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An unremarkable October (2019)

October 29, 2019
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Little new to report

This has been an uneventful month here, apart from the seemingly continuous and lack of sunshine and warmth. It’s not at all like some memorable past Octobers when the garden glowed in that slanting golden light of autumn that makes all look well. And we have been away from home for quite a lot of the time, latterly on a Danube cruise from Budapest to Vienna which was both memorable and enjoyable (not necessarily the same thing!), not least because the sun shone almost throughout and the temperatures hovered around the mid-20s for most of the time.

A few nerines

I wish I had ‘discovered’ nerines long before I did. Of course, I noticed N. bowdenii at this time of year in other peoples’ gardens, but I never really got ‘into’ them – and still haven’t. For example, there are 25 species (plus or minus depending on taxonomic wranglings), 21 of which are endemic to the geographic areas of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. The other four occur throughout southern Africa.

Only four species are winter growing and 21 are summer growing, a subset of which are evergreen. But of these I only grow three:

  • Common or garden N. bowdenii itself and its white form, which has only flowered for the first time here this year
  • N. undulata (syn. N. alta), an absolute stunner in the open garden, though quite slow to bulk up
  • N. filifolia which I have grown for many years in a pot under cover but never risked outside.

For me, there are three golden rules for flowering nerines well:

  1. Plant the bulbs shallowly with the noses level with the surface of the compost.
  2. Allow the bulbs to become crowded (they thrive on competition with their own kind).
  3. Give them full sun and keep them on the dry side. (I apply a top dressing of gritty compost when they come into growth and water occasionally with a general fertiliser.)

Serratula tinctoria subsp. seoanei

This is a fancy name for a fairly ordinary plant that probably would not merit attention at the height of the flowering season, but which at least performs well and flowers profusely at a time when, in this alpine garden, there is little else to admire. It is an upland meadow plant from northern Portugal, N.W. Spain and S.W. France and is very easy to grow in any sunny or part-shaded spot in well-drained soil – the poorer the better if it is to flower well.

Shrubs and trees

All I have left to offer you really is a motley selection of miscellaneous trees and shrubs that for one reason or another seem worth mentioning or illustrating. Earlier in the autumn I drew attention to several dwarf rhododendrons that were flowering well for a second time this season. Joining them now is one of my favourite yellows: the upright, free flowering, butter-hued R. ‘Yellow Hammer’, one of the earlier Glendoick productions in their series named for particular birds.

Next is the super little unnamed spindle that I had from John Noakes 10 years ago (can it be that long..?). Like most of its kind, it colours well regardless of the season – so far this year autumn colour is not particularly good here.

Finally, the spectacularly beautiful common or garden silver birch (Betula pendula) that our daughters gave us for our Silver Wedding in the year that we moved to Bod Hyfryd. It is now >15m high and becoming ever more delightful as the years roll on…

Image of John Good John Good

John Good is a retired research forest ecologist with a lifelong interest in all aspects of the observation and cultivation of plants, alpines and woodlanders being of particular appeal. He has lived in North Wales for more than 40 years and he and his wife, Pam, have lived in their current hillside home and garden overlooking the sea for 27.

He is an Emeritus Professor of Environmental Forestry at Bangor University and maintains a strong interest in all matters related to land use in general and the balance between agriculture and forestry in particular. He has been a member of the AGS for more than 50 years and a judge at our shows for half of these, as well as being a member (now friend) of the RHS Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee.

John has travelled and lectured widely on alpines and written many articles and several books on the subject, the latter leading to his having served as AGS Director of Publications and Assistant Editor of our journal. He has also always been heavily involved in his local North Wales Group.