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October / November 2008

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No bees a-buzzing, orchids thriving and a ginger relative

This is the only year in my gardening life that I welcomed the end of summer and embraced autumn. Other years I was sad when the leaves lost their lustre, lawn growth slowed and dew-coated spider webs covered every inch of our box hedges. This year: halleluiah - for the end of deadheading; roses full of water that never really opened; for the end of constantly watching the sky for an opportunity for grass cutting; for the end of worrying if the county council would do something about the triffid-like growth of ragwort on the bank near our house, and an end to always being behind with tasks.

I didn't get the lavender cut before the flowers went black in the rain. I didn't get to save the usually grey seedheads of the poppy and I didn't spot some weeds until it was too late so I'll have to be extra vigilant next spring. I was also very exercised by the absence of bees in the garden. No familiar low drone as I sat, very occasionally, by the pool. The flowers on the ground-hugging cotoneaster were bee-less. The foxgloves likewise were empty, the odd bumble bee clambered into the fingers but no honeybee visited. Why are there not headlines about this state of affairs? Am I the only one, apart from beekeepers, distraught by this?

All was not doom and gloom, but a lot of the high points of summer were not in my garden. Wild flowers were never better. The fragrant and butterfly orchids were the best ever at their site at Lilliput and the helleborines, Epipactis palustrus, that I first saw flowering there five years ago and not since, reappeared and were splendid. We spent a ‘pet' day in the Burren, Mediterranean-like sunshine all day. A red squirrel greeted us on the lawn where we were staying and a pod of dolphins accompanied us along the estuary as we made our way home. In between we walked in a flower paradise and saw our first frog orchid. We left the next day as torrential rain enveloped the mountains, we felt the day before must have been a dream. On the way home we stopped and on a gate post beside us perched the first cuckoo I have ever seen. Those two days made up for the sodden summer.

Back to home now, Cyclamen hederifolium is earlier and better than ever and the Colchicum bivonae planted last spring is wonderful. Another highlight of autumn here is Cautleya spicata. A relative of ginger, even after the yellow flowers have faded the maroon-red bracts are striking and persist to the first frosts. The roses are getting their second wind. Almost without exception trees and shrubs loved the moisture. Hydrangeas excelled and Itea ilicifolia resembles a small green waterfall. Crocosmias, liatris, phlox and Lobelia tupa are adding to the autumn fireworks. Dragonflies patrol the pond and a silver-washed fritillary butterfly visited yesterday. So all is right with the world after all!

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