"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

 To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,


And still more, later flowers for the bees,


Until they think warm days will never cease;

For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cells."

Well the poetry is all, of course, thanks to John Keats and is the first verse of his 'Ode to Autumn'. As an aside, the pink flower picture above is proof that Dahlias can be bee-friendly despite being unscented. Indeed Dahlia centres almost always reveal themselves before the flower goes over, however ornate, decorative or pom-pom shaped the flower is. You will only frustrate the bees if you cut or dead-head them too early (which I know you'll do for competition blooms!). If you leave the dieing heads on for a bit longer the bees will thank you.

Anyway, in this time of lots of 'brown' in the garden - mud, bare earth, dead heads on roses, general 'over' plant material and fallen leaves that still need clearing, I thought some colour and remembrance of recent past glories was in order.

And I haven't really blogged Autumn. The colours have been fabulous and it has been so mild and gentle on the plants still in flower.

Indeed things in the garden are behaving very strangely.  Friends here already had daffodils out in December. I have them out now, along with Saxifrage that really needs to wait until later. And I still have last year's Geums, Geraniums and Roses in flower plus re-appearing Knautia macedonia 'Melton Pastels' and Clematis buds everywhere. I do hope these later frosts won't completely knock them out because they should really be resting at the moment and saving their energy for later in the year.

And six of the Armeria lovelies below (which I bought on an impulse as fillers) have flowered non-stop since March 2015 when I planted them in the terrace walls. They look like better-flowered chives in pink, red and white. The flowers are sort of papery and pre-dried from the start so they last really well too - even when cut. These little charmers are amazing value all round really.

So, post the poetry, I thought I'd give you just a few more Autumn pictures. They don't fit the other verses of Keats' ode so it is basically a photo blog from here on in - which I am sure you'll be grateful for - instead of the 'many thousand plus words' I normally end up writing.

This plant nearly got dug up a hundred times this Summer as it so resembled a thistle weed. And then, in October (much too late really), it suddenly did this (see below). Thus it remains on the 'Try not to dig up' list.

For me oranges, yellows and reds are the colours of Autumn and so many late-flowering perennials and Dahlias oblige. They work wonderfully with the contrasting purples of same-time flowering Verbena bonariensis, Chleome and Buddleja with all their butterflies and the textural contrast of grasses in flower.

These are tall Alstromerias 'Red Beuaty' and 'Orange Supreme' (dug up from a clump in my London garden) teamed with grasses Miscanthus sinensis 'Ghana' (the red one) and Nasella tenuissima and and the Verbena bonariensis and Geum 'Princess Juliana' below.

And I couldn't resist a couple of butterfly pics.. Butterflies seem especially to love purple flowers - above is a Red Admiral on Buddleja 'Lochinch' below is a Small White on Verbena bonariensis.

I have also had Peacock, many other types of 'White', Painted Lady, Tortoiseshell, the vibrant green of Brimstone and the delicate Meadow brown around, especially on the nettles and briars of the surrounding farm edges. I have not seen any Blues thus far, nor Fritillaries. Perhaps 2016 will yield more.

The Dahlias as ever have provided lots of Autumn colour and flowers for cutting - so many in fact that I have also filled pots in the local shop with them. Above are D. Karma Fuschiana (pink/orange) and D. Chat Noir. The D. 'Garden Wonder' below is such a bright red that it refuses to be properly photographed. The camera simply cannot capture the intensity of the colour.

The two plants that surprised and pleased me most last year were the Lupin and the Geum. I bought a mix of Lupins as quick fillers to plant when I was first able to get into the garden in late Spring/early Summer. But, rather than being 'early/mid Summer wonders' as I had expected, they have been in flower from May until late November. All they need is a bit of dead-heading and possibly the enriched ground(?) to keep them throwing up new spires. I have been most impressed and thrilled with them.

The orange Geums ('Princess Juliana' above - vibrant, double orange, tall and very strong and 'Totally Tangerine' - single, elegant and slighly less orange from a distance), have also flowered all year. I am sure this is also about the soil inputs and regular dead-heading I have done. It's laborious on Geums, because they have so many small flowers, but they really respond to it and I think it's worth it for the really long season of colour you get as a result.

Lupins (like Dahlias) are very prone to destruction by slugs early in the season as their new, young, shoots appear from the soil in Spring. So we'll see what happens this year. I expect them to be destroyed on their re-appearance. They were in London. I may need to simply dig them up and replace them with fully formed plants from a garden centre but, if so, I think it might be worth the cost for the amazing display they have put on almost all this year. Well established plants seem to beat the slugs. And I have kept some seed pods and will give those a go too in the greenhouse.

So that's my ode to Autumn - a beautiful time with lots of flora and insects - and, of course, here we get our fair share of rainbows in the huge skies overhead. So, I'll leave you with a wonderful one (and its shadow) which turned up to welcome January in over the garden on New Year's day......

...... and one of the Buzzards that keeps a beady eye on us from a neighborouring tree.


So it’s all change again. Last week I was gardening bare-legged in sandals, rolled up jeans and skimpy tops. Today I am firmly back in full length jeans, socks, boots and wool.

And I’m not alone in thinking it’s colder. The fish have moved lower down in the pond and are swimming and feeding more slowly. The abundant berries on the Sorbus (Rowan tree) are being devoured by the blackbirds, and the mice are coming out to forage before winter. I have just been watching the latter doing acrobatics in the plants around the bird feeders and stealing the bird food (see the video). Then today, in broad daylight, one mouse even dragged the remains of a snail I stood on accidentally last night across my terrace and merrily fed on it behind my pots. The bird food stealing didn’t shock me, the dead snail eating did. But mice are mammals and omnivores. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

So, as we all prepare to bunker down again for the cold months, I have pruned the Wisteria, dead-headed the roses, buddlejas, dahlias and cosmos for the umpteenth time and thus find I have a moment to reflect on the year in the garden, and what I’ve learned. And lots of it seems to be about water and wildlife.

For example, the spray water scarer is the only effective device I’ve tried for keeping the heron, fox and cats away from the fish in my pond. Its major downside is that regularly the dogs and I get drenched when I forget to turn it off. That’s fine at 27 degrees C, less fun at 12 degrees C or when I’m in my glad rags, about to go out.

On the plants side, the abundant rain and long period of cold led to extraordinary combinations as everything rushed into flower at once. And I have discovered that Leonotis ‘Leonora’ is a manky dead nettle (when in my garden - it might be quite wonderful in yours) and it is not required to still have a wonderful array of butterflies and moths throughout the summer - the Buddleja are key. Aquilegia ‘Tequila Sunrise’ does not like being moved (RIP) and Physalis, the Cape Gooseberry, is actually a pernicious weed of the very worst type. Please don’t plant it anywhere except in a pot - unless you want acres of it. In addition, incredibly, cherry trees will send their roots up, above ground, to feed on the goodies in your baseless compost bin - amazing but true.

Top: Fremontadendron 'California Glory'.
Bottom left: Amelchanchier 'Snowfalkes'. Bottom right: Solanum laciniatum

And, despite its brash, orangey-yellow flowers and skin/eye irritating leaves and seed pods, I realise I really miss my Fremontadendron ‘California Glory’. It was in flower for so long each year – from spring to early winter. It was an unruly, wild, wonderful plant, somewhat like a teenager. It was determined to be independent, grow itself into a tree by splitting its pot aggressively and burying its roots underground. It had a vigour and character that the Amelanchier ‘Snowflakes’ I tried to replace it with couldn’t even think of matching. The latter lasted five months and has now been replaced by a semi-tender, Solanum laciniatum which has grown profusely and flowered since planted, so might become a reasonable alternative. We’ll see. It may not survive the winter – which the garden tells me will be hard again. There are lots of berries and hips already and these usually predict a hard winter. I can even see the ivy and Mahonia japonica preparing themselves to be the last season’s food for the birds and insects.

As an aside, many people don’t realise that ivy has flowers and berries but it does, and they are a really important source of late nectar and food for all manner of bees, birds and other insects, so please keep some ivy. It comes in many varieties, variegated or plain, small or large leaved, and is great for covering fences and walls and for harbouring and feeding a myriad of wildlife in winter.

I’ve also learned that many roses will grow very happily north-facing, as long as they are out in the open, and that other plants deemed OK for north facing sites, really are. This year’s project, my miniscule (2m x 42 cms) new front bed, has been fabulously successful against all expectations. It has been in flower constantly. In spring it bore two Camelia ‘Silver Anniversary’, then two Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Munstead White’ and one Astrantia ‘ Hidcote Shaggy Hybrid’ and two A. ‘Orlando’. These were joined by two Geranium ‘Brookside’ and G. 'Sabani Blue’. Then the three standard roses (two ‘Cream Abundance’ and one ‘Champagne Moment’) flowered profusely in June and they have been repeating ever since. The white Hydrangeas (‘Annabelle’ and ‘Steel Black Zebra’) started to add drama to this display in August and now the two Anenome ‘Honorine Jobert’ are in flower, the Astrantia are re-flowering, the Camelias are in bud again and the Sarcococca Confusa is getting ready to scent the path through winter.

Top: the front bed in September. Mid L: Rosa 'Cream Abundance'. Mid R: Rosa 'Champagne Moment'
Bottom L: Aquilegia vulgaris 'Munstead White'. Bottom R: Geranium 'Brookside'

This tiny, new, north-facing bed is looking luscious, green and gorgeous and is very happy making. It’s been a mini project but a major triumph this year. Complete strangers have stopped to thank me for making their walk along the road that bit more enjoyable and sweetly scented. I feel properly vindicated by my risky decision to buck the trend in the street and try to have flowering plants by my front wall and railings instead of the ubiquitous privet hedge.

One of the keys things I also did in the complete front re-vamp was to add a water butt on the side of the bay window. I had no water out there, so this has revolutionised my approach to watering it – i.e. I do it now! It was a neglected desert early last year.

Generally, I very seldom water my plants unless they are in pots or newly planted. In my London clay, once they are established, I reckon they should be able to find water deeper down – and for goodness sake, I live on a road with “brook” in its name for good reason - there was once a stream flowing under here. It occasionally appears in the cellar and so the least it can do is also look after the majority of the garden.

On the wildlife front, I have a major apology to make. I predicted the start of spring far too early, based on the frogs. I realise now that frogs know nothing about the start of spring. Early in the year they will come to the pond in a frenzy of excitement, sing their hearts out all night and mate, far too early. Their spawn gets frozen by late frosts and even snow and ice. The wiser toads wait in their warm beds amongst the leaves under my shed and in the stones around the pond “waterfall” until warmer times.  I’ve learned this year that the day the toads come out to mate is the day good temperatures are really here to stay. Henceforth, I shall ignore the frogs as portents of spring, however sweetly they sing at night.

And, when I think about the garden and what makes it special to me, it is the pond that is at the heart of it. Its pump-driven waterfall means the garden is full of the sound of moving water, 24 hours a day. This detracts from the surrounding noises of London – the inevitable emergency sirens, aeroplanes, traffic - and neighbours. But more importantly, it provides a drinking and washing place for a huge variety of insects and birds as well as a home for the fish, frogs, toads and numerous insects and other organisms.

So, as I reflect, given that the garden is 10 years old now, and despite my abiding passion for plants and scent, I think that what’s given me the greatest pleasure this year is the myriad wildlife attracted to it.

Top Left: Jersey Tiger moth. Top right: Speckled Wood butterfly
Bottom left: Peacock butterfly. Bottom right: Frog

I’ve had Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma and Speckled Wood butterflies feeding here as well the expected blues and whites. I’ve had an Old Lady moth, a Vapourer moth, a Lime Hawk moth and, recently, at least three exotic Jersey Tiger moths.

The birds and bees are many, and lacewings, ladybirds, damsel flies, crane flies and spiders just add to the mix. The ladybirds and tits do fairly well controlling the aphids, and the blackbirds and toads pretty much keep the snails and slugs under control. I’m sure this plethora of life is not just down to the planting. I’m certain the water, and more specifically the pond, is key. It makes the regular chore of cleaning its pump, elbow deep in sludge, eminently worthwhile – as well as being strangely satisfying.

So my advice to any new garden owner would be ‘add water’. Even if it is just a wall fountain, the sound will be relaxing and create an atmosphere away from the surrounding noises. A pond, however small, will encourage a wonderful array of wildlife. If you don’t have fish you’ll probably get newts (the two cannot co-exist because fish eat the newt eggs). Fish add colour, movement, character and noise (as they leap - which they do!) and lots of poo. They can also cause heartache if they die or are eaten by the heron – so get a water spray gismo and fear not. Be bold, put water in. You won’t regret it. Just remember to turn the heron scarer off before you walk past.

Every year I grow plants from seed. There are the “must haves” that happen every year - tomatoes, Convolvulus and Nicotiana and then I choose a few new plants to try. This year one of them was Leonotis leonurus ‘Staircase’ which promised to be tall and interestingly orange. Perfect for my hot bed I thought - it would be ideal for the back of the bed: stately and wildly hot coloured like in the picture in the catalogue.

 Leonotis as they should look - Image sourced from Nole Hace.

However, as we know in gardening, not everything delivers as promised. The seeds germinated successfully in the greenhouse over Feb/March and were no trouble to pot on as seedlings. After hardening them off in the cold frame for a couple of weeks they were getting tall and I planted them out in the red bed. Since when they have shot up to the promised 4/6 feet – and now look exactly like over-large, green, straggly, well eaten nettles – not exactly the look I was after. The ‘flower’ sockets close to the stem occasionally have a flash of red but there has been not a sepal or petal to be seen.






Leonotis In my garden

At the same time, on the other side of the garden in the pink bed, I had been contemplating the fate of the Buddleja. Despite hacking it back, nearly to the ground last year, it has grown very large and threatened roses, astrantia and all manner of plants that are now under its shade. I have been thinking it is much too large for the bed and has to go. I have cut it back and thinned it during the summer and removed the most aggressive branches but it is still in full flower.

Two days ago..... I was about to root up the Leonotis and dig up the Buddleja when a Peacock butterfly arrived to feed on the Buddleja. Since then I have had the same (or different?) peacocks feeding on it all day, every day - and these were followed by Red Admirals and even a Comma butterfly.



Apparently Peacock butterflies like to lay their eggs on nettles. All the gardens around here are very well kept and I doubt they have many nettles, if any. I used to keep a crop of nettles for butterflies but they had to go a few years ago for space reasons. Since then the closest I have had to a nettle in the garden is Lamium ‘Ghost’ – until the Leonotis.

The seed packet says, “Leonotis seedlings look a little like nettle seedlings”. Actually they look exactly like nettle seedlings and apart from being taller and non-stinging, the full grown plants look exactly like tall, manky nettles. In fact I think they are less beautiful than nettles.

I have now researched the family and the Leonitis is exactly the same family as the dead (not stinging) nettle ie they are both family Lamiaceae (mint family) of Order Lamiales and Subclass Asteridae. So it is a nettle! Incidentally stinging nettles it appears are family Urticaceae, of Order Urticales and subclass Hamamelididae - completely different.

Now the big question is, have the Leonitis fooled the peacock butterfly into laying its eggs on them ‘cos they look like nettles and are they the reason I have so many peacock butterflies in the garden – or is it just the Buddleja attraction and the two things are entirely unrelated?

And because I am now totally enthralled by the butterflies, I am in a complete quandary as to what to do with both plants. Is there a link? Should one or both go or should they stay?