On a Chalk Hillside December 2020

Published: December 10, 2020

Posted on 10.12.2020 |
Added in Sheila May's Blog

Autumn Colour in 2020

What was inspiring me in the garden this autumn, and as we went into the second lockdown?   This picture epitomises our autumn here on our chalk hillside – our apples ripening on the trees, fruit tree leaves falling to the ground, the native hedge I planted along the edge in glorious colour, light levels that can only be autumnal:-

autumn colour 46

Autumn started in September here this year – in fact from early September in some cases.  The Sedum ‘Herbstfreude' ‘Autumn Joy' (which as we all know, but I can't pronounce, is now Hylotelephium (Herbstfreude Group) ‘Herbstfreude' stonecrop (syn. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy') according to the RHS) was colouring up from early Sept – here on 22 September:-

autumn joy 19

And was still providing colour on 9 November on a dark, wet afternoon:-

brown20leaves 51

The brown leaves you can see below it are from the Snakes Bark Maple – the remaining leaves on the tree that afternoon looked like this:-

acer davidii 62

The Virginia Creeper () starting to turn red is always a sign of autumn in this garden, and it was beginning to colour at the start of September – here it is clambering off its own climbing frame and into the adjacent pear tree on 22 September:-

virginia creeper and variagated ivy 56

It makes a pleasing contrast with the variegated ivy Hedera helix ‘Gold Child' which is much more sedately staying on its climbing frame!
In front of the ivy is a clump of Phygelius x rectus ‘African Queen' which has been flowering since late July.  This is a great late summer colour – here it is further along that border still flowering on 9 November:-

phygelius african queen2 48

I have two micklemas daisies growing in the garden here currently – the lovely deep pink one  ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke' which started flowering in September:-

micklemass daily alma poch 12

And the smaller flowered, most years white, this year just blush pink, taller older variety that was here when we moved in, which flowers later and was still flowering in the second lockdown:-

original micklemas daily 53

The , which for a change had survived the mild wet winter we had last year, was in full swing at the end of September – and its seedheads are still colourful in November:-

verbena bonariensis 63

Here are a kaleidoscope of brightly coloured leaves my husband collected from the garden on Halloween ready for some craft work:-

halloween leaves 53

The feathery ones are from the two different disectums pictured later in this article, and you can see a couple of Acer davidii leaves there too.  There is another yellowy acer showing there – Acer campestre, the field maple, and a bright red leaf or two from the Guelder Rose, Virburnum opulus  – both from the native hedge, again pictured later in this article.  It sounds like I have a lot of acers, but this is the first time I've written them all down in one sentence before.  They are definitely a group of plants that give me great satisfaction particularly in autumn.  The Acer davidii having snakes bark on its trunk shines in winter too.

I think Monty Don mentioned on one of the last Gardeners' World programmes that leaf colour doesn't just come from trees, but can be from shrubs (and indeed herbaceous plants).  One or two of the smaller red leaves come from the blueberry which has fabulous autumn colour, and indeed one is a rose leaf.  I tried to get a shot of varied shrub colour to show you – the one below is to try and show the different leaf sizes of two different cotoneasters – the smaller one is the , the larger a seedling from Cotoneaster franchetii which is deciduous and drops its leaves after having them turn this beautiful colour:-

2 cotoneaster colour 44

But as we know herbaceous perenials can have lovely autumn leaf colour too.  Here is Geranium ‘Johnsons Blue' turning a beautiful autumn colour in November too:-

geranium johnsons blue leaf 25

As I intimated above the acer palmatum dissectums (or is that dissecti?) and Blueberry looked particularly colourful in Autumn this year.  The blueberry is to the fore of this shot, with the red acer  Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Garnett' to the left behind it, and the green/copper tones on the right are of  Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Seiryu' beginning its beautiful changes from green to full orange:-

blueberry and 2 acers colour 86

Though the Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Garnett' leaves had fallen in abundance by the beginning of lockdown  they still look glorious as a puddle on the ground beneath the tree – as you can see from the before and after clearing shots on 3 November.  As you can see from the depth that the black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus had been buried, the trees had a lot of leaves this year, unlike last year when they reacted to the stress of the drought and heatwave of 2018 by having comparatively few leaves:-

fallen red acer20leaves better 9
red acer leaves cleared 59

NB The green leaves are of the woodland strawberry Fragaria vesca setting its runners under the acers.
Looking elsewhere than foliage for late autumn colour, I have been very pleased with which I planted last year, and has been in flower here from August, getting stronger and stronger in blue as the weeks pass – still flowering in mid-November even though the Verbena bonariensis I showed you above has gone over, around it:-

salvia uglinosa 7

I first saw this plant in the Centenary Borders at Hilliers Arboretum in Hampshire, together with many other late flowering Salvias.  I was unaware that its more common name is Swamp sage, otherwise I might not have risked buying it.  It apparently likes sunny non-acidic ground (check,) but with lots of moisture (uh oh).  It is supposed to survive to -10 degrees, and as I say, came through last winter's mild and wet weather – now I know why!  However, it also came through the heat and drought of the spring here too, though it has not yet reached the potential height of 1.8m that it can reach.   It flowers from July onwards – well into November here so far as I mentioned.   
Another late summer colour plant is an annual that self –seeds round the veg patch most years is the Shoo Fly, or Apple of Peru ()  – which can be in flower In August, and was still flowering mid November – and of course has those wonderful seed heads which as you can see in this picture from later in October are still dark black, but gradually go papery as the seeds inside ripen:-

shoo fly 49

Yes those are leeks it is growing through, and yes I need to weed round them!
Returning to our native hedge shown at the beginning of the article, here is a shot of the Guelder Rose () and Field Maple  (Acer campestre) in their beautiful autumn leaf colour as I was pruning the hedge at the end of October:-

guelder rose and field maple colour 75

Doesn't that just gladden the heart?  (The bald patch between them is Prunus spinosa which had already dropped its leaves btw, I hadn't forgotten to plant anything there!!)
When we talk about autumn colour, it seems to me to either be talking about spectacular leaf colour on trees; or late flowering plants such as herbaceous perenials that feature in Piet Oudolf's prairie planting schemes, or tender perennials such as dahlias, cannas etc.  However, when I was looking at my garden during the second lockdown to see what plants to present to you for autumn colour, I realised that in parts of the garden the colour comes from hips and berries, which I shall be talking about next month.   
In the meantime, as this very strange year draws to a close may I wish you the greetings of the season, and hope that you have all managed to stay safe, and enjoy your gardening during 2020.    Let us look forward together to a new year with new plans and new opportunities.

Sheila May

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