Seeds of Hope: Autumn Garden News

By Charleston’s Gardener, Harry Hoblyn

Seedlings in Charleston’s greenhouse this autumn.

We have had few visitors to the garden this season, fewer still to the house. Yet, the promise of spring is gradually awakening at the forefront of any gardener’s mind, and the recent generosity of Charleston’s supporters, demonstrated through the favourable outcome of our Art Fund Art Happens campaign, signifies a change in fortunes. The house and its garden will be open to visitors again in April 2021.

Should we stop to pause and reflect, we might also give ourselves a moment to appreciate the vagaries of autumn. The defoliation of surrounding plants causing rich feather pigments to carpet the earth, and the ripple of a poplar’s wings overhead, ready to take their final flight. The sky drifts between sullen and bright contrasting hues of purple, grey, and blue. The Charleston pond, rejuvenated by rainfall, reflects the restless tranquillity of the season, glimmering or dull from one moment to the next.

Late flowers including Chrysanthemum ‘Emperor of China’ in bloom this October. Photo © Harry Hoblyn.

There are still a few lingering flowers in bloom. Chrysanthemum ‘Emperor of China’ is late to the display but full of character, whilst Dianthus allwoodii ‘Alice’* flowers ceaselessly, blushing a little pinker than before as the nights turn bitter. The mild autumn has brought about a late flurry of rose blooms; old-fashioned species type shrubs flowering at opportune moments. The pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana, stands sentinel at the front of the house, swaying in the wind.

The lack of on-site visitors has provided me with an opportunity to work with the plants that cling to the façade of the house. The three roses*, which tangle their way upwards, have been given a semi-hard prune, two or three older stems removed from each to stimulate new growth from the base, and the remainder trained for a more horizontal, arching habit. Detangling the Clematis montana took some patience, and whilst some of next year’s flowers may have been sacrificed, it has been successfully drawn away from the guttering.


The freshly pruned façade of Charleston’s house. Photo © Harry Hoblyn. 

Within the walled garden, preparation are ongoing. I have been splitting and dividing herbaceous perennials, moving plants, and making some new introductions (Sidalcea ‘Elsie Heugh’, Anchusa azurea ‘Loddon Royalist’, Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, amongst others). The bulbs have all been planted and I am hopeful for a lavish succession of tulips in the main bedding area. I have opted for some old favourites (‘White Triumphator’, ‘Attila’, ‘Kingsblood’) alongside more recent cultivars (‘Dordogne’ ‘Request’, ‘Violet Beauty’). Come Charleston’s moment of reopening, these tulips will provide us with a riot of zesty warmth, signalling the arrival of spring in all its abundance.

Iceland Poppies, c.1908-9, Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), The Charleston Trust © The Estate of Vanessa Bell, DACS 2020. ⁣⁣

     I have also been busy in the potting shed, and the greenhouse benches are filling with autumn sown seedlings and cuttings.. A plethora of poppies are demanding my attention and will soon be potted on. These include Iceland poppies, Papaver nudicaule, sown in June, in the hope of paying homage to Vanessa Bell’s such-named still life from 1908-9. Diascia stem cuttings have taken well as have root cuttings of Papaver orientale ‘Beauty of Livermere’. In March, cuttings of cotton lavender, Santolina chamaecyparissus, taken in midsummer, will be ready for planting out, eager to plug gaps in the silver-foliaged lawn edging.

Soon, further tasks will begin in earnest: continued rose and fruit pruning, planting of bare root trees and shrubs, clearances around the pond, mulching, and other, less glamorous tasks. As the year draws to a close, there are more than enough reasons for optimism, and though the nights grow chilly, we can look forward to a fresh horizon as the disentangled charms of nature take root.


* Rosa ‘Mermaid, ‘Paul’s Lemon Pillar’, ‘Zepherine Drouhin’. 


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