In the pink: spider chrysanthemums. Photograph: Alamy
We are caught between two seasons. Look up and the branches are mostly bare, the last of the summer leaves tilted against the rush of water-heavy cloud. Look down at your feet and the pavements have lost their rustle, what piles of leaves remaining pushed into wet corners and drained of colour. I want it to be one thing or the other.
November is not a time when you think of the garden providing for you. If they have escaped the frost, there might be a muddle of the last dahlias, sapped of their earlier colour by the wet and the cool nights. Chrysanthemums will also be in their last throws, and when I see them grown well I always wonder why I have once again forgotten to track the plants down in the spring. I grew the spider chrysanthemums for a while after seeing displays in Japan and loved their long, filamentous petals, their rusty autumnal colours and musty-green aroma. Next year I will combine them with late-flowering miscanthus, to play with an autumnal combination that eventually rewards you for patiently waiting.
In terms of combinations, it was not a particularly wonderful autumn. The colour was late and then the gales at the end of last month saw to the show. I plan very carefully for autumn colour, as it is one of the finest moments of the year, combining berries with the last flowers and hoping that it will be a good year for autumn-colouring foliage. Though we can count on a generous handful of trees that will reliably colour, hoping that they will all do it together is something you have to put in the hands of the gods.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kascade’. Photograph: Alamy
I was delighted again this year by the Schizostylis coccinnea that spill over the wall in a garden up the road. The Kaffir lily is remarkable for the lateness of its flower, coming after its South African cousins the Amaryllis belladonna and Nerine bowdenii. In combination, all of the above are remarkable but though the Kaffir lily likes the sunshine, it is happier with a little more moisture at its feet. Once again, though, this autumn I found myself without, having forgotten in the rush of spring to plan ahead for this late in the season. As they like to be moved in the spring, I will make a note in my calendar to “order the Shizostylis” so that I can combine them with late asters and put them at the base of a Hamamelis “Diane” that colours tomato red just before the foliage drops in the autumn.
Plants that have more than one season are star rated in my mind, and “Diane” will return with starry-red flowers. In turn – for one combination should always knit to another – I’ll carpet under the hamamelis with Tellima grandiflora “Purpurea” for its rusted evergreen foliage, and among the tellima there will be colchicum for their autumn crocuses and surprisingly lustrous winter foliage. A shine on a leaf in the winter will make low sunshine sparkle and bring a lift in the dark weeks ahead of us.