how many pots and containers we have here I began to come over a bit Imelda Marcos as I realised just how much we have accumulated over the past ten years …. I blame Snezana of course who regularly falls in love with some eccentric looking pot and leaves the delicate task of finding a place and a suitable plant for the newcomer to me …. I am not saying she is totally responsible as I do like a nice pot myself and we have built up an eclectic mix of colours and shapes with some antique tin baths , old milk churns , stone horse troughs etc. thrown in .
But I have to credit her with introducing me to alternatives to terracotta as I had always stuck to the tried and trusted traditional finishes and even though I resisted at first now I love the primary coloured pots as they bring a touch of light and colour into the garden particularly during the winter months and while I am in the confessing mode …yes it was her idea to start painting the garden furniture blue … again an innovation I resisted !!
I choose the location for each pot depending on light /shade and while most of the time we select a pot for a specific position it also happens that we fall in love with a particular pot and then have to find a home for it in the garden which luckily has been big enough to accommodate all new arrivals so far…. the type of plant is always chosen to suit the final location and close to the house where there will be regular watering I have summer annuals and a large amount of hostas while down in the lower garden I go for plants that can mainly look after themselves such as hostas in deep shade , ferns , box balls , lamium etc. while in the tall impact pots I don’t plant anything and just top with gravel .
I started a process of photographing each pot we have in our collection and you can see the results in the Gallery section of the web site www.petrovskagarden.com under the title ” Pots of Petrovska Garden “.
In early September two days after The Irish Garden published it’s article on the garden the Editor of Munster Interiors , a quarterly house and home magazine contacted me to suggest an article in the gardening section of their October issue .
Naturally we were delighted and the resulting article and photos are stunning .
Fame at last …. two magazine articles on the garden within the space of five weeks ….. Playboy next ?!!
Visitors to the garden this week were Rebecca and Ruth from Kilcoran Lodge Garden Centre .
Finally the area of brambles I cleared in the lower garden in late August and which I wrote about in my last article is being turned into a seating area with a table / chairs , it gets light all day , is surrounded by trees and is a very peaceful place .
Suddenly being presented with a new space which was dry , had good soil and full sun made me think we should use it for perhaps a greenhouse or tunnel and turn it into a vegetable garden but the more I thought of it and the intensive work a vegetable patch and a tunnel brings … OK you get the pleasure of eating your own organically grown veggies etc. …. and philistine that I am I thought NAH it is a beautiful place to lay a stone patio , add a table and some chairs , a selection of low growing plants perhaps a eucalyptus and a walnut tree and maybe a nice specimen oak ….. throw in some newspapers and a cup of coffee …. I left the final choice to Snezana but added the kicker that if we went for veggies and a greenhouse it would be hers to look after …. watch this space !!