A garden for all seasons

Judith Lywood has lived in her house in Bath for 20 years. Over this time, the garden that she first created from a builder’s yard has been a source of constant pleasure. Judith writes here about the garden and about some of the plants that make themselves felt in October.

Whether it’s the smell of the soil or newly mown grass, a walled garden with lavender and climbing roses, the old fashioned hay with its wafts of clover and odour of burning leaves in autumn’s bonfire, all these memories are with me forever. One never loses them.

I am an 88 year old and I have designed gardens of all shapes and sizes for the last 50 years. I now live in a Georgian townhouse at the top of a hill overlooking Bath, on a quiet side road. My present garden I created from scratch over 20 years ago, with a fair degree of structure, to maximise the interest in the beds. The emphasis is on colour in the garden, which includes shrubs, climbers, perennials, topiary, pots and an area for children and pets to enjoy.

When I started creating gardens, I had no real knowledge, often working from the barest of bones and with limited funds. During that time, through my own trial and error, I have learnt what I need to create a garden, one that gives and keeps on giving throughout the seasons – you can do this too.

My garden is divided into eight areas of key interest, starting through the gate with bed one and the Woodland Garden, then bed two full of cottage garden planting, then there are pots on a patio area that is planted seasonally, followed by the ‘Pot Theatre’, the Fernery, the Narrow Walled Garden, the Gravel Garden and The Wall Bed.

The most recent addition is the Gravel Garden. This was introduced in recognition of how the changing climate is causing long, dry, extreme summers and the need to conserve water. Ever since I travelled to Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden in Colchester, Essex, 20 years ago, which requires absolutely no watering, I have been inspired to do the same on a much smaller scale. We chose drought-tolerant flowering plants for the Gravel Garden, such as Mediterranean herbs, Dianthus, Diascia, Eryssimum, Geranium, Valerian, Erigeron (Fleabane) and Eryngium.

This addition has produced a completely different feeling in the corner of the garden, which is sunk below the house and you are are constantly looking up, which gives different views, including one of Bath in the distance. This part of the garden requires little to no watering, self seeding is encouraged, and scent and colour attract more pollinators.

An October perspective
October sees the garden beginning a new transition, taking a new and slower pace. The weather has started to change: mornings are misty, cooler in temperature and the sun takes a lower position in the sky. Leaves are swept, sometimes twice daily, summer’s flowers are slowing, and soon it will be time to cut back, tidy up and mulch the garden, putting it to bed for winter. But there is still colour to be found. With careful planting choices, your garden can still be colourful and abundant well into autumn.

Plants of interest in October
Acer palmatum ‘Ozakazuki’ (Heptalabum Group)
Our Acer is vivid green through the summer months, but come autumn turns the most beautiful ruby red, then a caramel colour, before dropping its leaves to reveal bare vibrant red stems, which give the garden colour right the way through the winter.

Pyracantha ‘Mohave’ (evergreen)
Grown as a free-standing shrub, hedging or against a wall, this wildlife-friendly shrub will provide amber or red berries through the autumn and winter, which will attract birds into your garden, as they love feasting on them. This appears in varying forms, and October is a brilliant time of year to prune back the long prickly, green leafy stems to reveal the colourful berries.

Above: Pyracantha ‘Mohave’
Above: A striking combination of Clematis ‘Bill Mackenzie’, Verbena bonariensis, Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’, Alstroemeria ‘Sirius’ and Salvia sagittata x ‘Blue butterflies’

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
A tree grown for its colour, manageable size and leaf interest. The Forest Pansy tree will turn brilliant reds, bronzes and purples throughout autumn and winter. Enjoy its magnificent colour until spring when it reveals clusters of pink flowers on bare stems. This is a good time to remove any diseased, broken or crossing branches.

Cloud-pruned Yew Tree (Taxus baccata)
This is a key feature of the garden, often admired by passers-by, and it is situated above our woodland garden. This is the time of year for the yew tree to be cloud-pruned, when it is more dormant. It has taken over 10 years to establish this formal shape. As a member of the Topiary Society I had to include this in my garden. With the rest being so blousy and informal, there should always be contrast, and for us this is through formal, clipped topiary, sitting above cottage garden and woodland planting.

Prunus ‘Amanogawa’
Chosen for its narrow, fastigiate growth (with branches more or less parallel to the main stem), this is good for a small garden as it does not overwhelm or overshadow the borders and beds it grows in. In spring it reveals clusters of highly scented, very striking pink blossom. Autumn sees the leaves turning to orange and red, making it a particularly ornate and attractive tree through all seasons.

Dahlia ‘Otto’s Thrill’
This striking dinner plate, magenta pink dahlia towers to a meter and a half, and can be spotted over the holly hedge. This sculptural dahlia flowers from late summer into autumn. On a misty autumn morning it looks quite spectacular, bringing abundance and colour to the garden. It will soon start winding down, with fewer and fewer flowers being produced. Before the first frost, it will be cut down to a third and covered in a thick mound of mulch – this will protect tubers from rotting, and ensure that they are preserved for the year after. We cut to a third so that the stems can always be seen, and the dahlias are marked so they are not walked over, damaged and not covered with other plants.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
This is a delicate hydrangea with unusual, cone-shaped flowers. Leave on the brown flower heads and don’t be tempted to cut them off yet. They will give shelter for small insects but will also provide appeal during the winter months when the garden is lacking in interest.

Judith Lywood is the author of Garden Design Made Simple (Cloister House Press), £19.95. Judith is having a garden open day at Trafalgar House, 29 Sion Hill, Bath BA1 2UW on 5 October, from 10am–12pm and from 2–4pm. Entry through the back gate, £10 cash on the door.

Featured image: Late summer colour in the form of Dahlias, Phlox and Hydrangea