Today is my elder son Dominic’s birthday, Last night it rained hard (badly needed) and a lot of the leaves have come tumbling down. You will see from my photos that the garden is all shades of green and russet, and the bare bones have become very evident. We are still putting in more structure all the time, by that I mean evergreen shapes. Though I must say I hate gardens that are all box or yew balls, We had a friend of James staying, called Ronnie from Hawaii. He said ‘Gina why do you have alL these stone balls? I replied that I supposed it was the fashion. I did not really know what to say, and I have just counted that I have five. Mostly they are on top of pillars. I find difficult to believe how long the asters are still lasting, and two of my delphiniums have flowered for the second time. Thomas, my second son, has started me off on Instagram, but I am rather amateurish with it still, and I need to be put straight by him. He has just been to Lapland with Nicholas to meet Father Christmas, We have been redoing pieces of the Autumn border, getting rid of things that have not done well (far too many Sanguisorbas who hated this summer) and dividing things that do do well, for example the Vernonias, James is helping in the garden today, (which is a beautiful one), he is a fair weather gardener! However he is not the only one! This afternoon I am going to cut back some of the leaves of the Hellebores. We have an awful lot of them, so it might take some time. They are in almost all my borders, but in the summer you dont really notice them. We don’t put them on the compost heap. I have given up as it has started raining again and I have only done about ten.
Polly has planted the tulips in the par terre, and she cannot really plant the rest until the borders are cut back. Cutting all the borders back takes ages, particularly the autumn border. She has put all the pots away and emptied them. I dont bother to put tulips in pots, just in the ground. Clive is away in Australia, and I rather miss him.
At this time of year the best part of the garden is the par-terre. Polly has lifted all the dahlias and planted the Triumph tulips in their place. We don’t usually repeat the colour combination each year but it was so lovely that we have. From my bedroom window I can see a haze of red at the bottom on the left which are the berries of Malus Hupehensis, The whole garden after getting to the end of the main lawn, slopes downhill which adds to the drama of what you have planted. In the paddock the avenue of Malus Transitoria has turned a lovely colour with tiny little orange berries, and on the left is what Polly and I call my Magnolia grove. These are already flowering and growing well, probably because I have good soil there, Where the two lime trees came down in Storm Aileen, we have planted Prunus subhirtella autumnalis, I have always wanted to grow this and finally have a good place for it. The winter can be so bleak and long that the more structure and winter interest that you have the better. I have started about five years ago planting a few named snowdrops, and the more they increase and the earlier they come up is always exciting. Quite a few people have been sweet enough to give me some, and I love it in gardening that you always remember who gave you what. Eventually your garden becomes rather like a personal diary of plants.
My friend and neighbour, Harriet Baring, I am now quite proud of her garden. After six years, with Polly and I helping her with ideas and plants. Initially I told her that I was only going to help her if she took everything out. No one was more amazed than me when she did. But there she is in the middle of fields with sheep, duck (I dont like them, they chased my dogs) and not even a telegraph pole to look at. Harriet and Justin, with the help of one day a week Ronald, have looked after it very well. Next summer I will put on some photos of her garden.
There has a lot been going on here in my absence. The wall leading into Polly’s parking area is being carefully rebuilt and made wider. It already looks much better, as I was afraid that it might collapse on to her car. The Sorbus Vilmorinii has been taken out with the help of a digger, and now the Crateagus Laciniata has a chance to bush out as it is not a very good shape. It opens up a view to the Autumn border, and looking back to the par terre. I had had it a long time, but there was quite a lot of die back. James had said all along it was a thicket, and he was right.. The middle plant of the Miscanthus sinensis Yakushima Dwarf was taken out, and that makes a big improvement too, as you can now see through to the paddock and the avenue. Neil is rebuilding the little stone wall which could have been the demise of Clive, or me for that matter. Polly has been putting in Everedge where we needed it, and that is good too, though you certainly dont want that everywhere in the garden. I am always saying this, but it is so good to be home, especially to have the company of Tensing and Temba.
Mostyn was on television last night on Countryfile. It lasted five minutes and they were talking about the walled garden which is two and a half acres. I liked it a lot, in fact I would like to watch it again. I love Countryfile, the photography is so beautiful. I think the Autumn Border next year is going to be greatly improved with all the changes we are making. That is what attracts me hugely to gardening, there is always next year. In life it is important to always have something to look forward to.
We have been here for two days on that very dreaded early flight from Gatwick, having to get up at 3 in the morning. We are lucky, the weather is heavenly, hot, but quite a lot cooler than in the summer. Another year we must come for ten days, as it is fine to garden, and it has obviously not rained since we have been here. I have been watering my prostrate rosemary up the top, which is at least still alive, probably because I was looking after it when I was last here. The blue agaves, of which we have six, are putting on new shoots on the side, having sat still for a year. It is much cheaper to buy small ones to start with. We have asked Francis Hamel who is a brilliant artist, to come out here and paint a picture of Prosilio. quite a big one.
He is going to start off with some sketches of what appeals to him, and then we will choose. The two cats seem very pleased to see us as I think they get quite lonely in the winter. Everything is beautiful, and nobody is here., I think this has to be my favourite time of year. Last October we planted a lot of Sternbergias and only three have come up. I remember it landed me up with six months visits to the physiotherapist by trying to plant them into a dust like surface. I am not going to make a mistake like that again.
Francis Hamel lives in a cottage at Rousham, which is the earliest William Kent garden in Oxfordshire. I cannot think of a more inspiring place to live. He also has a studio there, and what I particularly love is the light in his pictures.
We are now in the middle of Autimn and it is the perfect time for changing things that don’t please you. The Autumn border (one of my favourites) has become unbalanced, and the obvious choice is to take out the middle clump of grass of Miscanthus Sinensis Yakushima dwarf. All three have got huge over the years, and now the two on the left are touching. It is no way dwarf, and I put three in initially where two would have done. Taking it out will open up a view to the bench at the bottom of the paddock (which incidentally is soft mauve, and criticised by one of our visitors, the colour I mean) and also will give a charming view of the avenue of Malus Transitoria. That is what gardening is all about, opening up vistas. Mark Griffiths said in Country Life recently that it was his favourite avenue. I am lucky that Mark loves my garden. We have also discovered that Rudbeckia Gullicks variety is too tall, ten feet, and at the front. That is coming out and I am keeping my eyes open for a replacement, also maybe for the back. It is a bit coarse and runs; even though it has an award of merit. Today I am going to see Graham Gough of Marchants Hardy Plants, and will probably come back with the boot full of plants. Apart from the fact that it is uplifting to see Graham and Lucy, and I will have lunch with them where we will probably talk nothing but plants, always enjoyable. I am excited about seeing their garden, and how they have managed with what I considered a very difficult year. Polly coped with it amazingly, as I was not mobile until now.
The other thing you have to keep your eyes open for in the border is a plant which takes over. In the Chartreuse border Helianthus Lemon Queen has done just that. We have taken out the middle section which had swamped a new Veronicastrum that we had planted in the Spring. It has been replaced by Anemone Whirlwind which had already established itself at the front. The whole effect appears considerably lighter. My great friend Eric who works at Chanticleer in the States, and has a very good eye has been nagging me about the autumn border for some time. He came to stay at Pettifers this summer, but sadly I was in Corfu. The whole of the autumn border will be transformed , we will do it in about ten days with a digger, Changes in the Autumn are better than in the Spring as you see the full growth of the plant, and whether it is falling over badly, as on the whole I do not like staking as I like it all to look natural.
Down the bottom of my garden, which is after all only an acre and a half, lie a plethora of small trees laden with berries. One a Crateagus Schraderiana, which I mistakenly planted as Crateagus Laciniata. I am not sure that it is better, it has the same leaf but its berries are like dark glistening cherries. Mouth watering, you want to pop them in your mouth. My other Crateagus is the real Laciniata, and is planted outside the front door of Great Dixter,, you could hardly get a better provenance than that, and as I said before it looks as if it has stepped out of a Klimt painting. Running along the edge of my left hand boundary is Malus Hupehensis, with its branches weighted down with small red berries. We are going to lift the crown of it but have to be careful not to expose the tennis court that lies behind. Part of our wall fell down where we have what we call the soldiers, it has been repaired needless to say exposing quite a large washing apparatus. These are the penalties of living in a a village with close neighbours.
We have two large Sorbus Joseph Rock laden with apricot berries. Funnily enough they did hardly fruit last year. These are in the autumn border, which we are in the process of getting a lot better having discovered some stunning new plants for it. Though Rudbeckia Gullicks variety is going to bite the dust probably. It is too tall and generally rather coarse. The trouble with having a small garden is that you want everything to be be perfect. One of the stars of our garden are our Japanese anemones, as they flower for so long and are quite dainty’. I took some dahlias to my friend Melissa who has had yet another operation, she is very brave about it, and the star of the dahlias was a pale pink one which Polly calls wishy washy, yet in a vase is one of the best. Interesting.
I quite often think to myself that September is the best time of year for the garden. The trees at the bottom are turning a beautiful colour and laden with berries. Malus Hupehensis, Sorbus Joseph Rock, which had virtually no berries last year, and Crateagus Laciniata which looks as if it has stepped out of a Klimt painting. Staphylea Colchica is a buttercup yellow and Sorbus Vilmorinii which is making its exit in the beginning of October. That will make a greatly improved view through to the Autumn Border. I dont think that anything has died this summer, although the odd plant on the top of the stone walls. Polly and I set off on Tuesday to Avondale another Succisa Pratense. This is evergreen, and later on has ethereal small blue balls that waft in the breeze. I am going to put a picture on later, I have been back for some time and Wednesday was the first morning that the light was at all possible
Early in the morning I am really happy as the colours are so much better, and I find a good way to improve your planting. Clive and I rather missed the boat to have a photographic workshop this year, but we will definitely fix one for the spring. Poor Polly seems to have buckets of bulbs waiting to be planted in the potting shed. She managed to track down Deirdre in the end, which is green and white., and we had not managed to find her for several years. I had the most amazing greetings from Tensing and Temba this year, and Temba follows me wherever I go in case I leave him again. We are going to leave him again as we are going back to Corfu for a week in October