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Diary of a Cultural Gardener – September 2020

September’s sun is soft and mellow, infusing the garden with a luminous, warm gold. It is a month of transition as the autumn equinox turns us towards shorter days.

Dew now lingers on the lawn late into the morning and the planting undergoes an alchemy. The vibrant summer colours shift, as greens turn to gold, yellows become bronze and the autumn-flowering asters sprinkle the scene with tiny stars of purple. September is a magical month in the garden.

Tom Stuart-Smith has designed the planting so that the garden has new charm with every season, and he has selected perennials which look just as beautiful at the end of the season as at the beginning. By September, the plants which bloomed earlier in the year no longer need to attract pollinators with vivid petals and so they spend the autumn preparing for the colder months to come by ripening their seeds and drawing energy from their leaves into their roots. The lipstick-pink petals of Echinacea pallida, so bright in midsummer have faded now and only the seedheads remain. Saturated with an intense darkness, they stand out with a new beauty as inky silhouettes against the golden grasses.

The end of summer provides a perfect moment to assess a garden’s development and cohesion.  A few weeks ago, our garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith and I walked around the space together, with the planting plans in hand, making notes on the work required for the season ahead. The majority of the garden was planted last year using 14,000 herbaceous perennials. We work with a high planting density, so that when the garden is established you shouldn’t be able to see any soil between the plants and the foliage should billow abundantly over the edges of the paths. It is common in a brand-new garden to have a few areas where plants have struggled and haven’t quite filled the area as quickly as one would hope. In our garden there are some beds where you can still see quite a lot of soil. During September, we have been working to address these issues by forking-over compacted areas of ground to let more air in and shifting a few plants in their groups to improve the spacing. We are grateful to the nursery Crocus, who supplied all the plants for the garden, as this month they have gifted us with 245 additional perennials, which have been planted in various pockets as part of this process of gapping-up. We should see the rewards of this work next spring, as the garden will take on a fuller, richer quality as the perennials continue to knit together.

In the last few weeks, work has begun to revitalise the Rutland Mill complex along the south side of the garden. It is an area comprising 10 acres of land and 5 Grade II listed, Victorian Mill buildings. It is hugely exciting to see work commence to create a vibrant community in the mills.  A new temporary fence is currently being erected along the edge of the garden to protect it from the construction next door. Whilst this will mean a change of scenery for the duration of the building programme, it will be brilliant to watch the newly renovated buildings emerge from their cacoon of scaffolding and this development will bring new life to the Wakefield Waterfront and a new community to the garden.

Katy Merrington
Cultural Gardener