Suddenly last week, the cold weather hit us with temperatures falling to 3C. The previous week or two, leaves had already begun to fall in earnest with some strong winds. Then the clocks went back, the nights now come earlier and tonight it’s Bonfire Night – all signs we’re into Autumn for real. It has felt a little unreal up till now … and even today, the temperatures were back up to double figures.
We’ve had very little rain and warm days with – relatively – lots of sunshine and blue skies. We even had to water the London Rd Station gardens from a hosepipe last week while two of our three water butts are out of action: one leaking, another needing serious cleaning. Watering in November? That’s unheard of … by now in the year, we are often trying to save plants from over-soggy soil and putting up warning signs in the compost area about slippery steps. And our pretty pink cosmos has been blooming in the tree pit, having refused to flower earlier in the summer because of the drought.
With this year’s harvest more or less complete – amazingly there are still beans and bright orange flowers on our runner bean plants – we turned our attention to the neglected shady triangle. This area at the south end of the station is really tricky; it’s dry shade. Much of the year it’s under a thick leaf canopy from the sycamore trees alongside, and their roots have clearly grown under the tarmac path into the garden we’ve been trying to develop. We worked hard on the soil there back in 2011 – I say ‘soil’, much of it was originally rubble and sand. We’ve deposited years and years of compost on the garden, but still it has a tendency to dry out. With hot weather this year, we concentrated our attention on keeping the edible crops watered and left the shady area to fend for itself. Up until now – when we tried to dig in cyclamen and pansies, we found the soil very hard to break through.
However, we’ve persevered. We’ve planted a lot of brightly coloured cyclamen which seem to do well in dryish shade. The RHS website says they like humus-rich soil (tick – that’s compost and leaves) and should be mulched with leaf mould when the leaves die down (we have plenty of that too). We also planted some tough old perennials with varied foliage which should withstand the difficult conditions: Alchemilla mollis, which self-seeds endlessly in my garden; spreading campanula (I think it’s Campanula porteschlagiana, such a grand name for what around here counts as weed that grows in walls); some pot bound liriope and several hypericum, which had taken up residence in my garden and needed a larger stage. The Fatsia japonica and Mahonia japonica which we planted back in 2011 have grown solidly, along with the Aucuba japonica which we got as tiny window box plants about five years ago and are now well established. It looks like the ‘japonica’ shrubs are the ones that do well in this difficult plot, but it’s been great to see that the native woodland Pulmonaria, transplanted from mineral-rich soil in Wales, are also doing well and have self-seeded in various places. I’m sure there are all kinds of other plant-bombs in there just waiting for a bit more rain to help them push up through the toughened soil.