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Garden Diary October 2009
October 1st: Asters in abundance

We had a bit of a busman's holiday today visiting the National Plant Collection of Asters near Malvern. A lovely show indeed and a great way to contrast and compare varieties. I was surprised to find that some were distinctly fragrant having never smelt them before or read a reference to this in books. 

National Collections are great places to visit to find out more about a particular type of plant and get a great choice of varieties to buy. The only downside of our visit here was there was no one on hand to talk to about the plants but as they open nearly every day in the flowering season it is too much to expect to have someone available all the time.

Comma and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies on Aster OchtendglorenOctober 4thButterflies in the autumn sunshine

A lovely sunny day today and I'm busy getting our winter cloches sorted out ahead of a forecast ground frost tonight. By late afternoon its already cold in the air but the sun is still warm and many butterflies are basking on our lovely Aster Ochtendgloren

I tried getting a close up of a Red Admiral on the flowers but it was very nervous, flying off at the slightest movement of my camera. The Small Tortoiseshell (lower down in the photo) was less nervous. The Comma (top) couldn't have cared less, allowing me to take some really good close ups. 

Late blooming perennials are really good for butterflies who are stocking up for winter hibernation. Another good source of food are windfall apples, especially once the birds have opened up the skin.  Butterflies get quite tipsy on the fermenting juice.


Phlox White Admiral with Ageratina altimssima Chocolate  2009 SpecialPerennials.comOctober 5thBeauty: there in black and white

Sometimes the simple beauty of a plant partnership takes my breath away. Today the interplay between the pure white Phlox White Admiral and the near black Chocolate Knitbone (Ageratina altissima Chocolate) is all I wanted it to be when I planted these in the spring. The Ageratina's colour is made all the more deep by planting it against a north-facing fence which gets little sun at this time of year. 

October 10th: Perennials for autumn colour: Euphorbia Excalibur

When we think about autumn colour our thoughts and memories turn to deciduous trees and shrubs with their dramatic fiery tints at this time of year. My memories fly back to Essex and travelling to school each day in October and November through Epping Forest with the beech trees turning to copper and gold. 

However it isn't just woody plants that give a great autumn display. Many herbaceous perennials are just as attractive. Many Euphorbias are brilliant at this time of year. I hope to capture some photos of their wonderful leaf colour in the coming days but just now Euphorbia Excalibur caught my eye. Due to the dry weather the leaves have dropped rather early leaving behind these very striking pink stems, very much admired by visitors.

Unfortunately for us, Excalibur has plant breeders' rights so we can't propagate it for sale. However it does self-seed rather well and many of it seedlings are looking promising; they won't we identical and can't be called Excalibur but hopefully we can select out a star child to bulk up for sale.  Young plants can be carefully divided and you can take stem cuttings in summer. Seed should be collected just before it is ripe as the heads explode throwing the seed about; alternatively cover the seed heads with a paper bag during dry sunny weather. 

The stems will eventually brown and shrivel a bit; its then time to cut them down to ground level.  (See October 18th for more Euphorbia autumn colour).

October 13th: Flowers at last

Heucheras are today largely grown for their colourful leaves. Caramel, pictured here, is one of the best. One visitor claimed it was very nice but it never flowers. Well it does and actually they quite nice sprays of white bells with pink stems picking up the colour of the mature leaves. 


Salvia cuttings - as cut (left) and prepared for insertioning in a cutting compost (right)October 14th: Salvia cuttings

The New World Salvias are blooming their heads off now and how valuable they are at this time of year with their bright colours and dancing blooms.

Its probably a bit late to take cuttings but its worth having a go if you have a cold greenhouse or a sunny windowsill. Cuttings can be taken from May onwards.

Try and find unflowered shoots or pinch off the flower buds a the tip. Cut a 4 - 5in piece just under a set of leaves using a very sharp and sterile knife; scissors or secateurs will crush the stems instead of giving a clean cut. Strip off the lower pairs of leaves leaving about 2 or 3 pairs at the top. You can use hormone rooting powder or gel. Insert nearly up to the lowest remaining leaves in a very well drained compost. I use a 13cm pot with 50-50 multipurpose and potting grit or sharp sand which has been tamped down and thoroughly watered. Don't forget to label the pot! 

Either place in a heated propagator or cover with a clear polythene bag. Check daily and remove any dropped or yellowing leaves. At this time of year don't be tempted to pot on even when roots are showing through the holes in the bottom of the pot; the cuttings are best left to grow good root systems over winter for potting up in spring.

October 17th: That time of day

There are times when you just have to grab your camera and capture a moment in the garden. This afternoon at quarter to six (BST)  was one such. The setting sun was gleaming through the grass Molinia Windspiel and shining right through the tinted autumn leaves of the dogwood Cornus Kesselringii with its black stems.

Its always worth thinking about the effect of the sun at pivotal times of year when planting plants with a distinct season. This dogwood has striking stems in winter and great autumn colour so place it to take advantage of the low sun. 

Euphorbia villosaOctober 18th: More Euphorbias for autumn colour

Just along the way from Excalibur (see October 10th below) is another fine Euphorbia - villosa a clump-former with mid green leaves and acid yellow flowers in summer. Its autumn colours are superb this year. 

According to the two Euphorbia booklets on my bookshelf (each by one of the National Collection Holders) the plant is either 4ft or 6ft tall, propagated by cuttings in spring or July or by division in autumn.  The in the dry sunny spot I'm growing it in its more like 3ft tall (at most). Plant heights are never an exact science; too many factors have an influence.

Euphorbia villosa is a close relative of the more common Euphorbia palustris but in my garden its not at all floppy like the latter. 

I'll have to get propagating either now, spring or July or perhaps all three! 

We hope to add this to our range during 2010.


Persicaria Dikke Floskes with Aster Anja's Choice behindOctober 21st: Value for money perennials

Persicaria amplexicaulis varieties are great value for money perennials, blooming from July right through October, loved by bees and growing in most soils from dry to very damp. 

Persicaria amplexicaulis Dikke Floskes (right) is fairly new to the UK and we will be adding it to our range in 2010. All are on the pink end of the colour palette ranging from white through pink to carmine and deep crimson. Heights varying from 2ft (Inverleith) to 4ft or more (Firetail).

Propagation is by division (in fact carving up into sections) in autumn or spring. Now is quite a good time whilst the weather is still good. The best tool for the job is a cheap bread knife. Rhizomes can the cut up into sections each with a leaf shoot or bud showing. You can even carve pieces off from the plant in situ with care. I'd pot them up now for over wintering in a cold frame. If dividing in spring you can plant straight out.


Persicaria campanulataOctober 23rd: More Persicarias

Just to prove their late season interest, another Persicaria caught my eye in the garden today - Persicaria campanulata has (as the name suggests) sprays of tiny pink bell flowers during October, complementing the ribbed, slightly felted leaves.

This one does spread by stolens - surface rooting stems which can be severed from the parent plant to create new plants. After severing leave the babies to recover and root more and then gently dig up and replant in their new position.


Ageterina altissima Chocolate in fllower 29th Oct 2009October 29th: Balmy but beautiful

It makes a lovely change to get through October (just about) without a frost, although we have come close a couple of times. Temperatures yesterday hit 18c during the day. One benefit is that late bloomers are having a wonderful time and for once we are enjoying weeks rather than days of the white flowers of Ageratina altissima Chocolate. Long may the balmy weather continue!


October 29th: Unplanned, poor taste, I love it.

When I planted the vibrant Centaurea jacea in front of a stand of the tall grass Molinia Windspiel I didn't plan for the changes autumn brings to colours in the garden. Normally i wouldn't think of putting fuchsia pink with pale orange. Worshippers of the colour wheel would shudder at the thought I expect. Fortunately nature doesn't have "taste" and the changing seasons bring unplanned for surprises. 

I'll certainly be trying this combination again: Helenium Fata Morgana with Centaurea Elstead, Echinacea Rubinstern with Kniphofia Apricots and Cream. I can't wait to get planting.