Out in the gardens with the Head Gardener

October 22, 2020 - Andrew Cannell

Much to the disappointment of our young visitors the Amphitheatre is now closed. The patter of little feet and barrelling bodies has meant we’ve had to perform some overdue rejuvenation work. The sloping tiers, which align due south and get baked, have become threadbare and careworn. To combat this, we’ve used a 30% clay cricket loam which, I hope, will remain in place long enough for the rye-and-fescue seed mix to establish. October is a great time to repair lawns as moisture has returned to the ground but the temperatures remain equitable for grass growth.

Autumnal colours are showing across the garden. At the weekend, while on the other side of the valley, I could make out the distinct purple patch of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ glowing on the bank. Once the leaves have fallen we will be left with masses of crimson stems which are ideal for winter pot displays or making wreaths.

The mellow yellow tones across the valley in the oaks, beech, and soon enough, larch, are echoed in the garden. Amsonia hubrichtii, a native to Arkansas, has begun to turn a soft golden haze and contrasts in both colour and texture with the burgundy-pink sedum heads. Spodiopogon sibiricus, or frost grass, which has been slow to bulk out but is now beginning to reward, has lovely caramel tints and compact spikes of feathery flowers which capture light beautifully.

It is of course also aster season. Another plant slow to establish but which has begun to make a statement this year is Symphyotrichum ericoides ‘Erlkönig’, planted near the balustrading above Mount Vernon. From a distance it appears a light pink but close up you can see it is white streaked with pale violet. It forms soft thigh-high mounds and is full of foraging bees.

Another heath aster we have, this time at the top of the Eagles steps, is Symphyotrichum ericoides var. prostratum ‘Snow Flurry’. A favourite of mine, because of its prostrate habit, it blurs the hard edge of the Winding Way with neat foliage and small white flowers held all along the stems. A short distance away, near the grotto, we have another US native – the false aster or Boltonia asteroides ‘Snowbank’. This is an interesting plant because although the blooms are held mostly at the top – 5 feet or thereabouts – they also appear at lower levels near the ground; a snow bank indeed. The flowers are just over thumb’s width with pure white petals and a green-yellow eye.

Aster laevis ‘Novemberblau’ – the clue is in the title – is a late flowering aster of a similar height to the boltonia but with broader flowers of mauve-blue colour. It has suffered a little with mildew in the dry this year but, just as most things are beginning to wane and withdraw into winter, it is beginning to reach its zenith.