6 October 2014
Autumn has been slowly starting to assert herself here at
Allt-y-bela with cooler mornings and leaves beginning to adopt
their autumnal guise. The late afternoon light, low and slanting
through the trees of the wooded hillsides, has been really quite
magical and has handed even a very modest photographer like myself
some great opportunities to capture the garden in dramatic
What we have lacked however is the chill in the air which autumn usually brings or indeed any rain to speak of. It's been well documented that September was the driest on record even here in Wales where rainfall tends to be above the national average. In fact a couple of days last week felt more like August than they did the beginning of October, with the lawns drying out and blue skies stretching across the valley.
As autumn begins to change the pace of garden life I have found the space and time to think about jobs which have seemed beyond my grasp in recent months. The one which I found time for last week was seed collecting! Now, let me start by being very honest; it's rather late in the season to be starting to think about seed collecting, and I have missed out on an awful lot of potential seed, but that said there are still plants in the garden with ripening seed still and I have been collecting those few over the past week or so.
A few weeks ago we had the last of our four part garden course here on 'The Making of the Garden'. The course has followed the garden through the seasons and has led the participants through the seasonal jobs which they can do in their own garden. As a special treat for the last day we had a talk by Marina Christopher from Pheonix Perennial Plants - an experienced nursery women who grows a fantastic range of plants from her nursery in Hampshire.
Marina took us through some of her tips for seed collecting including how to process and store seed. Spurred on by her inspirational talk I took to the garden to collect seed last week. One of the key plants Arne wanted seed from was the black Hollyhock that grows amongst the cobbles in the front courtyard. Its black blooms and lush green foliage contrast beautifully against the golden ocre of the house. One of the joys of seed collecting is anticipating the perfect time to harvest but you can of course cut the flowering stems a little early and let the seed ripen in a cool dry place with good airflow letting the seed shed naturally into a paper bag or onto a sheet of paper. I prefer, where possible, to let the seed ripen naturally on the plant and timing, therefore, is key. One day missed and the seed may be gone.
Hollyhock seeds are things of beauty; arranged like segments of an orange around a central point they have the appearance of a flying saucer held within a velvety casing that holds together even after the seed has been stripped out.
Another target were the great architectural spikes of Digitalis ferruginea that have been adding structure to the herbaceous beds ever since their blooms finished earlier in the summer. Ferruginea, meaning rusty, is a species I hadn't come across until I started working at Allt-y-bela but it is one certainly worth hunting out; the leaves are a strong, glossy dark green and the flowering spikes which rise from the basal rosette are strong, seldom require staking and hold a multitude of small copper, slightly hairly flowers, which are attractive to pollinators.
When collecting seed it is very important to separate the seed from the chaff. Often the chaff contains inhibitors which stop the seed germinating; Marina advises that you put your seeds into a shallow bowl and blow the chaff off, the seed usually being heavier than the chaff.
Seed collecting is such a rewarding thing to do. You get to bulk up your supply of plants for no cost at all, but more than that you get the satisfaction of seeing plants grow in your garden from seeds you have collected yourself and is a great way to exchange plants with friends. It's worth remembering that not all plants come 'true' from seed, meaning that the crossing in pollination will lead to differences in the offspring, however you may end up with something really special indeed that nobody else has. The reward is in the anticipation of that first flower next year.
As I write this today the rain has finally come and the river is flowing again, maybe autumn has now finally arrived!
Words: Steve Lannin, Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photos: Britt Willoughby Dyer