Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Finding the time to pick the seasons

As gardeners, we are very aware of the passage of the seasons: We notice the warming up of spring, the heat of summer, the cooling down and the fall of the deciduous leaves in autumn, and the cold of winter.

Sometimes, the seasons can be a little out of sync, and some of the seasonal pleasures we look forward to are forsaken.

The summer just past was a disappointment to those who love tomatoes and all things that prefer dry warmth, although the humid and warm months did not upset those who like growing green vegetables – lettuces and brassicas relished the slightly weird season.

This autumn has been odd as well – the prolonged summer warm and moist has continued, with the result that many trees, which generally fire up in colour before falling, have decided to retain their leaves as brown, and just fall without any display.

To be honest, it was one of those things I hadn’t noticed until we called in at the Aston Norwood cafe and garden at Kaitoke last week. I have passed this place since it was constructed but have never stopped. It was typical that I should stop in autumn at a garden renowned for its spring display of cherries, but I thought the cherries would have good autumn colour in recompense. It turned out that the colour was not great, and we were probably a week or so late for the best of them, but there were some consolations.

The first, and probably the brightest, of the autumn colour, was in a row of the dwarf sacred bamboo, Nandina domestica ‘Nana’.

The common name is very misleading because the plant is not a bamboo at all, and if you only ever saw the small varieties, you would wonder how anyone could confuse it with one. However, the taller growing varieties do make long stems with tufts of foliage atop them, so there is at least a slight resemblance. The clusters of white flowers, and the orange berries that follow betray the plants affinity with the barberry family rather than the grass one.

On the other hand, ‘Nana’ has neither flowers nor berries and does not make large stems. It forms a nice compact shrub, covered with bright evergreen foliage that can glow with intensity in the cooler months. It is used extensively in the gardens at Kaitoke and looked spectacular. It really demonstrates the value of being able to plant in bulk, as the effect could not be achieved with a sparse planting.

The gardens at Aston Norwood are clearly influenced by Japanese style, although they also include [somewhat incongruously] a maze. Wandering up and down the pathways, it was intriguing to see how many different Japanese maples there were planted throughout the design, and to see how well they have coloured up.

As a rule, the purple foliaged forms of Japanese maple are very reliable when it comes to autumn colour, often turning bright red before falling, and in the Kaitoke garden, many of these were planted along pathways where their brightness could be experienced first-hand. The great thing about maple leaves is they retain their colour after they fall, so for some weeks you can have a bright carpet of fallen leaves underneath the architectural shape they trees assume in winter.

In many ways, Japanese maples [usually forms of the species Acer palmatum although there are other species from Japan, including the magnificent, yellow-coloured Acer japonicum] are the ideal tree for the modern garden. They do not grow too big for the smaller garden, they look stunning in the spring when the foliage first appears, along with ethereal small flowers, then they settle into the summer growth with generous light shade – they are not so dense as to a prohibit other plants from growing underneath them. Most cultivars colour up nicely for the autumn, then they drop their leaves cleanly and look tidy over the winter.

We have several dwarf maples in our garden but can enjoy the neighbour’s red-foliaged one in autumn as it grows on our boundary. I do not know what variety it is, but there are many cultivars available in the trade, including the very attractive dwarf-growing varieties, but we will concentrate on the taller types. Among the good reds is the oddly-named ‘Bloodgood’, with very dissected foliage and wonderful autumn colour; ‘Fireglow’ is another with bright foliage in the fall, while the older form ‘Burgundy Lace’ which, as the name suggests, is very deep red, turning brighter in autumn.

I finished my tour of the Aston Norwood garden at the side of a pond, looking at where the cherries had just dropped their leaves. I am looking forward to revisiting in the spring when the flowering cherries are at their best.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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