How do you solve a problem like September?

Caroline

Like the other pantomime sisters, Elaine and Laura hurried off this week to join erudite company (the Garden Media Guild), leaving me (the younger, more attractive one if you recall) back at my home to start this week’s post on September. Although who actually plans for their September garden? Obviously prepping for spring bulbs is VITAL because we’re desperate for something to happen in the New Year. But planning for September is like ordering the 2am sausage rolls for a wedding dance – who really cares? Aren’t we all wrecked and ready for home by then?

Another ‘new to me’ plant wafting gorgeously at Cambo – Monarda fistula

Obviously gardeners with more ambition (i.e. the dreaded E and L) have now managed to make September more of a creative rather than degenerative month in the garden. To stay upsides I need a solution (yes I really am that shallow). I need something that is slightly unusual and that can also hold its own through the mayhem of my summer garden here in Scotland.

I found the solution at Cambo Gardens in Fife at the weekend. Their North American Prairie garden is going gangbusters right now – and what a subtly bewitching experience!  As I scanned the gorgeous swathes of grasses and pollinators, suddenly, like a Hollywood agent spotting Marilyn Munro, I saw IT!   – Eupatorium purpureum, according to Cambo head gardener Fay McKenzie. What a giant in every sense.

My ‘Marilyn Munro’ of the September garden ‘Eupatorium purpureum’

Better was to come. I came home and feverishly looked it up.  Joe-Pye Weed. This late flowerer doesn’t mind wind, it doesn’t need staking, it seeds but it’s not a thug. It’s stately but informal, a good companion for Crambe cordifolia (one of my BIG favourites). I’ve found the perfect solution!

I’m rather sorry I’ve written about it, I was looking forward to nonchalantly referring to its presence in my garden the next time my sisters visit, as though it were no big deal. 

Elaine

Caroline was obviously delighted with her discovery of some bombproof prairie plants that would both survive but impress in her part of the country in September but if you don’t have room to plant a prairie, here are a tree, a climber and a rose that will also do the job:

Irresistible at the moment are the crab apples which I grow on double espaliers linking terrace steps to a pergola. Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ (hardy to minus a zillion, I am just saying Caroline).

Malus ‘Red Sentinel’

Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ is such a simple tree, so easy to grow and look after, so pretty in its spring blossom, and an enchanting sight now as its hundreds of little apples turn from green through warm orange to brilliant red. They can be turned into jam, or jelly, or even Crab Apple Liqueur (a friend pointed out this week that The Woodland Trust rather unexpectedly has a recipe for this!), though I dare say I shall leave mine for the grateful winter birds.

Vitis ‘Purpurea’

Another treasure for early autumn is the Teinturier Grape – Vitis vinifera ’Purpurea’ whose glorious red/purple leaves and nearly black fruit look almost obscenely luxurious at this time of year.  There is a languidly sensuous quality about its habit too – it’s a ‘Cleopatra asking Mark Antony to peel her another grape while he loses the entire Roman Empire’ sort of a climber.  

Rosa ‘Tickled Pink’

My final choice is going to give a garden snob like Laura a fit of the vapours  but I LOVE it! It’s a rose called ‘Tickled Pink’ ;  (just the name will set her off).  But this wonderful double pink rose is in full flower for the third time since June – I counted 72 blooms or buds on my single plant yesterday.  Surely such flowery generosity should be able to lift our spirits as we watch the precious summer sun creep away like a defeated Cricket captain………..

Laura

I think there might be hope for Caroline yet; Eupatorium, her new discovery (bless), does have great presence, but as for Elaine, I really can’t believe that she actually bought a rose named ‘Tickled Pink’ ……can we really be related?

What can work really well in September are some late flowering bulbs but they can tricky to get right (so obviously not tackled by E and C….) 

For example, take that packet of Acidanthera murielae, the Abyssinian gladiolus, that I discovered still unplanted in July but desperately sprouting through their net bag. My sisters would have chucked them away at this point but I soaked them overnight then planted them in deep pots and put them in the hottest spot in the garden. Here they are in September with a glorious scent to boot:

Acidanthera murielae

Or my ginger lily Hedychium gardnerianum, which I have tried in various locations but can now report that it loves the deepest shade imaginable:

Hedychium gardnerianum – loves deep shade.

Finally there is Amaryllis belladonna the most capricious of all, but if you keep it in a glasshouse over winter with copious food and  water when it’s in leaf, then let it bake all summer it will suddenly pop up and look like our feature picture this week, with a gorgeous vanilla scent, solving all your September problems. 

NB If romantic swathes and natural planting like prairie gardens are your style, you will LOVE Louise’s Great Plant this Month

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2 Comments

  1. I have up rooted old black current bushes which were no longer fruiting. Could you recommend a lovely sweet variety for our clay soil (though now well enriched). Where I might source them, and when to plant. Many thanks

    1. Hi Sue, Elaine here. I’m not an expert on blackcurrants but a fruit-growing friend of mine says that the sweetest variety he knows is called ‘Ebony’. I think it is fairly commonly stocked, including Thompson and Morgan and Chris Bowers. Plant them between October and March, a couple of inches lower than they were in the pot (or the soil, if they’re bare-rooted) and then give the stems a brutal pruning down to about 4 inches. Water them and give them a cosy mulch to finish off. Good luck!

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