GARDENING A garden in retreat


After an unusual summer, Venetia McEllin surveys her autumn flower garden, rejoicing in its triumphs and noting its struggles

It’s amazing how much time I spend waiting for the garden to emerge into its imagined glory each year. There are a couple of fleeting weeks when it seems to be coming together, then in a flash Autumn descends and with it a withdrawal of the beautiful blooms that never seem to be flowering for long enough.
Ever had a haircut which at first is too short, then is just okay, is perfect for one day, then immediately turns into a floor mop without you ever having had the time to enjoy the perfect bit? It reminds me of the relentless march of the garden year.
Definitely this year was odd. My Cosmos Purity and Cosmos Sensation, which usually float their flowers daintily through the front flower bed, grew to a thuggish size but were reluctant to flower! The result was I had to pull half of them out because their green foliage was dominating the flowerbed.
Apparently there was not enough light and heat this summer, which explains why my Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes in the greenhouse sullenly stayed green until August. I had decided to put only two plants in per grow bag, thus giving them more room, and I fed them well, but they didn’t reward me. I had a much smaller amount of tomatoes this year. My cucumbers were similarly unhappy.
Strife in the greenhouse perhaps, but thank goodness for the good old autumn perennials, which are zinging away at the moment! Rudbeckias, heleniums, echinaceas and Bishop of Llandaff and Ellen Houston dahlias have all been flowering profusely.  Also the annual Rudbeckia Aries and Cappuccino look great. I usually lift a couple of these in the hope that they will flower again next year and and also take cuttings, trying to shortcut the growing-from-seed job.  
I have majestic Rudbeckia Herbstonne, which is very tall, pale yellow and with petals which droop slightly.  That and my Echinacea Tomato Soup, a gorgeous reddish pink, were the two newcomers that I watched carefully. I also set up slug pubs amongst them to limit the damage and give the pests a party. It does pay to keep an eye on emerging plants.
I can really recommend Coreopsis Mardi Gras, with its small red and yellow striped petals, as an annual to plant. It has been flowering non-stop for the last three months and is a really cheerful filler.
My Salvia Amistad, which has flowers of a beautiful purple blue, is still flowering. This is one of the plants I have successfully propagated for the last two years. It makes up for the pots upon pots of cuttings that I take and end up having to dump because they haven’t rooted. I did learn this year that hollow-stemmed plants, such as delphiniums, root best in moist vermiculite. Trying to root them in potting composts results in them rotting at the base.
But its really just a cheerful ‘try it and see’ approach with me. Gardening buddie Rory, gave me a Cardiocrinum, a most choice plant which only flowers every seven years. I was honoured to be entrusted with this gem and faithfully potted it up in pristine ericaceous compost. I even collected a bag of leaf mould from a pine wood and added it, and watering was lovingly done from our water butt. However, after a while the leaves turned brown. I have chopped them off and put the pot into the greenhouse but I am very afraid … How am I going to tell Rory?

Venetia McEllin is a member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Tacú Resource Centre, Ballinrobe.