A benign autumn has drawn this beautiful season out and the wood below us, our backdrop and litmus for seasonal change, has taken its time. The poplars are the first to return to bare bones, their sage-green plumage blackening before it falls the distance. Standing grey-limbed and newly naked, their retreat into dormancy reveals the relationships in the wood. A pool of yellow where the hornbeam are happy under the poplar’s influence and the luminous understorey of hazel. Casting my mind back to spring, the Corylus were last visible when they stirred with creamy catkin and it has been the summer since we were aware of them on all but the fringes. As late to lose their leaves as they were early to catkin, the last fortnight has seen them flare a second time, but it won’t be long before the winter sun once again falls to earth to graze the contours and the silvery line of the stream.
Although the wood is separated from our perch on the hillside by the slopes that run below us, when you are immersed in the garden, the wood is drawn deliberately close. Walking the paths in the tall autumn garden, the two become one, working at different scales but on the same principles. The layering of taller plants revealing the understories and movements of plants that now come into their second season. Panicum that ignite as they colour and the butteryness of the Euphorbia that step through the planting and bring it together as the hazel does in the wood.
Brightest of them all in this last run of colour are the Amsonia hubrichtii, the Narrow Leaved Bluestar from Arkansas. Their first moment is in early summer when they break a late dormancy and race to flower when the garden is flooded with energy. At this point they are more flower than foliage, clusters of blue-grey stars appearing around knee height and at the reach of their stems. Though undeniably pretty, they are modest plants and are the support act to the Iris sibirica through which they are planted. Once their flowers dim you all but forget about them as they quietly fill out to form a mound of needle-fine foliage.
I have kept the plants deliberately close to the path so that they have enough sunshine to remind them of home and their place in open grassland. They are staggered on both sides of the path so that the path and the repetition allows your eye to carry as it does in the woods with the glowing hazel. Those that catch the best of the light have done better than those that get overshadowed, so it is worth remembering to keep them in the company of plants that come later in the season and do not crowd them out when they are building up their strength for seed production and another year. When they are happy, Amsonia are long lived plants, happy to sit in one position like a peony or a baptisia, going without division or additional cosseting.
In tandem with the last colour in the woods, the Amsonia have become more luminous in this final fling. Lighting up as if from within, they are visible again under the Molinia, giving the last of the asters the company they need to not feel alone. If their autumn blaze had a function other than to bring us pleasure, you could say that they were quietly planning for this moment. Their flash of glory before winter finally takes hold.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 20 November 2021