Hard to believe that a week or so ago there was an outbreak of “Indian Summer” in Shetland. The whole islands discussed the phenomenon and its consequences: People smiling on “da street”. A little summer with all its rich tonality – pastorale – rural bliss – interspersed with allegro and scherzo – the lifting of spirits – gardeners gardening, fish jumping, cats mousing – flowers flowering – island inhabitants unusually cheerful.
I believe that in all other localities of the temperate world the appassionato of summer is gradually replaced by the armonioso and tenerazza of autumn – forests flare into colour, porcini break through the earth, grapes ripen on vines. But not here. We go from damp, drizzly, tepid adagio straight to furioso – in one harsh step. Fierce westerlies have assaulted the garden for days and toppled the colchicums, discreet support notwithstanding. The trees flanking the drive are all but bare, their remaining leaves curled into ragged cones. The Norwegian briars in the same locations have decided to hold on to theirs, and have thus been instantly transformed into something resembling those dry flower arrangements one still encounters all year round in certain pubs or coffee shops – frilly silver foliage and quaint red hips.
What hasn’t been torn off, curled or frilled has been sand or rather salt blasted. The west of the garden looks thrashed. Shelter that seemed not only adequate, but decidedly luxurious, from spring to summer, has vanished over night, leaving bare stems and branches for the wind to whistle through.
There’s nothing for it but to plant some more, but not immediately, as I’m not only about to jump ship but have also grown too tender and cowardly with advancing years to expose myself to the certain risk of contracting pneumonia out there.
Earlier this year the “Falkofie” planting was established at the bottom of our drive; an assortment of tall and less tall shrubs that had languished in their pots for years and were extremely root-bound as a result. I didn’t hold out much hope for them, but didn’t want to dampen the enthusiasm of Falko and Sofie (our German volunteers the planting is named after) who worked unbelievably hard to hack their way through thick, matted turf, dug planting pits, removed a whole Matterhorn of rocks and carted down countless towering wheelbarrow loads of horse manure to be used as a nutritious mulch.
Given the cold, damp summer, I was convinced that July (a freezing cold month even by Shetland standards) was far too late to get them established well enough to survive their first winter in a very exposed location.
How very wrong I was. Three months on, thirty-nine shrubs (no. 40 didn’t make it), are not only settled in, but have also put on considerable growth as well as produced a sprinkling of out of season flowers.
None were blown out of the ground by the gales as feared, and none had rocked loose. The weigelas and flowering currants have shed their leaves early, the potentillas look a little burnt, but the evergreens, hebes, escallonias and olearias look good all considering, while several gorse bushes (Ulex europaeus ‘Irish Double’) are as fresh as the proverbial daisy.
Brief sunny spells have lured me out into the garden’s most sheltered regions where proper autumn is in progress. The tempest has left a charming, seasonal foliar arrangement on my door mat. Glossy, honey-coloured fungi are sprouting on the lawn, Hydrangea petiolaris has changed from green to luminous yellow, and some of my ladies in waiting look charmingly seasonal. There is an especially pretty pair just outside my front door: Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’ graced with fresh, pale green blossom, and Enkianthus campanulatus in deepest October crimson. Both should have been planted out years ago, but judging by the “Falkofie” success, I have no worries.
The Back Yard has also yielded a few delights. One of the many Leycesteria formosa seedlings that escaped the spade this spring has produced handsome strings of maroon fruit, and there’s some striking autumn colour at ground level courtesy of I don’t know what. Perhaps a small rheum? (Why is it that plants I’m familiar with have labels and those that puzzle me do not?)
The wind has dropped from furioso to agitato with the odd crescendo thrown in for good measure, but I’m hoping for sotto voce for my forthcoming sea voyage.