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October 2000

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Cannas, hydrangeas, camellias

Spring and autumn are my favourite seasons; every day the garden changes, with late-flowering herbaceous plants, brilliant leaf colour on trees and shrubs and the appearance of tiny bulbs all heading to a crescendo that keeps me going during the winter.

At almost two metres high, Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black' creates a statement and needs strong foliage for its neighbours - cannas are the answer. It is planted with Canna ‘Durban', which will be lifted and stored in dry peat in a frost-free shed next month.

I have planted my Aster pringlei ‘Monte Cassino', with its masses of small white daisies, in front of dark-leaved Physocarpus ‘Diabolo'. Another good aster, A. x frikartii ‘Mönch' is growing through sheep wire, which holds it perfectly and covers a spot where some early alstroemerias have been cut down.

The easy yarrow Achillea ‘The Pearl' does run, but I let it run through aconitums - a fun contrast. Cimicifuga is virtually unused in gardens, apart from ‘White Pear'. A taller and later form is Cimicifuga simplex ‘Brunette', a scented white flowerer that loves a little moisture. The elegant Eleagnus ‘Quicksilver' can be a thug as it suckers. I have it in gravel, which helps to keep it under control. Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate' is used in front and has been looking well since July. A grey-leaved curry plant, Helichrysum italicum ssp. serotinum, overwintered well and is scrambling through some rudbeckias planted last year. Of course a carefully chosen grouping!

I've had a long relationship with hydrangeas, but after forty years some look miserable, so out they come; they are being replaced with new lace cap varieties, after adding lots of manure. Two things hydrangeas dislike are, firstly, being too dry at the roots, and secondly, grass clippings around their base. Now is the time to plant drifts of spring-flowering bulbs to carpet the ground underneath them: snowdrops, muscari, chinodoxa and Anemone nemerosa.

A large camellia in a raised border has been annoying me. Last year I removed all its lower branches and underplanted it with fuchsias. Alas, the dogs decided to climb into the camellia and crushed my fuchsias. But no more - it's gone. I am using Azalea viscosa (Rhododendron viscosum), the swamp honeysuckle, with fragrant white flowers as the backdrop so it means a little moving to fill the gap. This is a sunny spot so watsonias are being moved here from a shady site which they dislike.

The first frost and the flowering of Saxifraga ‘Wada' varieties always come together. Some smaller, newly introduced forms have been planted in troughs to replace boring alpines. Saxifraga ‘Blackberry and Apple Pie' is striking; ‘Cheap Confections', a pink flowerer, and ‘Crystal Pink' with white flowers and pink, cream and green variegated leaves are also good. I intend splitting these to create nice big clumps with small grasses like Uncinia rubra popping through. I am always asked why this grass looks better at Lakemount than in the visitor's garden. I simply throw out the old plant and if necessary plant a seedling in its place, but I find it usually sows itself.

My garage wall has become overcrowded. I am removing an Abutilon ‘Ashford Red' and Solanum crispum  ‘Glasnevin'. I will leave Coronilla glauca, but must find a spot for the tender evergreen Michelia, like a small version of Magnolia grandiflora. Speaking of which, after thirty-five years it is wonderful, having flowered constantly since July.


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