I am thrilled to kick off my first column of a long series for the Cambridge Edition, which we will share on our brand new Blog :)
This month, as Autumn, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ (John Keats), is my absolute favourite. As far as I am concerned, it’s the end and the beginning of the gardening year. Forget about new pencil cases and shoes, it’s new seeds, bulbs and gorging on the harvest and bounty from the previous seasons.
I have friends that find this time of shortening days and lower light challenging but I appreciate this period to take stock and prepare for the next growing year after a long, hot summer. I wonder each morning if the temperature has dropped to freezing and called time on this year’s annuals, especially game over for the dahlias. Usually, we can hope that it’s mid-November before we grieve for the summer’s flowers. At which point, we let the dahlias really blacken and die down, lift, dry out upside down and pack away for the winter. Other jobs this month include splitting spring flowering perennials, planting out tulips and mulching the beds and borders with a deep blanket of organic matter to insulate, feed, retain moisture and suppress weeds. This really is the best thing you can do for your plants with the bonus of the beds looking neat and tidy! I cut down any dead flowers` that are broken or messy but generally I leave these over the winter for a bit of height and interest together with some shelter for insects. A frosty cobweb on poppy seed heads or strung across grasses glisten on a winter’s morning.
So instead of being able to cut abundantly from our flower gardens, I need to look further to the hedgerows to supplement my arrangements and illustrate the season. Foraging is particularly de rigueur with florists using berries, branches and dried seed heads in their work and I love that this season offers such diversity for display and in the kitchen. But a few ground rules – you can only forage from public rights of way or common land and never for commercial purposes. I only forage for my work or take participants on guided walks on private land or footpaths where I have the landowner’s permission. You should only take what you really need or will eat, and only where the material is in abundance. The trick is, if you can’t spot where have foraged, then you are doing it right. Thus, there will be enough for wildlife or the plant to continue to grow and fruit the following year. Finally, be aware of rare, protected or poisonous species and never dig a plant up.
In November, I love to use rich red Rosehips and the hot pink of euonymus seed heads in arrangements, dried seed heads in vases with grasses and flexible hazel and beech branches as autumn wreath bases. Wild clematis or Old Man’s Beard has great fluffy seed heads and looks so pretty with physalis (orange Chinese lanterns). I also start squirreling away material to dry or preserve for Christmas wreaths. Whilst I love heavy thick moss based green wreaths, I find myself experimenting with dried wreaths on branch bases and tying in foraged and saved fragile dried flower heads. More of that next month at our Wreath classes and Christmas installations.
Anna runs a ‘Grow your own Cut Flower’ practical course across the year and seasonal flower arranging classes from the studio on her flower farm in Audley End, Saffron Walden.