Home now and then Posted on October 29, 2012

Home from California to a near-drowning garden. There have been no cold nights to start leaves turning, and no sunshine to cook the colours. Red is simply not present in the palette, except in that guaranteed pillarbox, Acer p. ‘Osakazuki’ , and even he is reluctant. There is yellow here and there but little brilliance. And many trees have simply shed their leaves – certainly not for lack of water.


We had invited neighbours over on Saturday, even enticed them with a glass of wine, to see what is usually a pretty calorific display. On Friday, with more rain and a north wind forecast, I emailed them again, saying don’t bother, but we’ll try again in two weeks. By that time at least the Japanese maples en masse should have caught fire. But I gather from Tony Kirkham at Kew that their trees are baffled by this autumn, too. I should have learned that the best results arrive at the last moment.

So, dry indoors, we have been editing old transparencies, going back to our arrival at Saling in 1971. Even one of the big red removal van at the front door. The elms soared above everything then – but only for the first five years. The thought of an ash disease makes me shudder: where the elms died it was the ashes and oaks that gave us hope and slowly supplied the missing vertical element in our landscape. We thanked heavens for the speed and grace of the silvery cricket bat willow. We still do.

Looking at ancient transparencies makes me realize how easily we accepted some terrible photographs. Most of the illustrations in The Garden in the1970s, when I was in charge of the magazine, look dire today. I used to consider a transparency with a clear image, adequately lit, a success. The ones I am chucking out revive lots of sweet memories, but only just. Most are plain gloomy.


I thought in the 1970s, and I think now, that we underuse the admirable Norway maple in this country. If we are looking for a full-size, quite fast growing tree to back up our modest native choice (and we are), the Norway maple is an excellent candidate. It is not so tough and wind-resistant as its cousin the sycamore Not a candidate for the seaside. But it is infinitely more attractive, with its yellow flowers in spring and its reliable yellow autumn colour. Indeed it is one of the brightest things in the garden today.

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