Countless reasons to embrace the autumn

The autumn crocus is in bloom. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
The autumn crocus is in bloom. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

There are hints of autumn all around and this can be either depressing or uplifting.

For gardeners who are forever moaning about failed germinations and crops, pests and diseases, or the weather, this season is not going to be a bundle of joy.

What you’re about to see in the coming weeks and months is plants to be marvelled at, organisms that cock-a-snook at the most inhospitable weather and have the audacity to flower.

However, should you be the type whose glass is always half-full, there are countless reasons to embrace autumn and wring every drop from it.

Cooler, shorter days have sent the lush flowering growth of summer into decline. That’s one way of looking at the changes, but as one door closes, another opens.

Cutting down spent herbaceous growth might be a chore to some, but it can be quite therapeutic if done at leisure, and satisfying when the end product is an area once more under control.

Furthermore, the blousy blooms of summer are just one part of a gardening year. What you’re about to see in the coming weeks and months is plants to be marvelled at, organisms that cock-a-snook at the most inhospitable weather and have the audacity to flower.

This has started already with the autumn crocus (colchicum) in bloom, and it’s not alone. A large patch of dwarf Cyclamen hederifolium, surrounded by winter heather, is catching the eye.

I last saw the corm these gorgeous white flowers emerge from about 10 years ago when it was moved to the present spot. It was then circa 18cm in diameter and lay just below the soil surface. Offer the annual mulch of finely-sieved, composted organic material and this plant thrives. Anticipate seedlings emerging annually as it matures. This is a fascinating process to observe over time.

As the blooms fade, a seed capsule develops and the old flower stem begins to coil into a spring, which brings everything down to ground level. Natural germination follows in the seedbed regular mulching has created.

Winter heathers are the other stars that put in an appearance just when we need cheering-up, and what value they are. Last week we took advantage of a Gardening Club offer at Heighley Gate – a dozen young plants for just under £10. Long, silvery flower spikes of Calluna vulgaris helped seal the deal. They’ll bloom throughout October at least, but Erica carnea is the main attraction until March.

Flower buds appear in September, open before December and continue until spring. As they bloom, bulb shoots emerge and aconites, dwarf narcissi and crocus manage to flower alongside.

I have positive thoughts of winter jasmine’s golden blooms, fragrant pink flowers of viburnum Dawn, and cultivars of highly-scented mahonia that will be around to see us through the shorter days ahead. Add the brightly variegated foliage of shrubby pittosporum, euonymus, elaeagnus, and the coloured bark of acer, cornus, birch, et al, all of which lie beyond the visual feast of leaf colour change and ornamental fruits that is autumn.