A return to RHS Wisley – as October arrives with blue skies and the warm gold of an Indian Summer

Roses, to come, but first a gallery of late-flowering perennials, shrubs and trees bringing a rich diversity and vibrancy to these gardens as October sidles into view.

The Gardens at RHS Wisley – the Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden – never disappoint and even with frequent visits, there is always something new to delight, excite and pique my interest. These first images were taken on a day much like today (though last week) when the skies were a boundless blue and the sun shone high, bright and warm. I think we can safely call this an Indian Summer and these impossibly beautiful days have continued on into this week – with just a pause for a welcome downpour over the weekend.

October has arrived – can you believe it? – and with it the promise of bonfires, scents of sparklers and chrysanthemums and the shout of the latest-of-flowering perennials – as well as presaging the annual Autumn extravaganza when many trees and shrubs switch from green to a full Technicolor, stained glass triumph of reds and gold, burgundy and beryl – well, you get the picture. Plangent, as Monty Don said on Gardeners’ World last week. Plangent.

We’re a few weeks off from this kaleidoscopic change and with the boundless blue skies and warm sun, I want to hold onto Summer, (Indian or otherwise) for as long as possible.

My trip to Wisley is just a couple of weeks on from my last visit – and my last post in these pages – though I tracked a different route – something you can always do in this varied landscape. An eclectic gallery then, this, to start us off – I was heading straight through Seven Acre Wood to the Glasshouse and from then on up through the Rock Garden to the Alpine House and on into the Bowes Lyon Rose Garden. These images cover the traverse to – and between Glasshouses (above) and (below), the roses – still going strong, many of them.

Rosa Velvet Fragrance 'Fryperdee'
Rosa Velvet Fragrance ‘Fryperdee’

I’ll leave the images from the two glasshouses for another posting – I want to check that I have the right names against the right plants and very few of them, particularly the orchids, have simple names of few syllables – few of the Alpines too for that matter. I shall tend to the balance images from my day trip tomorrow (though as you can read in the next little bit), I might be heading out further afield on another hopefully bright sunny Autumn day – how organised can I be in the morning, that’s the question!

I wrote a little blog for the Petersham Nurseries website to herald October and plug a workshop or two (mine, on roses, included) and I reproduce it here – in the full, suggested and unamended original – a little more playful than the version actually posted online by PN – and they omitted the reference to ‘rhubarb’ entirely. What do they have against rhubarb?

“I for one have been collecting conkers again – every year I fill bowls of these beautiful shiny delights to decorate the house – and I have collages of autumn leaves, carefully sewn together and framed – and I’ll be making (schhh!) Christmas baubles out of fallen Ginkgo leaves. I love playing with autumn finery, just as much as I did when I was five, or ten.



[For something more sophisticated] Thomas Broom-Hughes will be taking this love of natural ornamentation and creating beautiful autumn wreaths to celebrate the changing season. The workshop is on Thursday 20th October. If you have tickets for the Frieze Art Fair this coming week, look out for his amazing wall installation using thousands of dried flowers to create a monumental pointillist artwork! His workshop might not be quite so ambitious but you will be able to make and take home your own beautiful Autumn wreath using a wide selection of natural materials.
In your own garden, there should (could) still be a great bounty of colour and foliage and using it to create a wreath – or autumn floral arrangement – is just one more way to appreciate what is going outdoors, in your garden and countryside wanderings. If what you see in your plot is a little lacklustre, then make plans to liven things up next year, adding late-performing plants for colour, texture and form, with long-lasting seed heads that will catch the slanting sun and frosts to come.
October, far from being the end of the gardening year, signals the start for many activities, particularly establishing new plants
  • the soil is still warm and moist and plants will quickly establish new roots before the colder weather puts them to sleep. Plant evergreen shrubs and roses, perennials and hardy annuals now.
  • Plant Spring bulbs in drifts or dot them through borders, naturalise them in grass or create stunning container displays with tulips, narcissus, alliums, crocus, iris, snowdrops and hyacinths – there is such a choice
  • Towards the end of the month (or earlier if there are frosts in your area), lift Dahlia tubers, Begonia tubers and Gladioli corms to store, dry, indoors over the winter. In milder areas, a deep mulch may be sufficient to protect Dahlias left in the ground.
  • Plant Spring bedding, such as wallflowers – these make superb partners for your bulbs
  • This month is the ideal time to move shrubs and small trees you think are in the wrong place – and you can start to take hardwood cuttings of deciduous shrubs and roses. While these are slow to propagate, are usually very reliable
  • Lift and divide overcrowded perennials, cutting away the ‘dead’ heart of the root system and replanting the divisions.
  • Prune rambling roses and tie in wayward canes of Climbing roses too, so that the Autumn winds can’t damage the plant or their supports. We have a rose pruning course on Tuesday 25th October, booking online at www.petershamnurseries.com.
  • Direct sow hardy winter peas and broad beans for cropping next year
  • Divide established Rhubarb crowns – to reinvigorate them and to make new plants
Of course, take advantage of any bright and sunny days to enjoy your plot, stroll through your local park or make excursions further afield. I’ll be making my way to Great Dixter in Sussex, as this is an inspirational garden at any time of year but especially in the Autumn. Westonbirt Arboretum is also on my radar – a veritable Cathedral of autumn colour, with the most magnificent collection of Acers in an array of stained glass colours. Inspiration for any garden, to extend the drama for a few weeks more.
Dahlias,grasses, roses and rosehips, the ruby and gold of maples and liquidambers, the last of the Anemones, the first of the Asters and the best of the Salvias – make this (still) an exciting time in the garden. There’s time for rest later in the year… “
On my way home from RHS WIsley, I called into the Garden Centre at Garson’s Farm and bought a menagerie of Ornamental Squash there – beautiful, quirky things that should last well into next Spring – Pumpkins there were too but I’ll leave those for a little closer to Halloween. I don’t want to wish away the month, especially when the days have been as glorious as today.

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