As we progress into October, our gardens change. The flush and excitement of early spring are over: everywhere, azaleas - that looked so glorious a month ago - are covered in the papery brown ruins of their flowers, victims of petal blight. The intoxicating blooms of the jasmine that heralded the end of winter (Jasminum polyanthum) have gone; the delightful spring bulbs of jonquils, freesias, babianas and spring starflowers are now sad floppy, fading bunches of straggling leaves. The fairy-floss blossoms of Prunus and flowering quince are just fond memories, and the lilac trusses of Wisteria have been replaced by a tangled mass of questing new twining stems. To non-gardeners, the end of these flowers means there is nothing more of interest in the garden till next spring.
However, all is not lost, as we have entered the season that Tim Entwisle in his book Sprinter and Sprummer: Australia's changing seasons (2014) has dubbed 'sprummer' (which I've always called 'late spring'), which comprises October and November in Sydney. He bases his seasonal categories on the timing of native and exotic plant flowerings and the activities of animals, as well as weather patterns, with sprummer being a time of unpredictable and unsettled weather before we move into summer - and boy, hasn't the weather been bizarre this past week! Entwisle believes the traditional four seasons we imported from Europe are not appropriate for us here in Australia.
Certainly, October and November have a different feel about them to early spring (Entwisle calls August and September 'sprinter'). I actually prefer this time of year to early spring (possibly because I don't have many sprinter flowers?!). A host of interesting shrubs come into flower in October, with a quartet of classic deciduous ones bringing gorgeous fresh blooms amidst fresh new leaves on arching canes. The funnel-shaped pink, white or cerise flowers of Weigela; the large, flat, white blooms of Philadelphus; the soft pink or white bells of Deutzia; and the round white 'snowballs' of Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' (syn. 'Sterile') make a significant statement at this time of year and make good back-of-the-border shrubs. There are dwarf varieties of some of these around these days for compact spaces. Another lovely shrub in flower now is the yesterday-today-tomorrow bush (Brunfelsia australis) with its scented flowers that open violet in colour, then change to pale blue and then white, giving a multicoloured effect. There is a small version of this plant too, called 'Sweet Petite' (ht 1 m).
This time of year is when cottage-style gardens with their profusion of English perennials are at their peak. I've found that many of these don't flourish well in Sydney (in my garden, anyway), because of our mild winters and humid summers, but I still have vestiges from my cottage-garden days: the ones that do perform well, and I love seeing them in sprummer. The tall purple-blue spires of clumping Campanula rapunculus give that quintessential cottagey look; at groundcover level, pretty Campanula poscharskyana is about to open its blue, white or pink bells. Self-seeding Linaria purpurea is starting to bloom, with slim spires of tiny pink, white or purple flowers. Lychnis coronaria is sending up its felted, silvery stems, which will open to cerise or white blooms. Tall bearded irises are opening their flamboyant inflorescences, in a rainbow of hues. The beautiful nodding heads of Aquilegia are appearing, and the very best species Geranium for Sydney, 'Rozanne', is just about to open its first buds. In gardens with roses (alas, not mine) they are coming to their peak now.
Elsewhere in the garden, hybrid Fuchsia are budding up, as are the many and varied forms of Hydrangea shrubs, with the promise of their plump domed heads in November. All the Salvia that were cut back brutally hard in August have filled out again and are just starting to reveal their colours, which will last all summer and into autumn. All my stalwart warm-climate shrubs, also pruned in August, such as cane Begonia, Justicia carnea, Plectranthus, Brillantaisia, Cuphea and Gardenia are growing madly; and Canna and Dahlia are rising up from the ground to make their big clumps again.
Jacaranda trees have shed their leaves and look quite bare: soon they will be producing their simmering purple haze of flowers all over Sydney; and the Australian native Illawarra flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius) has also lost all its foliage. If we are lucky, it will open its orange-scarlet bells flower at the same time as the Jacaranda, giving us the brilliant spectacle.
This is a fabulous time of year! Let me know what's out in your garden now.
The allure of the orchid cactus
24 Oct 21
This intriguing epiphytic plant is in bloom now.
Ageing and gardening
17 Oct 21
As one gets older, there is the need to rethink aspects of one's garden.
Painting with coleus
10 Oct 21
Coleus can make wonderful pictures in the garden.
03 Oct 21
Tough and undemanding plants from my parents' garden are favourites in my own.
The value of green spaces
26 Sep 21
Earlier this year, I visited Callan Park in Sydney's inner west.