When I began writing about gardens in the early 1980s, if I was asked to write a feature on visiting them at this time of year, it would almost invariably focus on the autumn foliage colour of specific trees and shrubs: blazing maples at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire, perhaps, or the spectacle of Nyssa foliage reflected in the lake at Sheffield Park, East Sussex.
Today, there is so much more on offer for the coming season, reflecting an exciting change that has taken place in our gardens in the past couple of decades: a surge of interest in late-flowering perennials, most of which are looking their best now and will continue through October.
A selection of gardens opening in aid of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) charities in the coming weeks shows off this trend with aplomb, and none more so than Cold Cotes (NGS opening on Saturday, September 28) at Kettlesing, in the North Yorkshire countryside near Harrogate. Garden paths wind between sweeping borders and blocks of herbaceous plants inspired by the work of Piet Oudolf. The presiding genius of this style of garden, he’s had a profound influence on English gardens despite being based in Holland.
The tiny garden at 73, Saxilby Road, Sturton by Stow (opens on Sunday, October 6) in the depths of the Lincolnshire countryside, is a mass of late-flowering perennials, including helenium, grasses and, in particular, asters. The adjacent nursery offers a good selection of them, as well as cuttings from their renowned collection of tender fuchsias. Not far away, at Norwell Nurseries, Norwell (Sunday, October 13) in Nottinghamshire, the autumn speciality is a wonderful collection of chrysanthemums.
Also on October 13, and still with nursery plants in mind, at 8, Gosselin Road, Bengeo, in Hertfordshire, the owners of Daisy Roots have completely re-planned the garden into a winding gravel path flanked by luxuriant borders most artistically arranged, despite quite limited space.
From late summer right through autumn, they showcase a medley of choice herbaceous perennials and grasses. Autumn is also a season for contemplative visits, when, in many places, the exuberant shades of midsummer aren’t jostling for your attention and there is modern design or sculpture to admire.
At Radcot House, near Bampton in Oxfordshire (on Sunday, October 6), the owners have transformed the 2-and-a-half acres surrounding their gabled house. Late-flowering plants are a priority, within a carefully designed garden of many rooms.
And in Herefordshire, at Newport House, Almeley, another notable house is the centerpiece for a garden with ambitious recent development-in particular, the spectacular re-creation of a Victorian kitchen garden within a two-and-a-half-acre walled garden. From Saturday, October 12 to Sunday, October 20 inclusive, the extensive gardens will host an exhibition of modern sculpture. One of England’s most historic landscapes that has seen spectacular recent developments is at Boughton House, Geddington in Northamptonshire (Saturday and Sunday, October 26 and 27), including work by Kim Wilkie.
At this time of year, the landscape setting of the château-like house in its parkland setting is reason enough for a visit, but you can also enjoy walks through the woodland wilderness and the jewel-like garden of the Dower House next door, created by a legendary gardening partnership, Sir David Scott and his wife, Valerie Finnis. Last but not least, one of the most flamboyant gardens made anywhere in the past 30 years, East Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk, opens for the NGS on Saturday, October 12. At this time of year, the garden’s wonderful views out to the church and lighthouse beside the sea are at their clearest, and in the garden, there is still a dazzling array of plants to enjoy.
Full details, including directions, times of opening and admission prices can be found at www.ngs.org.uk or by telephoning 01483 211535
George Plumptre is Chief Executive of the National Gardens Scheme