Flowers are getting a little thin on the ground lately.
Not that there’s no colour around: quite the opposite. My lovely ginkgo tree has lit up the garden like a butter-yellow lantern; the oaks and hazels have turned coppery brown and there are white pearls (Symphoricarpos) and red rubies (holly, viburnum and hawthorn) gleaming in all the hedgerows.
This is about the only flower from my Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ intact at the moment: the rest are having an off day, rather unappetisingly draped around with half-dead leaves. I’m hoping they’ll fall soon to leave the flowers unblemished again: it blooms constantly all winter long, releasing a gentle perfume you just catch on the air from time to time.
But I prefer to wait till later, when it’s properly cold, for my winter flowers. Right now it’s the hangovers from summer which I’m enjoying the most: those flowers so resolute, so stalwart, so undaunted by piffling things like weather that they just keep coming for as long as they can.
The marigolds – both Calendula and French marigolds (Tagetes – above) have been indefatigable this year. I’ve had calendula running right through my veg garden like a cheery wave: any empty patch I had going spare, any edge unadorned turned a summer yellow and orange. And they’re still going strong now. I have left the ones in the veg garden to set seed in the hope that they’ll come back next year.
The French marigolds too, sown in a propagator in February, have been better than in many a year: these are in the greenhouse, under the tomatoes. I couldn’t bear to pull them out as they were looking so pretty – so they’ll just have to prettify the winter salads I’m about to plant in here instead, until the first frosts arrive at least.
The sages have been huge and prolifically flowery this year too. This one is tangerine sage, a more scarlet shade than my other big Mexican sage, blackcurrant sage – more of a magenta pink. Both are like neon lights at this time of year: I adore them and keep meaning to take cuttings but always get distracted at the proper time. One day I’ll manage it. In the meantime I’ll have to lift this and the other sage to bring in under cover for a frost-free winter: when I’ve got the cuttings going, though, I shall risk both outside. With borderline hardy plants like Mexican sages I find the more mature you can get them, the more likely they are to survive a winter outdoors: though you’ve still got to keep your fingers crossed for a kind season.
And this little pink is another summer hangover: you can’t keep a good pink down, and this one is particularly sweet and dainty. They’re tougher than they look though: there are buds a-plenty still here and they’ll keep flowering till the frost gets them.
The undoubted star of the show however, the one which makes me smile every time I walk past, is my increasingly glorious Nerine sarniensis. I have clearly found it the conditions it likes: a winter in a frost-free greenhouse, then summer outdoors half-forgotten at the bottom of a cold frame. Do not pot on, do not feed; do not, in fact give it any care at all. In return for your neglect, it bursts into enthusiastic flower at the beginning of November and looks utterly breathtaking for weeks. Sometimes plants can be downright contrary. But when they look this lovely, you forgive them anything.