Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. 29.09.12.

We were expecting to find the first flashes of autumn colour on a trip to the Sir Harold Hillier gardens in September, and there were certainly some spectacular trees and shrubs. The Japanese Maples in particular were glowing, but the thing that really struck me was the quality of the low autumn sunshine and the remarkable effects it created.

The gardens are built on the edge of a slight rise in the land and fall away gently (for the most part) from the centre. The broad open spaces through the garden expand into views of the wider landscape. Mown grass is a perfect foil to the diverse shapes and shadows of the trees.
Gloria prefers to linger in the shade. She says it adds drama to her photographs. We have never explored this lower part of the garden because Gloria refuses to use the disability vehicles that are available. She is a little frail, and grass makes her ankles swell.

Every supermarket car park in the country can demonstrate that medium sized shrubs eventually become formless blobs. This group of Picea glauca 'Alberta Blue' was a dramatic reminder of the variety and quality of planting that is possible. These were wonderful in the sunlight, but I imagine they are just as striking on a misty day decorated with cobwebs.

There are a lot of selections of Acer rubrum now available to provide early autumn colour. Generally the green leaves change to scarlet in patches through the tree until the whole thing glows. There are a number of these large A.r. 'Schlesingeri' planted in groups through the gardens making a very bright display.

Grasses are currently surfing into the limelight on a wave of fashion, as they do every couple of decades. In general terms they are rather dull but strong light through the flower heads brings the display to life. This large group of Miscanthus sinensis 'Malepartus' do the job admirably. In duller conditions one might lament the absence of a large grazing herbivore. It seems a pity to grow an elephant grass yet not have an elephant.

There are a great many dogwoods grown for the colour of their winter stems. A few have variergated foliage to conceal their summer deficiencies, but Cornus alba 'Aurea' makes a good show throughout the year. It has large golden leaves that don't burn in moderate sun, and planted where it will catch the light it is amazingly dramatic.

The Jubilee border was planted in spring this year and it has grown and developed well in its first season. Rabbit netting has been added since we were last here. It protects the plants with minimal intrusion into the scene. It is the busiest part of the garden (if you don't count the cafe) and will become even more popular as it matures.

Bright light adds drama to this Nepeta x faassenii. It is a common plant that has fallen from fashion. It can look a bit tired in bright summer sunshine. In the low afternoon light against a dark backdrop it was astonishing.

Actaea simplex is a difficult plant to find a position for. The leaves are starting to look rather tired by the time it flowers. This is one of the 'Atropurpurea' group which would have been a tidy little patch of purple leaves through the spring and has then erupted into this wonderful and bizarre firework display of white flower spikes in autumn.

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