September has danced past like a dream, and here we are creeping into October already.
It was a mostly dry month, the lovely low light of autumn illuminating the garden on clear mornings, while the valleys have often woken swathed in autumn mists which dissolve as the sun rises higher up the sky. The speed with which dawn grows later and later always surprises me at this time of year, as does the quantity of spiders draping their webs across the garden or appearing in the house.
I am currently rather captivated by the combination of Pennisetum villosum, Gaura lindheimeri and Verbena bonariensis which weave together in a wild tangle in the long border against the tawnier foliage of Anemanthele lessoniana which forms a fountain in the background.
Ornamental grasses are the stars of the show at this time of year; particular favourites are the wonderful burgundy flowerheads of Miscanthus sinensis Undine (whose narrow pin-striped leaves are equally attractive).
The delicate flowerheads of Panicum virgatum ( grown from seeds marked ‘Shenandoah’ though I rather think they don’t come true) are equally compelling, and the strappy foliage of one of our plants is now turning a vibrant yellow.
Seedheads play a prominent role in the garden at this time of year too, even while the asters and dahlias around them continue to blaze in fierier colours, and I rather like this tableau of seedheads of Ammi majus and Dierama, accompanied by still-blooming Verbena bonariensis, which continues to draw in bees and butterflies across the garden in the warm sunshine.
I am quietly pleased that this year I finally remembered to ‘Chelsea-chop’ the sedums, so that they are now blooming in tidy mounds instead of sprawling drunkenly through the borders.
The only sedums I left un-chopped were Purple Emperor, which I only acquired in late Spring, and one of the Sedum spectabile clumps that I optimistically poked in among the gnarled roots at the feet of our birch tree, trusting that the challenging conditions here would be sufficient to prevent it growing too lax. It seems to have worked so far; though it produced larger flowerheads earlier, that have now darkened to a deeper colour, they are not too untidy but stand tall. I like the contrast in colour of these flowerheads with the rich colours of the foliage and stems of purple loosestrife, Lythrum virgatum, which always puts on a glorious autumn display as it dies back.
September saw the harvesting of our shallots and onions, whose foliage is always decimated here by slugs and snails so that there is nothing to plait for storage! For the first time I grew the shallots, variety Zebrune, from seed this year, starting them in seed trays in the greenhouse in the spring, then transplanting them into the garden once they were growing strongly. I have never had much luck direct-sowing onions in the garden, but this method worked well for us for the shallots this year, and I hope to repeat it next spring. Each seed yields a single shallot, rather than the clumps that are produced from sets, but this suits us well and there are some huge bulbs – much easier to prepare in the kitchen!
In the past couple of weeks, we have also harvested the first few winter squash, two Crown Prince and two Turks Turban, whose vines were beginning to die back already, while the rest of our crop continue to ripen in the autumn sunshine for picking later in the month.
We’ve continued to harvest tomatoes from the greenhouse too, many processed and stored in the freezer, while a bunch of green fruit that accidentally came off were made into a modest batch of green tomato chutney from a Nigel Slater recipe, to fill three kilner jars.
While the garden continues to draw the mantle of autumn around its shoulders, our attention is focussing closer to home now in anticipation of our imminent new arrival: this truly is a season of change!