I truly hadn’t intended to do an EOMV post for November. I didn’t see the point – I’ll be moving next year, so the greatest value of this meme (to me), as a tool for assessing and improving areas of the garden, doesn’t apply. Add in that I am ill and exhausted from decorating and really sad because of TNG’s Uncle’s long illness and eventual death last Sunday, and frankly I didn’t want to bother. Thank goodness for the blogging community – when I finally started to catch up with all the blog posts I have been ignoring for the past couple of weeks I came across Anna’s post on plants that die disgracefully. In the space of 10 minutes I went from maudlin reflections on how a “good death” for a loved one seems to depend on the nearest and dearest going to hell and back to musing about why some plants seem to work so well in the garden even in death. I realised that I had set myself to learn as much as I can from this garden before moving on to the next one, and that understanding what plants still look good at this time of year – and which truly don’t – would be a Good Thing. So once again I found myself outside in my dressing gown grappling with my camera, trying to avoid damp knees, to put together a EMOV post. So thank you to Anna, for inadvertently kicking me out of my depressed state and to Helen for hosting such a great meme. Check out her blog for what is happening in other people’s gardens – here is what is happening in mine.
This lousy picture of the magnolia border (a reminder that I really should put my EOMV posts together in time not to have to shoot in to the morning sun) nevertheless shows that there is still good structure here. From the magnolia itself, now almost denuded of buttery yellow leaves, and from the still very green Oakleaf hydrangea. You can also see some oddities. That splash of orange to the left?
A defiant marigold. You can’t see it – and I can’t seem to capture it on camera – but the large rosemary in a pot is trying to flower yet again, and of course the rose is still going. I refuse to post yet another picture of rose flowers blooming inappropriately late, instead I want to celebrate rosehips, which add colour and form, and even echo the faux terracotta pots full of currant bushes lining the decking.
My favourite thing in this border at the moment comes from the flashes of shimmering silver produced by the Honesty seedheads scattered throughout.
I found them almost impossible to capture this morning, and no photograph can do justice to the way they dance and shimmy in the slightest breeze. Definitely something I want to grow again in the future.
The veronicastrum, on the other hand, is no longer dying gracefully. Last year even when the leaves had blackened and fallen off, the remaining seedheads were wonderfully architectural. This year they seem to be too insubstantial to make a good contribution.
I like to leave as many seedheads etc. in the garden as I can, for as long as I can, to add interest over the winter, but the veronicastrum is just messy now, and will have to get chopped back.
I’ve given up on the dream that the hydrangea would follow its first year of flowering properly with a gorgeous autumn show on the leaf colour front, it remains defiantly green, but at least it is wonderfully architectural with those enormous leaves, and the spent flower heads are still beautiful.
Switching to the pond bed, it too is looking surprisingly green. This is partly due to the pontedera in the pond still going strong, though I will soon be uprooting it, splitting it, and giving chunks away to anyone I can find who wants some as I take the pond apart before the winter really sets in. The other major contributor to the green look is the ever-defiant Acanthus mollis, or Bear’s Breeches. I planted this about seven years ago, it flowered once, got horribly mildewed, and I have been trying to dig it out ever since. The soil enrichment and re-planting of the past couple of years seems to have given it a new lease of life.
I love the leaves, but when I take out the pond border I am going to do my very best to excavate all traces of it, since the last thing I want is to lay grass in the Spring and then have it defiantly popping up through the new turf!
One of the great things about the long mild “autumn” is that the new perennials I planted this year are putting on lots of growth, so they will hopefully be really good specimens next year. This is one of the geums – again, more lovely foliage.
At around this time of year, every year, I make yet another attempt to capture how wonderful one of my favourite grasses is in the autumn, producing a rich tapestry of golden and then straw coloured leaves and delicate seedheads. And I always fail. This is the best I managed this year – Hakonechloa macra makes neat mounds and is a great foil for other plants that die well, such as the annual rudbekias that have so delighted me this year.
Which brings me to the question, what makes a good perennial for long lasting interest over winter? Nothing too floppy, that’s for sure, the site of a delicate plant flattened by rain/wind/snow only contributes to a sense of gloom, which is not what I want in the middle of January when I am trying to remember that Spring really will be coming soon. I think there has to be strong form to it. Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ is a majestic perennial that has lovely autumn colour, but it doesn’t die well.
The veronicastrum has lost all the statuesque qualities that made it such a great plant in the magnolia border – the eupatorium turns into an even bigger mess, becoming an amporphous mass of blackened foliage and indistinct dying flowers. Using black and white hammers the message home.
Far from adding structural interest, I think it detracts from the grace of the miscanthus, which would be seen to much better effect with a void in between them – so the eupatorium will get chopped back as soon as I get around to actually getting dressed.
By contrast, the mini hedgehog shapes of the echinacea seedheads make a wonderful contrast to the linear leaves of the crocosmia and the wafting elegance of the miscanthus, a picture that should stand up to lousy weather until Spring arrives. I think that blousy, airy plants work wonderfully in the spring and summer garden, but in autumn and winter you need strong structure – and strong stems – to give you something to look at other than ugly dying foliage.
Bill was a keen gardener, and over the years turned a barren acre of land in Arizona into a rich landscape full of desert plants. He understood texture and form, and barrowed ton after ton of soil to create levels that made the runoff from storms go where he wanted it to go. One day, when I am up to it, I mean to go through the photographs I and others have taken of his garden over the years and do a blog post to celebrate his vision. I had always assumed that I would get back out there one day soon, and would be able to wander around the garden with him at my side explaining what the plants were that are so alien to me and that he understood so well. It brings home the need to cherish the life you have and the people you love, and never take either for granted.
Bill had that most elusive of things, a good death – he was at home, surrounded by people who loved him, and in no pain. He will be missed, but his garden will live on as a testimony to at least part of who he was. I am grateful for the blogging community and the many fascinating posts out there that are going to help me navigate the sadness and will, eventually, give me a platform to celebrate Bill’s life.