Two weeks ago I walked through the very last of the golden weather early in the morning in Hagley Park. Winter sunlight was filtering through an avenue of trees casting long shadows across grass and pathways and the leaves still clinging to some trees, were lit up in a blaze of gold, while others already stripped of their leaves were skeletal against the sky. And a golden carpet of fallen leaves, lit up my path, as more yellow leaves fluttered down around me.
Walking along a pathway beside the Avon River which winds it's way through a shaded area of deciduous woodland, you turn a corner and there is the sun - a low ball of silver fire in the sky. You catch your breath at the sight ahead of sunlight falling as a brilliant patch of light filtering through half bare branches lighting up the pathway. While distant trees still clinging to the last of their leaves in one last glorious burst of gold contrast with the dark bare shapes of trees still in shadow.
The Maple Border of the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch is one of my favourite places. There is something beautiful happening at every time of the year. In early winter the sculptural shapes of maple woodland are highlighted silver white by winter sunlight. They contrast with the last few maple leaves glowing golden in the background and the muted colours of Hydrangeas, crinkled and papery after frost. As these eventually drop and we are left with bare bushes, it's comforting to know that the emphasis will shift as the green of the Hellebores beneath, which have been understated all summer, will soon transform into a carpet of muted claret, pinks and white to add a fragile beauty to the winter scene.
Light is everything in a garden. Especially in late autumn when long slanting rays of sunlight touch the brilliance of the last of the autumn leaves. This is especially true of the ornamental grapevine, Vitis cognetaie, as it's leaves transform from lush summer green into fiery red iridescence, the most brilliant of autumn foliage. Draped across the verandah of my cottage, catching the morning sun, the red leaves become transparent as the light reflects through the window at the end of the verandah. The reds, oranges, pinks and burgundys of those last lingering leaves intensify as though trying to cram in every last moment of of light and life before they must drop and shrivel away. We know that this is the last fling before the light fades, the dimmer days of winter set in, and only the bare skeleton of the vine remains.
The low slanting sunlight of late autumn is perfect for highlighting the colour of the fiery leaves of the ornamental grape - Vitis cognitiae. Its varying tones of burgundy, scarlet, crimson and orange just sing in sunlight, draped against the blue painted house.
This is one of gardening's happy accidents, because long ago when I found this cottage with its sunny verandah, I planted this particular flamboyant grape to sparkle up the original paint colour in the background. And it didn't matter that the ornamental grape is non fruit bearing - colour was more important than food!
Nondescript, would describe perfectly the colour of the cottage as it was then - boring stone-beige, hardly deserving of this brilliant vine. It wasn't until the autumn after I finally decided to branch out and paint the cottage blue, that I discovered the happy accident. I was more concerned that the blue of the cottage should match the grey-blue colour of the roof, rather than foliage of the humble vine. But as the grape foliage changed from summer green to fiery crimson against the blue house, and the colours began to bounce and sing to each other that autumn, I knew this was a flash of accidental inspiration. Fleeting though it is, because later in May, just when leaves reach their most fiery iridescence, they will start to drop, until we are left with just one lone red leaf, clinging to the bare vine, flapping mournfully in the cold grey wind.
nbelievably, in spite of cyclones and the coldest rainiest Autumn I ever remember, there are still some summer flowers in the garden which amazingly, have escaped the sad soggy end which has been the fate of so many. The garden may be almost devoid of the colour of flowers, but it is the lushest and greenest I have ever seen in autumn, and so are surrounding lawns, gardens and trees.
It all looks so abnormally emerald, and out of character for Canterbury. At this time of year, when the air is usually crisp and golden with blue skies, and when trees and foliage, are dry and gasping and lawns brown and dusty, everything looks unnaturally green and lush, as though dreadful irrigation pivots have been at work.
But no, it's all natural! Or is it global warming, as there is no hint of any frosts yet? Is Canterbury going to become green, humid, damp and lush instead of blue, gold, tussocky, dry and spiky?
I purchased 2 of these dwarf Abutilon 'Lucky Lantern Orange', at the final Ellerslie Flower Show held in Christchurch in 2013 . They have proved to be one of my best buys, as their orange bell shaped flowers are the perfect colour for my garden, and situated either side of my front gate they flower prolifically, nonstop from early summer till the frosts come.
This Abutilon never outgrows it's welcome, keeping its compact rounded shape all year. The leaves may droop a bit during frosty weather, but all I do, is give them a little clip and shape in early spring and away they go again sending out new spring growth with the promise of new seasons flowers.
Are these the blackest Dahlias you have ever seen? It is an unnamed Dahlia which was given to me by a friend - perhaps 15 years ago? She didn't know how it had arrived in her garden either - just that it was gorgeous. Unthinkingly, all those years ago I planted one tuber in a wildish part of my garden, then completely forgot about it. Utterly neglected it survived, and comes up faithfully every year, finding it's way up through Hostas, Hydrangeas and a prickly Japonica bush. It does grow long and lanky, as it knows it needs too, to reach daylight.
It's not a prolific flowerer, and has the old fashioned look of one of those obscene double heavy headed Dahlias. But it isn't! Instead it has an enormous bud which opens into an almost single flower, it's dusky dark crimson petals opening wide to show a cluster of prominent golden stamens. How lucky am I to get something so stunning from such unassuming origins.
Autumn and 'mellow fruitfulness' at the little yellow cottage across the road
I remember when the Quince tree across the road in the garden of the yellow cottage, started off as a smart little white Japonica Chaenomeles 'Alba' on a standard! This was when the original owners were restoring the cottage and 'landscaping' the garden. Subsequent owners have been much more 'relaxed' about it all and gradually the white Japonica known as an ornamental quince, reverted back to its original species - the fruiting Quince, known botanically and rather dauntingly as, Cydonia oblonga. A large fruiting tree, it has become increasingly popular as an ornamental landscape tree in it's own right, because of it's attractive umbrella like shape, and lush green leaves, not to mention it's spectacular golden fruitful globes in Autumn, and pretty white blossoms in spring.
I think the golden globed tree, Cydonia oblonga is much more impressive in front of the yellow cottage than the clipped and primped standard Chaenomeles 'Alba' could ever have been.
While back at the blue cottage it is all 'Season of mists'
'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' - that overworked quote from the Keats poem
'Ode to Autumn', but it is this single line which to me epitomises Autumn better than anything else I know. And makes me want to read more - so more you have my friends - well the first verse anyway just to whet your appetite.
"SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, 5
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease, 10
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells."
And this is only the first verse. If you don't already have an anthology on your bedside table, now is the time to unearth a volume containing Keats poetry, and 'Ode to Autumn'. Even on dreary rainy autumn days like today, this poem will bring mellow autumn sun into your life.
Cordyline indivisa - Mountain cabbage Tree Avenue
I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the 50 Year Celebration of the Barker Family at Larnach Castle in early March, and these photos are just a few of the glorious views of this unique and amazing garden. Sitting where it does high up on the Otago Peninsula overlooking the harbour, this garden has a micro-climate all of its own. Something which the owner of the Castle and garden, Margaret Barker, understands very well. Somewhere between an alpine and coastal situation, this garden is often engulfed in cold swirling damp mists, rain, wind, and even snow in winter, yet frosts are rare. And sunshine, while not rare is far from plentiful, and not too hot, so the climate could be described as cool humid temperate.
Margaret has learned to adapt the garden to the climate. She has long ago given up trying to grow roses, but she makes the most of different microclimates throughout the property where she can grow not only the lushest tree ferns, including frost tender vareties such as the huge black Mamaku 'Cyathea medullaris', which doesn't grow easily in Christchurch's spiky climate, but also Pohutukawa 'Metrosideros excelsa'. There are several varieties of these growing on a warm north facing slope just above the warmer north coast of the Peninsula. These include a cream flowered variety called Metrosideros bartlettii - sometimes called the White Xmas Tree.
In a different area of the garden with a cooler damper micro-climate on a high south-east facing slope there is an avenue of lush Mountain Cabbage Trees 'Cordyline indivisa' , which, as the name suggests, is at home in alpine situations (see image above). We might be able to grow lots of pretty roses and lavender on the hot dry Canterbury plains, but not these lush mountain beauties. I have tried in a cool damp south facing situation, but the nor'westers got them in the end.
South Seas Garden
Back at the warm north facing coastal slope, above the Pohutukawa grove, is the north facing South Seas Garden - the opposite end of the scale from the cool south facing Cordyline indivisa avenue. Up on this warm slope where large rocks have been thoughtfully placed to shelter and retain the suns heat, all the plants in this garden are indigenous to the southern hemisphere. Pictured here from South America to South Africa, Gazanias, Aloe polychroma, and Agaves grow happily amongst the carpeting bidibidi Acena purpurea native to New Zealand. Not pictured is the wonderful Nikau Walk. These are the hardiest of the Nikau Palm species and are endemic to the Chatham Islands - Rhopalostylis sapida 'Chathamica'. They are suited to this cool coastal situation withstanding cold harsh winds and even frosts up to 3 degrees.
poor knights Lily
To see the Poor Knights Lily - Xeronema callistemon growing in such a southerly situation is a treat indeed. And to see it in flower and looking so fulsome is remarkable considering it usually only grows in frost free sunny areas in northern areas of New Zealand and off shore islands. Yet here it is looking as happy as can be, as far south as the Otago Peninsula in the South Seas Garden at Larnach Castle. But perhaps the free draining north facing slopes of the Otago Peninsula in a sheltered position which is frost free, is not such an impossibility. It takes a plantswoman of Margaret Barker's calibre to understand exactly which position it would thrive in.
cornus controversa variegata
There is a beautiful woodland walk which links the carpark near the entrance of Larnach Castle to the castle and surrounding gardens. A group of elegant tiered trees with light coloured foliage entice you to the beginning of the walk. Often called the Wedding Cake Tree - Cornus controversa 'Variegata', this particular species originates in Asia and is a taller more elegant form than the North American Cornus.