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The Endsleigh Gardener: Season of Mists & Mellow Fruitfulness by Ben Ruscombe-King

Whilst I’ve been waiting for summer to start autumn has rather crept up on me. This morning it had well and truly arrived – with hints of red berries and yellow leaves peeking out from the swirling Devon mist, the drive lined with crisp autumn leaves and squirrels scurrying in and out of view as they collect their winter horde with a sudden urgency. I love autumn and would definitely elect it as my favourite season but for it being the precursor to the dark months of winter. Far from being the end of the growing season, autumn in the garden heralds several weeks when the senses are almost impossibly overloaded: flowers are still abundant, trees and shrubs still hold their form but added to the mix are the golden hues and fiery tints and – with the sun lower in the sky – everything seems to glow. The sound quality of autumn is somehow different as well, with sound carrying further and reverberating longer and – whilst spring and summer are certainly not short on scents – autumn has a smell that is unmistakable, all its own and a little heady and invigorating, just enough for the final push before curling up for winter hibernation.

Wandering around the dell the first little hints of autumn are beginning to creep in, the acers have touches of their autumn hues when viewed with the sun behind, a little hint of the neon-like display still to come. A few Darmera peltata leaves have started to redden, the Euonymus too are colouring up – they are covered in their peculiar fruit and await the ‘second flowering’ when the pink pods open to reveal the bright orange seeds beneath – a daring combination that faint hearted gardeners would never contemplate but when witnessed works so well. One Enkianthus in the rockery has already hit full firepower but we still have much to come with Liriodendrons, Taxodiums, Aralias, Gingkos, deciduous azaleas, not to mention numerous Japanese Acers, all about to produce their dazzling displays.    

The long border is as good as I’ve seen it at this time of year and is positively bursting with flowers: the late season stalwarts Sedum, Aster, Perovskia and Ceratostigma make up the backbone of the border through the end of the season but Gaura, Eupatorium, Persicaria, and Kalimeris are still flowering strongly – while Salvias, Verbena, Knautia and Ammi pop their heads up here and there to add height and froth. The blues, purples and burgundies give the border a regal air but Alstromeria and helianthus appear at intervals to stop it becoming too affected. In the rear, the roses on the rose walk are still valiantly flowering – though not in the vast swathes of high summer – and are now joined by rose hips to remind us that our dead heading left a little to be desired.

Predicting autumn colour is notoriously difficult with so many climatic and cultural factors to take into account, it took me several goes to catch Westonbirt arboretum in its full glory but it was certainly worth it when I did. At Endsleigh we usually expect the best colour as October ends but I have a feeling it’s going to be earlier this year as things are certainly happening already.

Autumn is certainly the most atmospheric and perhaps romantic time of year and in a garden already as romantic and atmospheric as Endsleigh a visit at this time of year will certainly offer a bounty for the senses.