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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: October 2015 - Entry 37

A special year for autumn colour

October is one of my favourite months, chiefly because of my love of trees and eager anticipation of the annual pageant of colour that October brings. As we all know, some years the colour is better than others, and various climatic influences are rolled out as the reason(s) for a good or bad year; I suspect that there is a fairly complex interaction of various factors throughout the season at work, but a cool summer and big day/night temperature fluctuations as autumn develops (implying sustained high atmospheric pressure, which we have had this year) seem to be important. Be that as it may, this year is a good one, even here in North Wales where autumn colour is generally far less reliable than in the east of Britain.  And when the colour is particularly good there is one place in the area that all head for, Bodnant garden. We went yesterday afternoon and I am not exaggerating when I say that the car park was as full as on a sunny spring Sunday when the rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias, for which the garden is especially noted, are at their stunning best. Fortunately Bodnant is a very large (>60 acres) and mature garden with a lot of 'terrain', and it seems to soak up visitors so that you never feel that it is overcrowded. Anyway, we were not disappointed, greeted as we were by a symphony of colour everywhere, led of course by the maples and rowans but with many other players in the orchestra.  Some others that especially took my attention were several large metasequoias and a uniformly chestnut brown taxodium, and to contrast with all the reds and oranges, the gentle combination of green and pale yellow of ginkgo leaves. See for yourself and enjoy these photographs.

Autumn colour at Bodnant

My wife, Pam, with Acer palmatum 'Elegans'

Pam among the acers at Bodnant Acer palmatum 'Elegans'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Metasequoia glyptostroboides autumn colour

Taxodium distichum

Taxodium distichum autumn colour

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba autumn colour

Nyssa sylvatica

Nyssa sylvatica

Last but not least, seedheads of Clematis 'Helios'

Clematis 'Helios' seedheads

Nothing so spectacular in the autumn colour department in our own garden, but I thought I would show you the silver birch that was given to us by our daughters as a Silver Wedding present 24 years ago - only one more season for us until we (touch wood!) reach the magic 50 years together!

Silver birch autumn colour

Mediterannean bed

In the 'alpine' department things are definitely tailing off, but there are still a few things worth looking at. To give you an idea of what two of the main beds look like here are two photographs:

Moraine bed

Nerine undulata ssp. alata

This is one of the autumn bulbs highlighted by Peter Erskine in his excellent article in the current issue of The Alpine Gardener. Peter was kind enough to give me a few bulbs when I visited his very special garden a few years ago.

Nerine undulata subsp. alata

Nerine bowdenii

Friends gave me a dozen bulbs of this very good form three years ago and they are now nicely filling a bed in a very hot sunny corner which they share with Paeonia cambessedesii. The colour of the nerines is actually a good deal darker than shown here.

Nerine bowdenii Nerine bowdenii close-up

Fascicularia bicolor

The duck egg blue of the opening flowers is just beginning to show. This is a very easy, long-lived plant in any sunny spot with very sharply drained soil - almost pure gravel in this case. 

Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki seedlings'

Despite our cool and moist climate I do not have much success here with the toad lilies, which galls me as I am very fond of their strange flower shapes and colour combinations, especially as they mostly bloom just as somethign special is needed when autumn approaches. Anyway, I keep giving them a try and this recent acquisition seems to have settled down quite well in a fairly deeply shaded spot.

Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki seedlings'

Hesperantha (Schizostylis) coccinea 'Major'

I finish with a close-up of a very common plant which is exceedingly easy to grow in almost any soil in sun, even though it is far from its high altitude homeland in the Eastern Cape and Natal. Curiously, although it always grows by water there, often in as well as on the banks of streams, it does not thrive in such conditions here, requiring  reasonably well drained soil. Isn't it this sort of conundrum that makes gardening so infinitely interesting?

Hesperantha coccinea 'Major'
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