Where have all the flowers gone?
One of the first signs that we are coming to the end of summer is when pernnial foliage loses colour and vigour and flower stems grow long and leggy as flowers start changing into seedheads.
When Dahlias start to look raggy and the flowers smaller, and when the seedheads of grasses start to grow through the flowers. It can look pretty in a tired kind of way, but the flowers are increasingly more sparse and those that are left are tired and raggedy.
Even the pink spikes of Cimicifuga are looking past it. And as for the neighbouring Peony foliage - it is completely browned off! While the foliage of the Hosta in the foreground is all holes where bugs and insects have been busy all summer chewing away until there is practically no leaf left.
The chairs in the courtyard are stacked up, as the days are getting chilly and there is no invitation to have lunch outside in the sun any more. The Wisteria leaves from above are turning yellow and dropping. If we were to sit on one of those chairs, as likely as not, at least one yellow leaf would float gently down from above to rest on your shoulder, another on your lap, or your head and yet another on your knee.
Summer is fast disappearing and Autumn is creeping in, and probably the most picturesque part of my garden at the moment, is under this pergola where I park my car! The flowers of the trumpet vine drop all over the car making a dreadful mess of my car. And yet I love to drive off with the flowers of the trumpet vine fluttering in all directions as I drive down the street.
Instead of roses I fell in love with Crocosmia and Canna in my garden this summer
Probably because their flowers are so yellow and orange, and orange is the most summery colour when the sun don't shine! And it hasn't this summer, and still isn't! We already seem to be heading for an early autumn, so where was summer? However if you have sunny orange and yellow in the garden you can pretend the sun is shining.
I seem to be building up a collection of Crocosmia - and a new interest in them, thanks to garden friend, Alan Trott, who has kindly sent me some different varieties. Amongst these are 'Solfatare' and 'Severn Sunrise' which has larger than usual open bright orange flowers. The named varieties do seem to be variable, as when I google them, they vary from site to site, so please do not take my identification of named varieties as gospel. It's all a bit hit n'miss!
All I know is that Crocosmias have been a newly discovered joy in the summer garden which I had not been aware of before!
But not so Cannas! Everybody knows about them and the way they scream 'summer' in the garden when they flower! And who can resist the these exotic looking blooms! Sadly, I can't tell you the name of this variety above, as it was given to me as an unnamed variety from a North Island garden friend - all I know is that it's a stunner - especially the colour. I forget about it from season to season - but in high summer there it is again wowing me!
Wisteria looks bare and naked in June after cutting back, but can look even more woeful if it's not cut back and you are left with an unruly messy tangle of brown stems!
I'm not a fan of a lot of trimming and pruning in the garden, as I like my garden to look natural - even a bit overgrown rather than neatly trimmed. But with Wisteria, pruning is the only way, if you want to avoid being taken over and buried by it. Growing where it does right outside my kitchen and living room doors opening into the courtyard, I could easily get tangled up in it when I go outside, so even though it goes against the grain, I do have to clip it back in winter, to avoid being strangled.
But by late October look what's happened to it!
From those bare truncated branches and tight buds in June, they have unfurled into dripping whiteness by October and the garden is drenched in the most haunting perfume which also drifts throughout the house.
If you are under the Wisteria when spring breezes blow, the petals really do fall all over you and cover the ground like soft snow.
This white Wisteria does indeed resemble it's name -
Today in mid December my courtyard begins to look like the green leafy haven it becomes over summer, shading the house and doing the job it's meant to do - protecting me and the house from intense summer sun.
I've never really thought of my garden as
a spring garden!
I don't have Cherry Blossom or Rhododendrons, or Azaleas or even Daffodils, let alone a Crocus. Or many other flowers we associate with spring. This is probably because mine is more of a summer perennial garden, and because I became more fascinated by perennials after seeing gardens in the Northern Hemisphere specialising in the New Perennial or Prairie Movement - during those heady travelling days, which are now so out of reach for us from New Zealand.
Perennial nut or not, no gardener, can resist spring, and neither can I!
My spring begins early with Snowdrops! Galanthus nivalis to be precise, which most of us know as the demur english Snowdrop brightening our lives just when we need it most - in the dreary depths of July when those modest pure white buds push their way so bravely through the frozen winter earth.
Soon after the Snowdrops finish, Michelia which is anything but demure starts up, bursting into bIowsy bloom in August, and continuing on until now, in early October. Because this blowsy bloomer is evergreen and starts flowering regardless of frosts, it has a subtropical feel to me, which is not surprising, originating as it does in the mellower north.
I was lucky enough to be given a Magnolia 'Fairy Cream' by Abbie Jury, when she came down to visit me in Christchurch, just after the earthquakes. Raised by her husband Mark, soon after the nomenclature changed from Michelia to Magnolia, it is a beautiful small tree. And is invaluable in my garden because it's evergreen and adds a touch of the winterless north to a wintry stark Christchurch garden.
I was careful to plant it in a sheltered spot where it's surrounded by the lushness of other plants -ferns and climbers. So it does not have to struggle on it's own exposed in an open bare place, devoid of the company of other plants.
After all aren't plants are just like people needing the company and friendship of other plants to comfort and shelter them so that they can thrive? And thrive it does, flourishing admirably in my garden throughout a spiky frosty winter - it's leaves looking healthy and pert, unlike many evergreens struggling through a southern winter.
While Magnolia 'Fairy Cream' is in full bloom in the side garden, orange tulips appear in the front garden, and they couldn't be more of a colour contrast to the gentler creams, whites and blush pinks of the side garden. But orange tulips and the front garden are a whole other story.
The very earliest spring flowering shrub in the garden would have to be the two bushes of 'Cornish Snow' (see above) - that most delicate of blush pink miniature Camellias, with hundreds of little single flowers dotted down it's branches. Though my bushes haven't got much in the way of branches, because they've been topiarised into lollipops which means their long whippy branches have been trimmed back.
'Cornish Snow' is a variety which lends itself beautifully to clipping and shaping. Some might say topiaried trees and shrubs are not nearly so fashionable as they were 20 years ago when I started to shape mine, but I think they do still have their place even in the most naturalistic of gardens.
In my back garden there are other less exotic treats like Bluebells, Forget Me Nots, and the prolifically seeding herb, Borage, along with pale blue Irises about to flower. But no one could call the cerise flowered Broad Bean 'Hughey' prosaic. It's lovely splash of cerise is very welcome amongst my everyday plants which just seed about all over the place.
And all fluffed about by pale grey Santolina.
Exotic or everyday, I love them all!!
Can you can see that I've been 'up the ladder' pruning my Wisteria 'Snowshowers'?
'Should you be up there at your age? careful people say 'You mean I'm too young?' I reply. 'You'll fall off that ladder!' says another voice of doom. To the doom merchants I say, 'What is life without a bit of risk and excitement occasionally!'
But the truth is if you want drama in a small garden, the only way to go is up!
Climbers over pergolas add plant life to your garden when there is not much space at ground level.
However, I do sometimes wistfully think - If only I had been born tall - 6 feet instead of 4ft 11 - my life up the ladder would be so much more comfortable. In fact I wouldn't need to spend nearly so much of my life up a ladder!
You can tell I've been pruning the Wisteria, because only the knobbly bits remain, and the muddle of long twining runners have been clipped away. Hanging on for dear life, I reach up from the top rung of the ladder on tippy toes to reach those long trails which find their way under the eaves, into the spouting or anywhere and everywhere. By the time I have finished, all that is left are short truncated knobbles! But it doesn't end there. Every day from the end of August I watch those little knobbles begin to grow and develop. The buds swell and begin to change colour from little brownish grey things to long green trusses until one day 6 weeks or so later, out pop a few small white pea-like flowers from the top of each truss. And still they keep growing longer and fuller until .............
I am surrounded by scent and bloom as I step out of my kitchen or living room into the courtyard. The soft panicles of flower brush against my face gently and the beauty and perfume is so transforming that I know that it was all so worthwhile hanging off the ladder in chilly August. From the time the first green buds appear until the last panicle of flower has completely dropped to be replaced by foliage, would be at least 2 months.
Meanwhile back in August .....
Before I tackled the Wisteria, I pruned the roses too, adding to that pared back but colourless look of late winter. Neat and tidy - yes - but uninspiring! Never fear -spring is just around the corner, as we wait with baited breath for it to burst out!
Today the sun is shining and spring is here, but there are still some late winter treats to enjoy - like Hellebores, early blossom and the special carmine coloured Witchhazel - Hamamelis 'Dianne'
Lucky as we are, to have Hagley Park for winter walks we are even luckier to have the Port Hills. And our english forefathers didn't even have to 'arrange' these for us as in Hagley Park, because they were already there! The result of volcanic activity millions of years ago, which violently flung up molten rock from the sea-bed, forming the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula as we know it today.
When volcanic activity finally cooled, it left a rather odd hilly circular landform jutting out from the plains into the Pacific ocean, and was formed from 2 separate volcanic episodes which left two huge craters allowing the sea to rush in - Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbours! The hills which were formed from the lava flows of the of the thankfully, extinct volcano creating Lyttelton Harbour, became known as the Port Hills. Forming a circular arc at the inland edge of the crater where Banks Peninsula meets the Canterbury Plains, these are the hills which we find so convenient for our Saturday morning stroll.
It's not that much of a stroll any more actually! The Saturday morning 'stroll' up the hill was much easier a few years ago. But we are all growing older, so I would call it a climb rather than a stroll as most of us puff and pant our way up through these paths to reach the top. These days we have to cope with the odd ailment or 2 which might slow us down - a hip, a knee, lungs, heart - whatever. But of course we don't let these things stop us. 'It's good for us' we tell each other 'keeps us young and agile'. So on we go!
Whether it's rocky paths or wintry muddy tracks, it's all up. We plough upwards as younger more agile walkers streak past us, calling out a cheery hello as they power on up, beyond us and out of sight. But we don't mind - we just keep on keeping on at our own pace!
The vegetation always intrigues me. We walk through introduced coniferous forest where you could imagine you are somewhere in North America and then suddenly you are into New Zealand secondary growth native bush where you feel quite at home. There may still be pockets of original native bush in the nooks and crannys of valleys in these hills, but the areas we go through are second growth natives as more of these hills are regenerating and in some areas being replanted with natives. Most of this deliberate planting has been done by volunteers, eager to recapture the original hills, as they may have been before we Europeans cleared such a lot of the natural vegetation in order to develop farmland. While most of us enjoy the authenticity of native planting, exotics are also valuable in helping to stop erosion, and keeping the Port Hills intact.
Winter is the best time of all to get out and walk - an escape from the four walls and that dozy interior phug, away from the fireside and heaters . Go out amongst the mist, the frost, and those dripping bare trees. Feel the sharp cold on your cheeks, the wind at your back and slosh through puddles, even a bit of a shiver, awakens you from that winter apathy. Experience the elements and nature and you will feel alive again!
In Christchurch we don't know how lucky we are to have Hagley Park and Botanic Gardens so close to the centre of the city. Our Victorian early settlers during the 19th century, brought with them english garden values to their new far flung home at the bottom of the world. They had become aware of the importance of gardens, parkland, and open common land for the people, to the cities, and suburbs of England, to offset unhealthy, dreary industrial areas. Clapham Common, Streathem Common and Hampstead Heath in London, to name just a few. Every time I walk in Hagley Park I think of those english parks and commons, and thank those hardy 19thC. english settlers for their far seeing vision in allocating the central open spaces of Hagley Park so reminiscent of their homeland, to our city for our people.
NEXT TIME - UP THE HILL AND AWAY FROM THE DAMP MISTY CITY - UP TO THE CLEAR BLUE SKIES AND UPLIFTING VIEWS TO BE SEEN FROM 'UP THERE'
It all depends on how you define mess!!
We tend to think of Hosta's as beautiful only in late spring and summer when the colourful variegated foliage is splayed out in all it's lush green summer glory, beneath trees and shrubs. But not in autumn when it's leaves have become all droopy, floppy and dirty yellow or crinkled up and brown. But look again!
At the the graceful way the stems naturally fall, and the intricate way the spent seedheads are arranged! Even the worst (or should we say the best) of those very old grey crinkled leaves are really the most interesting shapes are they not? Just because they are old and grey and wrinkled doesn't mean to say they are not beautiful! Just like us!
I have learned through the New Perennialist movement how important it is to open our eyes and see the beauty in each stage of a plants life from birth, to death. I get so much more pleasure from appreciating the season of seedheads and dying foliage instead of discounting it as messy or untidy - something that should be trimmed away out of sight as soon as possible. I think Piet Oudolf has trained me well, because this year I am really and truly loving the more muted colours and shapes of seedheads and dying foliage in the garden - even when Dahlia foliage droops rather ungracefully.
Isn't it wonderful the way our trees and plants won't be contained within neat borders but spread themselves beautifully over every surface in autumn. How important it is to enjoy and revel in autumn when for a relatively short time, colourful leaves clothe and light up our boring paths and hard surfaces with such panache. They are not to be tidied away yet! But perhaps only in the dead of winter when they go brown and drab, sloshy and slippery. Maybe that would be the time to sweep them away to make way for the new season - the freshness and glory of spring.
WHEN THE SUN SHINES ANY GARDEN WILL COME ALIVE
But perhaps not quite alive as these 2 photos above! When you've just found out about about readjusting the light and colour readings on your phone camera, the resulting photos can be positively gaudy! Beautiful as the maples are in autumn in the Christchurch botanic gardens, their colour never looked quite as hectic as this!
Or as gloomy as this photo above taken with the old camera setting? Here the Maples look ever so cool for autumn, and were the Hydrangeas ever that blue, or the tree trunks that mauve?? I don't think so. Hmmm - there is obviously still a lot to learn about taking photos with the phone! When you carry your phone in your pocket, it can get so easily bumped and out of kilter, who knows what the photos might end up looking like? Unless you think mauve tree trunks and chaotically golden foliage is actually quite interesting?
This photo taken at another time on another day looks more normal. Was the light setting on the phone/camera adjusted to a better setting that day? Or was it all a fluke, simply determined by the state of my pocket? Whatever happened, this is more like the sunlight as we want to see it, reflecting in water and backlighting whole branches of foliage, creating contrast with light and shadows
And here, sunlight reflects surrounding plants and foliage in the water adding another dimension to the scene. This water is no longer hiding dark mysterious depths, but has become suffused with light and colour as the sun shines on it reflecting it's surroundings. And as a gentle breeze comes up, the water ripples with movement and light, the sun burnishes the grasses along the banks of the stream and they too ripple with light and movement just like the stream.
Even in the not so grand space of my back yard, sunlight creating shadows plays a big part in enlivening the picture, in autumn when sunlight slants at a lower more flattering angle.
And here, too, slanting shadows have become longer and more atmospheric, picking out details we may not have noticed before. The contrast between light and shade becomes marked. And the way sunlight brings details and the colour of leaves or seedheads into sharp focus is a revelation which on a dull day with no sunlight would go unnoticed.
What an autumn we have been having here in Canterbury, with blue skies and sunshine almost every day for weeks. It has been so warm and sunny, that it feels uncanny. The flip side is that everything is so dry and frizzled looking with deciduous trees losing their leaves earlier than usual. Many are dropping off the branches - limp and dry, before they have had a chance to change colour. And the ground is so parched and arid looking. Is this climate change? Where is the rain?
Summer is about breakfast in the garden
I leave the dressing gown and slippers behind as I leap out of my comfy chair to investigate. From now on it's the long white nightie investigating, as I lift up the invading triffid and hurrah - my treasure is still there, albeit pale and tiny, as though it's been grown under a sack! The invading triffid must be lopped. But where are the secateurs? In the shed. So round to the shed I trundle, long white nightie trailing along the ground, to get the secateurs. While I'm there I grab the loppers too, and the handfork to attack that big thistle which was bugging me, and perhaps the trowel as well, just in case something needs to be moved. Intent on the task in hand and oblivious to the white nightie and the odd passerby, I trail back to the front garden and with great glee, lop a bit off here, and dig out the offending thistle there. And suddenly I'm seeing a mass of other weedy problems which really need to be attended to on the spot! Eventually, I stand back and survey where I have been - the garden's looking much happier for that bit of instant attention. But then I remember I've got things to do - places to go and I look at my watch - 11.30am?? How did that happen so quickly? The front of the long white nightie's s a mess - covered in dirt, twigs, and scrunched up leaves, while the fluffy pink dressing gown is elegantly draped over the empty comfy breakfast chair!
Staring, is actually time well spent, because that's often when the penny drops about what's wrong and what's right with the garden. Are those plants which were moved in the spring doing as well as they should, and do they actually work with the rest of the plants and the garden generally? What plants should I transplant in the autumn and what is allowed to stay? Questions, questions, questions and it's looking for those elusive answers which makes gardening so addicitive.
Then suddenly it IS Autumn! Well it feels like it in the mornings when there is a definite chill in the air. I draw the pink dressing gown tighter around me as the mornings are no longer quite so balmy. And there are seed-heads amongst the Michelmas daisies!