The autumn of the year
As the mornings, once again, become dewy, as we reach for a base layer and turn the heating up just a notch and as we see myriad plants’ leaves start to lose their chlorophyll-green hues, it's very nearly upon us. The gardening year is about to enter its autumn phase.
Soon, the sun and Earth will be perpendicular, we will have an almost equal 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness and the leaves will begin their final death throws, going out in a blaze of glory, bidding to remind us that they are here, and have been all along, and that they won’t be taken for granted any longer. John Burroughs summed it up perfectly when he mused...
“How beautifully the leaves grow old. How full of light and colour are their last days.”
I find autumn a great paradox. On the one hand the sheer volume of beauty is almost too great to absorb, the visuals too great a gift to accept; the Dahlias, the Cotinus, the Acer, the Parrotia, the Euonymus Alatus, all putting on a show of reds, yellows, oranges and browns that even the greatest artists couldn’t begin to replicate.
Yet, it’s also a dark reminder that in no time at all the spectacle will end, that the minds focus will soon turn to trying to keep icy fingers warm, waking by artificial light and to trying to convince potential clients that it’s the best time of the year to think about planning for next years garden!
It has always struck me as a great missed opportunity that there are no RHS garden shows in autumn. The plethora of plants that look their best at this time of year coupled with the extraordinary angle of the sun’s light highlighting plants and hard landscaping materials’ beauty seems like such a wasted opportunity to enable the mind’s eye to continue thinking about the growing importance of our gardens. There may be fewer opportunities to utilise an outside space for entertaining or for dining in autumn but there is still ample warmth and beauty for us all to enjoy spending time in our gardens, be it with a blanket across the knees reading a favourite book or using that fire pit that had up until now been just a feature taking up precious space. The light at this time of year lifts surroundings to new dimensions and to waste that by not showing gardens in all their radiant and luminescent glory borders on scandalous.
Reviewing the shows that I attended this year highlighted this fact greater than ever before. I was greatly underwhelmed by the planting displays I came across at both RHS Chelsea and RHS Hampton Court. Whilst I admit to being a sucker for a Digitalis and to having a penchant for orange flowers such as the many Geum’s on display, there does seem to be a missed opportunity for showing the beauty of the many Echinaceas now available to us or the myriad ways of using the smorgasbord of dahlia shapes and colours in planting displays, be they classic or contemporary. I appreciate that designers at the shows try to introduce new plants on an annual basis that the majority of gardeners have never chanced upon and every year i see a plant i had never seen before, but these plants are in the great minority of what is on display and are unlikely to be readily available from nurseries up and down the country.
As well as this, on a hot, sunny day, plants can seem stark and bold, paving harsh, the shade of a pergola too tempting to turn to; the garden can sometimes seem as unwelcoming when the temperature gage creeps over 30 degrees C as in deepest, darkest winter. The autumn garden, however, provides an opportunity to enjoy all aspects of its DNA in all their glory, whether it’s an afternoon sunlit cor-ten steel edged water feature, an impressive piece of natural stone, the shadows cast by a well-placed piece of sculpture or the backlit leaves of an Amelanchier, the opportunity to showcase gardens in what is potentially their best light is missed year-in, year-out.
So this autumn, I am going to try to stave off the dark thoughts of what is to come and instead luxuriate in the greatest colour show on Earth. Grab a blanket, your favourite read, a hot cup of tea and join me as our gardens don their Sunday best for one last, spectacular hurrah. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.