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The Garden in October

What’s happening in Gilbert’s White’s Garden in October?

As autumn as well and truly here now, there’s a different feel to the garden. It’s clearing up time, let’s put everything straight before the winter time, heavy dews and falling leaves to clear up time. A sad time in some ways, the beauties of the summer having past. On the other hand there are special autumn effects of mists and coloured leaves.

The Wakes Weeders had a good day at Painshill last Monday; we were warmly welcomed and given a very informative tour. It is I find an inspiring landscape garden and one that Gilbert White may have known. It was made at about the same time as Gilbert constructed the Wakes, although begun earlier. The big difference is that it is centred around a lake, fed from a river, something which Gilbert never had. Did Gilbert ever consider the possibility of making one? Paul Foster points out that White’s friend John Mulso, to whom he wrote describing his garden and his ideas, replied making reference to a lake. Sadly we don’t have White’s letters to Mulso, but in a letter from Mulso to White dated July 12th, 1763, he says of Gilbert ‘you even see ye possible Lake before You, & almost hear ye Waterfall from ye imaginary Rock’ (Letter 106 in R H White’s John Mulso 1907) To what degree Gilbert was seriously discussing constructing a lake, we don’t really know, it could just be his friend gently exaggerating White’s plans as a little dig as to how adventurous he was being. White was, of course well acquainted with the use of water in landscapes, and his poem ‘The Invitation to Selborne’ – a descriptive tour of Selborne- written many years earlier (1745) he refers to ‘the breezy lake that sheds a gleaming light’ (line 31). Exactly which spot in Selborne he is actually referring is debatable, or was this in his minds eye? Apparently there was a small pond in the park (somewhere near the sixth gate, nearest Hercules) for watering livestock, but no evidence of its existence on any map. The landscape could have been very different- and perhaps much more famous?- had Gilbert ever added a water feature to his garden… but I digress..

Garden October

The herbaceous vegetation has been cut down and many of the weeds removed, so at least it does not look too untidy- although of course there is virtually nothing in flower other than a single plant of the long flowering purple toadflax and a beautiful autumn crocuses under the kitchen windows. Oh, and I should say the blooms on the Groundsel tree (Baccharis halimifolia), but as they are rather insignificant they hardly deserve a mention. More noteable is the fact that at last some cuttings have been taken of this shrub. The catmint by the back door still has some lavender/blue coloured flowers, but more eye catching are the tobacco plants- now seven feet high, having grown 3ft in a month, by the old back door. They have huge leaves and striking red flowers: the variety is not inappropriately called ‘Tobaco Rosa’ and the leaves have been (& and indeed can be) used to make tobacco. The nearby Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) has a large white flower open and some nice, promising looking, fat buds. The fragrance is delicious! Graham Stuart Thomas remarks ‘one cut flower will scent a room, even when fading’ and, a hint for flower arrangers here if you dare pick one ‘it is best to pick them when fully expanded and shake out the loose stamens’ Sadly the blooms do fade quickly.

Garden October

The ‘Stockport roundabout’ as some Weeders have unkindly called the display of sunflowers and marigolds by the shop doors, is now fading fast, although the later planted creeping zinnias with flowers like miniature sunflowers (Sanvitalia procumbens) are loving the autumn sunshine and have spread out very nicely. This eighteenth century style design was in evidence in several places in the authentic plantings at Painshill- in the walled garden and also near the Temple of Bacchus. These large round flower beds (which may be similar to White’s ‘Basons’ in his field) can be traced back as early as the 1730’s at Grove House, Old Windsor. (see The Flowering of the Landscape garden, Mark Laird 1999 p184-5) The style here is described by Isaac Ware (1756) ‘since grass is the best foil to flowers, the superior way to layout flower beds was as flower pots, or large nosegays rising out of the ground’ .
Batty Langley illustrated such beds in his ‘New Principles of Gardening’ 1728. Joseph Spence’s designs show such beds as ‘Studs’,:‘the little dotted ground should be planted with Studs of Roses, Honysucles, & Jessamins; & c – Here, a Damask-rose, with 2 Jessamins there, a Province with a couple of white Miserions….. (etc) with as much variety as can be. The places for studs sd be dug, & kept clean by hoing;- either in Circles or Ovals’ Spence’s studs varied from 1.5 to 4 feet in diameter, but similar beds by Thomas Wright for Netheravon in Wiltshire (1760) ranged from 12 to 25 feet, so clearly there was a lot of variation. So much for the Stockport roundabout, even if it does offend your 21st century sensibilities!

A few late annuals survive in tubs, notably the Amaranth Hopi Red Dye and some Cleomes. You may have seen the Cleomes in the Elysian plains at Painshill- they are such a good flower to go on into the autumn, as we have found with the planting of the SE quarter: fillers whilst the more permanent planting gets established, although I think we will always add some annuals to brighten up this essential early summer border in the autumn. This SE bed still looks good now with Cleomes and the deep blue of the Vipers Bugloss. The autumn quarter is (as it should be!) very colourful with pale mauve-pink autumn crocus (Colchicum) , verbascum (yellow & white), China Asters (purple, pink and yellow),Verbena (purple- the tall V.bonariensis) Coreopsis (Golden yellow) Myrtle (yellowish white), catmint (purplish blue), sedums (pinkish red) and both Shrubby Hibiscus in flower: these shrubs are pink and white (An old variety called Hamabo) and purplish. So a kaleidoscope of colour for these misty autumn days!

garden in october

The NW Giant Reed quarter now has the reeds 8ft tall, and everlasting peas still in flower, as well as some late blue flowers on the cardoons, and some purple from the michaelmas daisies. The small teasels and brown seed heads of the cardoons add an interesting texture to the planting, although a predominance of brown is starting to creep in. In the annual garden the Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia) make a bold and eye catching display of orange, and the Marvel of Peru -in white, pinkish red and yellow, these are all self colours rather than mottled as in the fruit wall border.

There a good apple crops on all of the trees, so apple picking is on the agenda for this month and next! We will have nowhere to store them this year, due to the Lottery project, so they will either be sold in the shop, used as decoration- or perhaps given to deserving volunteers? We’ll see! The first to be picked should be the Blenheim Oranges, the tree just the house side of the pond bridge, but the King of the Pippins and the Lemon pippin, over by the meadow garden, will also need picking. The Wheelers Russet should be picked late October/ early November.

Garden October

The fruit wall border has some beautiful striped Marvel of Peru, yellow and white, and magenta and, well, almost orange (!) as well as the more usual self colours. The fruit trees have now been carefully pruned and look neat and tidy. The passion flower needed taming! The Golden Pippins in the orchard on Bakers Hill have a good crop of little apples that will need picking, a lovely little apple this, and suitable for cooking, but rather fiddly as the fruit is so small. In the orchard walk the Shrubby Hare’s Ear (Bupleurum fruticosum) which we also saw at painshill, is in flower, panicles of greenish yellow bloom above long thin glossy evergreen leaves. Not a commonly seen shrub.

In the kitchen garden, there are some bright orange pumpkins: Keith has been taking good crops of these and ornamental gourds and squashes into the shop where I understand they have sold quite well- they also look very pretty in the shop, and have decorated the old kitchen too. The crop of leeks- about 300!- looks very fine and will be very useful for soups in the tea parlour. The kitchen garden looks neat and tidy , and we have had crops of green manures: Tares (Vetches) , not so successful, and now dug in, and Phacelia, much more successful and soon to be dug in. The red and purple of the cabbages adds to the autumnal scene!

Garden October

Best Wishes & Good Gardening
David Standing