Maverick Life


Autumn, ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’

Autumn, ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’
Iceland poppies (Photo Katie Burnett for Unsplash)

We all need beauty, especially in these times, and the rich tapestry of colours, temperate climate and glorious sunsets of autumn enhance our delights in the world.

As John Burroughs, the 19th-century American naturalist, conservationist and poet, wrote: “How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and colour are their last days.” 

Autumn brings its own joy in the gardens, with the many varieties of Plectranthus starting to flower. The white and pink Japanese Anemones are bright buttons of colour in the dappled light of shadier beds. The Protea and Kniphofia and Aloes are starting to show their buds and many Ericas are already out on the mountains of the Cape. The roses will give their final full flush for the year in April. 

However, just as most growing things are slowing down their annual cycle, so we need to rev up the work tempo – in preparation for spring and summer – and to get the full flourish out of the next few weeks. So put on Nat King Cole’s version of Johnny Mercer’s song Autumn Leaves and get to work. 

First, you need to prune evergreen and hardy hedges and shrubs once they have finished flowering. Then summer perennials such as Agapanthus, Arum Lilies, Day Lilies and Cannas need to be lifted and divided. Your garden should be watered early in the day, and mulch should be laid generously around the base of your plants to protect the roots. 

Autumn is an excellent time to transplant trees, vines, shrubs and hedging plants; moving them all now will give them a bit of time to settle in, before they rest in winter, and are ready to flourish in spring. 

Now is the time to shop for spring bulbs too. South African bulbs are especially bright and cheerful, and most garden centres will sell the beautifully scented Freesias and brightly coloured Sparaxis, Ixia and Babiana. Amaryllis Belladonna are dramatically grown in pots and then placed indoors once flowering. But when massed under a tree in light shade, there is almost nothing more dramatic.

The fashion for “bedding out” swathes of a colour or type of annual has waned. But there is always a place for “retro” planting if you like, and Fairy Primula, Primula Obconia, Pansies and Violas, Cineraria and Iceland Poppies are always a joy. And, if possible, every garden should have beautiful scented Sweet Peas in the spring, so plant them now. If you buy the seeds, let them overnight in a bowl of boiled water to soften them for quicker germination.

Sweet peas to plant now (Photo Unsplash)

Ixia (Photo Unsplash)

Amaryllis Belladonna (Photo Unsplash)

There are a few things you should not do in autumn in your garden. It is not the time to feed Azaleas and Camellias and Irises. If you do, they get too excited, push out new stems and leaves, and you will not get that joyous show of flowers. Rather feed them once flowering is over to encourage bud growth for the following year. 

It was John Keats in his poem in 1819 “To Autumn”, who wrote “Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun… ” as his salute to the languid nature of autumn. But still, it is no time for rest. DM/ML


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