Garden Chronicles: Surviving Storm Ciaran, Enjoying Autumn Colours and Preparing the Garden for Winter

The beginning of this month began with storm Ciaran, hitting much of the Southern coast of England, an Amber weather warning was issued, where wind speeds could exceed 85 mph in coastal areas. As a result, we shut the garden. We were expecting lots of trees and branches to come crashing down in the strong wind, but in reality, we faired the storm well. Only one or two small trees came down, most of the debris was leaf and small twigs. The gravel paths across the site, now have deep channels in them, as water finds the path of least resistance. Drains blocked with leaves don’t help, all we can do is wait for the rain to stop and rake the gravel back up from the bottom of the slope. Despite all this the sun has continued to come out in intervals and the weather for much of the month has remained very mild and very wet.

Paths around Fairlight Hall being washed away

Traditionally this time of year we start thinking about putting the garden to bed, the grass has stopped growing, so the mowers can be put away and be serviced. In the veg garden, the last of the tomatoes and cucumbers are being harvested. Cabbages are being harvested and hung up in the dry store and garlic is starting to be planted out for next year. In the ornamental garden we are starting to empty containers before the first frost arrives. Tender plants are being potted on and brought into the greenhouse. These empty pots will then be filled with bulbs and bedding for next years spring display.

Cabbages stored in old bulb in the dry store

November is one of my favourite times of year. It is the time of year when deciduous trees change leaf colour, when trees reabsorb the important green pigment chlorophyl back into its twigs and branches. Any sugars remaining in the leaf, together with other chemicals no longer needed by the plant break down and form the beautiful fiery leaf colours we love. The large amount of rain this month has shortened the autumn colour window a bit, but Fairlight Hall, is lucky to have lots of autumn colour and a recent plant identification walk across the site with our current Wraggs Student Simon drew my attention to what a range of autumn colour we do have here. Many of these trees are little know to the wider gardening public.

Parrotia persica (Persian Ironwood) A lesser know relative of the witch hazel. A number of these are planted along the banks of the entrance drive. This tree has a low and sprawling habit. In the spring or summer, it wouldn’t get a second glance but in autumn this tree is know for its intense leaf colour. Some individual trees turn orange or red, others more a butter yellow colour. In late winter, it sports small jewel like scarlet flowers.

So inspired buy all this autumn colour at Fairlight Hall, I took a trip with my family to Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, and found some true rarities and look at which plants we could add to our collection here to improve our already great autumn colour displays.

Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin Tree) extinct in the wild, incredibly difficult to propagate, and so rarely seen in cultivation or in garden centres. It is a relative of the camellia and has white flowers in the month of November.

Carya ovata (Shagbark hickory) In the walnut family. One of the best trees for yellow leaf colour.  This tree has distinctive leaf type known as compound leaves, one leaf made up of numerous leaflets much like an ash tree. Its wood is also incredibly hard and durable.

Cryptomeria japonica elegans (Japanese red Cedar). This Conifer looks amazing post of the year with its oil slick like blue/green to purple foliage, but come autumn it changes to a rusty red colour.

Pseudolarix amabilis (Golden Larch). One of 6 or more deciduous conifers, which lose all their needles in winter.

Oxydendrum arboretum (Sorrel Tree). This stunning tree, has it all flower, fruit and autumn colour.

Forthergilla major known as Witch Alder and belonging to the witch hazel family Hamamelidaceae. In the summer this tree is easily missed with its plain green leaves blending into the background, but in the autumn, it leaves turn truly volcanic.

Betula lenta (Cherry Birch). This little-known birch known for its stunning autumn colour. Unlike its white paper barked cousin. Betula lenta has bark which peels off in plates and is replaced by a much darker, black cherry-like bark. The leaves have a distinct aroma of minty wintergreen.

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