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.


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.

024 023

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. . .

Helping Harriet

Harriet Barings garden, 17th September 2012

Order Crateagus Laciniata , LANDFORD TREES Christopher Pilkington 6ft Nov. bare rooted 01794 390 808
3 SALLY HOLMES roses, DAVID AUSTIN ROSES @ £11 49 modern shrub rose 01902 376300, order catalogue and order roses
2 Molinia Skyracer Knoll Gardens Neil Lucas 01202 873931 plant in spring
Hemerocallis Margery Fish (from me) soft peach
Euphorbia Fern Cottage (from me]
20 Mount Everest Alliums @ £16 Peter Nyssen Ltd 0161 747 400
Ballerina Tulips £15 for 100 Peter Nyssen Ltd
White Triumphator Tulips £19 for 100 Peter Nyssen consult Polly
Green Cotinus
8 Green Beech from Nicholsons at Deddington 3 to 4 ft
Sedum Matrona
Aster wun der Staff
Stipa tenuissima in spring
Tulbaghia violacea
3 Aster Little Carlow
Helianthus Lemon Queen

The house is situated in the middle of fields, with no big trees. Justin, Harriets husband, told her she was being very bossy when she told him how to plant. Poor man, he has had to put up with me telling her to take everything out. I never thought she would do that.

2 or 3 bags of alpine grit, and a large bag of bonemeal, all from Barn Farm Plants in Wardington, Rose spray and sprayer (consult Polly)

What we have done for Harriet is just one border with a brick wall backing it, which was already there. We will see if she learns the names of everything, and how to look after them, and how keen she is. Then next year we will decide what to do, as she has two small children and no help to speak of. Polly and I have just taken over to Harriet 3 aster Little Carlow, and 3 Helianthus Lemon Queen, which she is going to plant next to a golden euonymous on the right hand side. We decided that this is quite a natural plant which will blend in to the landscape well, and looks good for a long time. If it ever stops raining I will take some photographs of what we have done. There has been a lot of paving laid which has tidied up everything and looks very nice. The paving slabs come from India, and I have used some here. They have worn very well, and are cheaper than york stone.
It is lucky for me that Harriet only lives about 10 minutes away.

Head Gardener Polly, holding Tensing

Planting in Corfu

I am on the plane returning from five days in our house in Corfu .

My sonThomas has been staying with me and with the help of Giannis and Byron, a very attractive Albanian who permanently has a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, we have been replanting the garden at Prosilio.

They arrive at 9am with what seems a huge amount of plants, and then get to work with a pick axe and fairly medaeval looking gardening tools. Basically what we are doing is replacing the fairly sick looking lavender with myrtle, and hope that it will stand up to the intense heat of the summer better than the lavender.

Outside our bedroom we have used a lot of westringia which has a blue grey leaf and is rather reminiscent of rosemary. It is very drought resistant and comes from Australia. My idea is that near the house we should have plants that are all different shades of green and blend into all the olive trees, so that everything is evergreen. Then on the two terraces we should have colour with the orange tecomaria capensis which is planted all along the front of the bottom terrace. To the left of them is 5 pomegranate bushes, and then 5 red and orange lantana. It took me a while to like lantana, but pruned properly it will flower all summer. These are all full of colour in October. Giannis is the master mind of everything, I could not do without his help and enthusiasm. I never would have thought I would be happy with a contract gardener, but I am. In the front of the house we have planted a cycas revoluta, which is a very ancient and slow growing palm. At the top of the steps and underneath the cottage we have planted 5 arbutus unedo, which are amongst my favourite shrubs, and are all fruiting in the wild outside Dominic and Thomas’ s, house. Their fruit is like gritty strawberries. The next step is to see if everything will come through a long, cold, and very wet winter. I would like to go back there to see our two cats and how everything is getting on, but I dont think James would come. I have completely gone off callistemon.