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Alfresco study

29 August 2014

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MY FOOT slips off the horticultural pedal in August. I am content just to imbibe the garden. It seems unfair to goad you into action with a "things to do now" list. Instead, I will share my best read of the summer, and my favourite nursery.

Voltaire's Vine and Other Philosophies: How gardens inspired great writers, by Damon Young (Rider, 2014), suited my reflective mood. Young is an engaging writer with novel ideas about gardens. His premise is that the garden is "nature humanised", and, through history, has accumulated a richness that allows us to see beyond ourselves. By "displaying human and natural processes together", a garden shows what we make of nature, physically and intellectually.

Young's book takes us not on "a tour of great estates but of great minds" - 11 writers, in fact, including Austen, Proust, Nietzsche, and Sartre. This erudite and often amusing book teaches that appreciating landscapes and working the land takes us beyond contem-plation to see the unity of all things.

I did not get to discuss this with Bob Brown, who runs the nursery Cotswold Garden Flowers, which specialises in perennials, but we did talk plants. He notices all the plant trends, and, as a writer and RHS committee member, probably helps to create a few. He has seen the short-term ups and downs of hemerocallis, penstemons, crocosmia, and the slow rise and decline of hostas and grasses. Currently, it is the understated charms of thalictrums, sanguisorbas, and ferns that are in demand at the nursery.

I asked Bob for recommendations for the autumn garden. He regards chrysanthemums as wonderful plants, and points out that RHS trial at Wisley proved that the plant group was much hardier than previously thought. "Slugs and snails in the spring are the main threat rather than winter cold. There are so many good ones, but 'Julia Peterson', with very small, rather loose double flowers in pure purple, is a winner." It is a late-flowering plant that peaks in October/November.

We agree that Aster "Little Carlow" is a superb plant, with masses of intense blue flowers. Of the perennial yellow daisies, Rudbeckia laciniata "Herbstsonne" (literally "autumn sun") is hard to beat. If you want to add a sedum to your garden, look for "Mr Goodbud", which has broad heads of dark pink flowers.

I have grown Persicaria amplexicaulis "Atrosanguinea" and been impressed, but I am out of date. There is a cultivar, "Blackfield", with dark-red flowers, that was formerly a favourite of Bob's, but has now been superseded by "Fat Domino": "The best because it has more flowers and bigger flowers in a bright red colour."

I came away with a Commelina robusta with extremely blue flowers (eight out of ten) and a Sphaeralcea incana "Sourup", a pure orange mallow (8.5 out of ten). Their planting will mark the beginning of autumn, and a time for action rather than rumination.

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