17 November 2014
Autumn in the garden tends to be characterized by clearing and tidying away before winter; hedges get clipped, fallen leaves cleared and herbaceous beds cut back. It is often still warm enough to be cutting grass as the real cold doesn't tend to start to bite until after Christmas.
I cut all of the topiary and hedges relatively early this year and they were all finished by the end of August, or so I thought. Yew and box hedges can put on a late spurt of growth after August if the conditions are right and some of ours have grown again this year. Because of this I have spent a couple of happy afternoons trimming off the extra growth which, because it is fairly short and sporadic, is really no bother at all.
I started to clear out some of the wilder areas along the boundaries this week and discovered quite a lot of hawthorn that has been cut into shapes in previous years. I have enjoyed cutting this as I've gone along. Up above the orchard is a little glade of hawthorn, hazel and holly and since the hawthorn has lost its leaves it has become apparent that they too have been topiarised in the past. It's rather fun discovering these little hidden clues as to what has been done before, I'm sure I must have missed some, but as the winter draws closer, and the bones of the garden begin to show themselves, there will be more opportunities to get to know the garden a little better.
The dahlias and cosmos in the kitchen garden and the border just outside of it are still just about hanging in there. The dahlias though have been a little bit disappointing this year, having stayed really quite small and failing in some cases to fill their supports, but they have kept on flowering right through. Generally you lift dahlias once they have had a good frost on them and while we continue to have mild nights the dahlias just go on. It will come to a point where we will lift them anyway if the hard frost doesn't hurry up, but we are not quite there yet.
The rain that has been falling fairly consistently over the last few weeks has swelled the streams and given the garden a new dimension. The sounds of the running and babbling water is modulated through the garden by the various outbuildings, borders and earthworks. The waterfall by the kitchen garden roars as the water cascades down to join the main river below and I'm told by Arne that after very heavy rain the water can skip the falls entirely and simply shoot out of the end of the stream!
Each week I have been spending a couple of hours clearing the fallen leaves and adding them to my leaf mould bin. That bin is almost full now and I'm wondering if I shouldn't build another; leaves can continue to fall for another month or so yet, so there will still be plenty more to collect and you can never have enough leaf mould!
With further rain forecast over the next week or so and with temperatures staying mild, we may need to make some tough decisions about when to start to clear the herbaceous beds and lift the dahlias.
Words: Steve Lannin, gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer