Colour in the Autumn Garden

There was an excellent turn out of 50 plus people at our October meeting and we were delighted to welcome some new members as well as those who attend regularly.  Roger Harvey from Harveys Garden Plants, a family run nursery, joined us to talk about plants which provide Autumn colour.  Roger is a well know plant enthusiast and expert who regularly exhibits at the major RHS shows and who has won 6 Gold Medals at Chelsea.  Roger started his nursery business in 1992 and in 2004 the nursery moved to its present 10 acre site at Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Roger highlighted three major groups of plants for colour at this time of the year – shrubs, perennials, and grasses.  He had brought with him examples of each and was able to give us the most interesting and useful horticultural advice on each plant he showed.  Many of the shrubs, as well as providing good leaf colour also provided vibrant berries for example viburnum opulus (Geulder rose) which produces large bunches of spherical bright red fruits and will tolerate semi shade.  Euonymus is also a favourite, producing orange berries.  Most of us know cornus Midwinter Fire as providing orange stems with a bright flame tip throughout winter.  A question was asked regarding pruning and Roger suggested that rather than prune all stems heavily in the Spring, which weakens the plant just cut back a third of the stems of cornus each year.

Roger then moved on to discuss perennials, many of which will carry on flowering until the frosts.  He showed epimediums which provide good ground cover and some of which are good in dry shade.  Bergenia overture is also tolerant of dry shade and its leaves colour up to bright red in the autumn.  Sedums will hold their heads until the frosts as will dahlias which Roger and his team leave in the ground, but mulch if it becomes really cold.  Roger had a good tip for nerines, stating that the neck of the bulb should be out of the soil and he showed various examples in pots that were flowering profusely.  A number of plants such as astrantia will flower again during the year if cut down to ground level after the first flowering.

Attention then turned to grasses which shimmer and move in the breeze.  Stipa gigantea requires full sun and Roger suggested that it should be left until January or early February until it is cut down – we understand that Roger sets fire to his!  Good advice was given regarding verbena bonariensis – the seeds don’t mature until December and they don’t germinate until the following May – so don’t cut the parent plants down too soon in the autumn or hoe up the seedlings by mistake in the spring.

Roger’s talk was punctuated by interesting anecdotes of preparing plants for the major shows and what the judges were looking for when awarding medals.  He also promoted leaving perennials uncut thoughout the winter to provide seed heads for birds and leaving  hedges long and wide which leads to a more diverse bird life.  Roger brought a selection of plants which members were eager to buy and clearly his nursery is well worth visiting.  

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 15th November when Linda Smith will be talking about Wildlife in the Pond.
                                                                                                         Linda Truscott

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