Friday 24th September 2021

Blue skies and autumn sunshine reveal the silhouette of the Foxglove Tree at Garden House – Paulownia tomentosa. Magnificent if left to grow and flower, but equally astonishing if cut right down every year; the leaves on the new growth will be impressively huge, providing a jubilantly jungly atmosphere in the heart of Sussex.

And what a difference a week makes! Last week these seeds were sown –

And just look at them now!

Nothing short of miraculous

So, it’s izzy wizzy, let’s get busy… and on to the

Plant ident.

This week the autumn-flowerers take centre stage

Succisa pratensis

Or Devil’s Bit Scabious, a delicate see-through herbaceous perennial. From a rosette of mid-green leaves at its base, comes a long, branching stem with pale blue/mauve flowerheads, which are almost spherical. Dead-heading will promote further branching and the production of yet more flowers. Gorgeous when seen wafting amongst grasses such as Stipa tenuissima. Any aspect, any soil type, full sun or partial shade, likes a reasonably moist soil. A.G.M. Ht. 0.6 -1.0 m

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton’

A clump-forming, herbaceous perennial. Re-classified from the more easily-spelled and pronounced ‘Aster’, this form glows in the autumn sun. Rich, dark purple petals surround golden-yellow centres and the flowers are held on stiff, upright stems. Disease resistant, attractive to wildlife and great as a cut flower. It’s a must! Named after Helen Picton who holds the National Collection of Michaelmas Daisies at Picton Garden near Malvern in Worcestershire. A.G.M. Ht. 0.9 – 1.0 m

Symphotrichum novi-belgii ‘Vasterival’

Small, pale mauve/lilac daisy-type flowers feature atop the dark stems of this tall, beautiful plant. Forms an airy, upright clump which adds greatly to the autumn border. Good in sun or partial shade; especially good on clay, but does well in the chalky soil at Garden House. Doesn’t die very gracefully (how shocking), but is good as a cut flower. Ht. 1.0 – 1.2 m

Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

An attractive Globe Thistle, with metallic blue spiky flowers and leaves. Its architectural shape, height and distinctive colouration associates well with other late summer plants like Grasses, Crocosmia, Cardoons, Rudbeckias and Echinaceas. Attractive to wildlife – particularly to bees. Cut back to the ground once flowering has finished – although it’s a good idea to leave some seed heads for the birds. Full sun, most well-drained soils. Ht. 1.0 m

Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emperor’

Or Sedum, to those of us who find change difficult. A wonderfully vivid autumn plant from the Crassulaceae family. Purple/red stems and flowers glow in the late summer sun. Can be propagated easily from cuttings placed in water or compost, or by planting one of the fat, succulent leaves. Peel off a leaf, leaving a little fleshy heel from the stem, and plant upright in compost. It will rooty-toot root. Can also be divided.

Looking ahead to 2022

Time to think about bulbs of all shapes and sizes. Head for your collection of catalogues – Parkers, Sarah Raven, Avon, Bloms, de Jager and many more. The trouble is, it can all get a bit overwhelming. At Garden House, Bridge makes up a collage for different areas of the garden, making it easier to think about flowering periods, heights and colour combinations. There’s something meditative about paper, scissors and paste. And it’s a system that works –

This year, some precious Tulipa sprengeri seeds have been gifted to Bridge, but they won’t flower for about 4 years. What’s more, they’ll need a cold period to encourage germination (stratification). None of this will deter Garden House. Always up for a Tulip Challenge.

Now, some people have wine fridges. Only a very few have plant fridges.

And here are the T. sprengeri seeds. Already sown and in the fridge.

(But, where are all the wine bottles?)

Jobs for the week

Seed collection

When seed heads have formed and just started to open, a little seed collection is in order. Do this on a dry day. Shake the seeds onto a small tray and remove as much of the chaff as possible, then carefully transfer them into seed envelopes. Label!

For goodness sake, don’t mix up the hardy with the half-hardy annuals. The consequences are too awful to contemplate.

The whispy seed heads of Stipa tenuissima in September…

…and its seeds

Lychnis coronaria seed heads and seeds

Seed heads of Althaea cannabina

and the little beauties within

Ferns

The fern collection is being developed to establish a veritable fernery. Pot the new selections into terracotta pots using a John Innes compost. Water, label and place in a shady area. More research will be done on these fascinating plants in due course.

Foxgloves

Time to plant out some biennials in shade / part-shady areas of the garden. Digitalis need to be planted deeply, firmed in and watered. Space about 45 cms apart and await their glorious evolution.

Divide Auriculas

Tip plants out of their pots to check for the evil vine weevil. Divide, wash, and then re-pot carefully, back into terracotta pots.

Put them in a shaded place and, come spring, they will flower with great dignity, as befits their Victorian elegance. They love being displayed in an Auricula theatre, but definitely not the music-hall variety.

The Auricula is quite particular

Is there time for a Cake Break?

Need I say more?

Succulents

Pot up succulents in a really light compost. Cat litter was suggested as a possible medium to be mixed in with compost. With due diligence, this was given a try. And deemed not a runner. Clumping!

But the finished pots looked marvellous –

Pot on cuttings in the greenhouse

Use a mix of compost and horticultural grit for this.

We’re on it!

They certainly are! 5-star pots of Dianthus cuttings.

Divide hardy Geraniums

Cut back hardy Geraniums, dig up and make divisions of the plants. Re-plant / give away any extras. Tough job, but these Friday Groupers are up for the challenge.

Divide Agapanthus

Their roots will be compacted, so a pruning saw or bread knife will come in handy when splitting them. Come to think of it, there’s a woman in the potting shed with a bread knife.

I think she’s busy murdering someone

Sow Herbs

To sow now – Chervil, Dill, Coriander, Clary Sage, Lemon grass and Parsley. There’s a lot to do.

This is what you might call a division of labour…

Well, I call it management inaction

Take cuttings of Streptocarpus

Time to increase the Cape Primroses. We do love a free plant or two. First, catch your Streptocarpus. Then, dead head the plant and give it a general tidy up.

Cut off a perfect leaf. Then you have two options: cut either vertically or horizontally. If you are of the vertical persuasion, then remove the mid-rib running from top to bottom of the leaf and place the two cut edges in a light compost mix.

For those favouring horizontalism, make several horizontal cuts across each leaf, dividing it into several segments. Place each section upright in a little furrow of compost (see photo below). Make sure the lower cut is the one in touch with the growing medium . Water lightly and don’t forget to label. You think you’ll remember the cultivar’s name in future? You won’t. Place on a gentle heat for around three months to establish roots. Each cut leaf will eventually make a new plant.

Isn’t Nature wonderful?

And so we come to the end of another session. Time to admire Cobaea scandens in the garden: the Cup and Saucer plant.

And maybe have another cup of tea

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