Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Great Comp Autumn Extravaganza

Sunday saw me driving the few short miles to the gardens of Great Comp for the aptly named Autumn Extravaganza. Having been at Great Dixter the weekend before, October is shaping up to be a month of great gardens and gardening events, and we’re not even half way through.

I arrived in bright sunshine to find the borders in their full late-summer glory, grasses and perennials having filled out and drawn themselves up to their full stature, and giving every impression of returning the admiring glances of the visitors with something approaching condescension, arising from a pride in the knowledge that this, of all moments in the year, is the moment in which they look their absolute best. I think we can allow the contents of the borders their lofty attitude; they look very fine indeed.

On to the plants. A goodly selection of specialist nurseries, although I had the impression that there were fewer than at the Spring Fling. Sufficient in number to provide temptation to a gardener with a roving eye, however.

I was half hoping to track down my unicorn, a plant that I’ve been after all year since one of my clients saw it in the prairie gardens at Wisley. I’d seen a few diminutive pots of the Arkansas bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii, at Dixter last weekend but, having left my wallet at home, I was saved from having to buy the things – something of which I was quite glad, not having been entirely confident of my ability to see the tiddlers through the winter. Amsonia seems to be growing in popularity – a mainly North American relative of the periwinkle, although not sharing the vinca’s slovenly posture it bears its light blue, star-shaped flowers in early summer on upright stems. It hasn’t been hard to get hold of Amsonia tabernaemontana, and I spied A. ciliata on the stand of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants at Chelsea earlier in the year (Rob and Rosy stock several species, I’ve subsequently found).

But Hubricht’s bluestar has much thinner, needle-like leaves, and in autumn, it does this...

Amsonia hubrichtii in full autumn colour
...giving the impression of the original Old Testament burning bush. I’ve learned from badgering various people that it does take a good while to bulk up, and had resigned myself to having to wait till next year. So you can imagine my joy to find that Paul Barney of Edulis, had brought several decent sized specimens with him. Those were coming home with me.

Today’s offerings, as you might expect from a plant fair in October, were distinctly shrubby, with the odd climber or tree thrown in for good measure. You might think this would be boring but, in that opinion, you’d be wrong.

I’m always a bit of a sucker for an attractive ilex, and the prickly pineapple holly, Ilex aquifolium 'Myrtifolia' bears perfectly formed, glossy green leaves about an 3cm long by 1cm wide, bristling with spines. It’s a neat, compact specimen, with the young shoots exhibiting a slight purplish tinge.

Ilex aquifolium 'Myrtifolia'
This next plant might quicken the pulse of even the most hardened hater of the ubiquitous evergreen euonymus. Euonymus fortunei 'Wolong Ghost' can be used as a mat-forming ground cover, or trained as a climber. It has thin, deep green glossy leaaves, with a prominent white mid-rib and veins, together with the usual pink spindleberry winged fruit.

Euonymus fortunei 'Wolong Ghost'
Now, writing about what I saw at the weekend, I wish I’d bought them all! But one plant that did come home with me is a variety of something very familiar, in the guise of something completely alien. If I hadn’t read the label, I’d never for a moment have believed this to be a cultivar of the wonderfully scented Confederate jasmine. This is Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Water Wheel', its deep blue-green leaves now having taken on the autumnal purple tint, although the silvery midrib still evident. The flowers are present in summer, although small.

Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Waterwheel'
Continuing the oddly narrow leaved theme of the day, this version of the alder buckthorn was new to me. Frangula alnus 'Fine Line', a deciduous shrub of columnar habit, not quite yet in its autumn shades.

Frangula alnus 'Fine Line'
And who can resist the wonderful autumn colour and rounded lobes of the rootbeer tree, Sassafras albidum? Not I.

Sassafras albidum. Used to flavour rootbeer
As I made my way towards the exit, clutching my small haul of plants, I became aware of a delicious smell, some baked fruit pudding, covered with caramelised sugar and just beginning to catch and burn at the edges. I spend t a few moments scouting the area for the culprit, and soon joined a group of people shuffling about in the fallen leaves beneath a katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum.

What’s that smell? Probably Cercidiphyllum japonicum


  1. You really have a glut of great gardens and events in your area. Thanks for sharing, although must admit...jealous. That T. 'Waterwheel' is definitely different! I'm a great fan of Trachelospermum jasminoides (if only for the unbridled joy of it's unabashed polysyllabicicity) in its usual green-leaved form, reliably evergreen so far, and a good long bloomer and delicious fragrance. Glad you were able to track down the Amsonia. I recently saw it paired with another not-popular-yet plant, Muhlenbergia capillaris, in their autumn glory...the amber of the Amsonia contrasted with the misty amorphous pink screen of the late-blooming Muhlinbergia's flowers. There is a hardier, slightly earlier blooming cultivar of it, callled M. capitosa 'Fast Forward', Anyway, it sounds like a lurid combination, but check it out. Is that Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' in your first photo? Lovely whatever it is. Shall check out the Fragula alnus, as haven't encountered it before. Always enjoy the scent of Katsura's in fall. There's a russet-leaved columnar one, called C. japonicum 'Red Fox' you may be familiar with... If not, check it out, though not sure of its ultimate height.
    Sounds like a great day of horticultural indulgences, and the garden looks delightful. Thanks for sharing, once again : )

    1. It's true, Jo, I'm shockingly spoiled as regards location and gardens. Although it does mean I tend to take things for granted, and disgustingly haven't been to Sissinghurst, Pashley Manor or Scotney Castle this year! Just awful. I'll keep an eye out for Red Fox. ;oP

  2. Thank you for reminding me to revisit the Katsura trees at Ickworth park, Twitter gardeners identified them for me in the summer and someone mentioned the scent of the autumn leaves.
    Wow! The Amsonia colour is amazing! I can understand why you want it.

    1. Hello Celia! I'm particularly pleased about the Amsonia as the planting where it's going has been a real trial with ravenous rabbits all year, and apparently the sap is quite an irritant, which should keep the stinkers off!

  3. Huh. The BEST gardens are in the West! (like Welsh borders.....?)

    1. I'll get there, one day Anne! The gravitational pull in the south east is strong, takes a huge effort to break orbit.

    2. O, any excuse. What do you want? You'd like me to throw you a rope?


    3. Cake usually does the trick. Veddw's dog-friendly, isn't it?

    4. Yes it is, and Special Visitors like you always get cake. And tea.