Plant of the Month – September

September is a month of mixed emotions; seeing the school buses going through the village again brings that pit in the stomach feeling of old even if it’s decades since the school gates beckoned. Even when you remember that by the end of August you were so bored that mother resorted to ironing transfers on to your father’s handkerchiefs for you to embroider – he could never blow his nose in public for fear of ridicule as daisies weren’t his idea of manly and we ran out of the letter ‘j’ years before.

But in the garden, September is a new Spring. The light is soft and yellow, almost caressing and plants are opening up saying “look at me” just as much as they are in April.

When I don’t know what to choose for ‘Plant of the Month’ I wait for a group of visitors to tell me. This they do unwittingly as one by one they all come up to us and ask about the same plants. So “thank you” to Harpenden Horticultural Society for all asking about Clematis rehderiana and our purple Eucomis bicolor cultivar that we’ve had for years and we just call ‘Burgundy’.

Our Clematis rehderiana is a ‘good form’ ( doesn’t your heart just sink when someone says that?) from Hannays of Bath a long defunct nursery still missed by many. It starts flowering in mid July and continues through September. It’s a noisy plant as it is always accompanied by the buzz of bees. Cowslip scented it will put on 10ft of growth in one season and pull itself up over whatever is in its path. In our case this is the yew soldiers we have lined up next to the garages – one of them must be blushing furiously as he is encircled by a marabou wrap of sulphur yellow bells waving gently in the wind. In spring we cut it down to a massive trunk of twisted branches at the base. And that’s it. We never feed it as its base is below a membrane covered with marble chippings and it never gets anything nasty that we need to spray against.

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Eucomis looks like a pineapple. Everyone says so. But pineapples aren’t made up of hoya-like flowers below their top knot of leaves. Ours are stunners in the true Pre-Raphaelite tradition – thick necks, gorgeous colouring, slightly brazen in their languid loll against the metal fence supports we use to keep them off the paths. The bulbs are huge as I found out last Spring when I put a spade through one of them whilst trying to plant gladiolus – the bulb came up and flowered anyway.   And yes, we leave them in the ground. They are planted in the Parterre, a piece of ground on a 20 degree slope, in soil that is so well drained it could be described as ‘thin’. I may feed them, I can’t really remember, probably a handful of something granular as I’m passing but they may have to do with the feed from the dahlias that are planted up hill from them as it leaches downwards.

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So don’t start polishing your tools for storage just yet. We’ve already started our dividing and moving about. There are a few large empty spaces that we’ve cleared this week in anticipation of the roses we’ve ordered. New grasses arrived yesterday for the Klimt border. It’s as busy as Spring here. I’m off to get my new academic year diary as the gardening year starts now. . .

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