Great Comp Autumn Extravaganza

Sunday saw me driving the few short miles to the gardens of Great Comp for the aptly named Autumn Extravaganza. Having been at Great Dixter the weekend before, October is shaping up to be a month of great gardens and gardening events, and we’re not even half way through.

I arrived in bright sunshine to find the borders in their full late-summer glory, grasses and perennials having filled out and drawn themselves up to their full stature, and giving every impression of returning the admiring glances of the visitors with something approaching condescension, arising from a pride in the knowledge that this, of all moments in the year, is the moment in which they look their absolute best. I think we can allow the contents of the borders their lofty attitude; they look very fine indeed.

On to the plants. A goodly selection of specialist nurseries, although I had the impression that there were fewer than at the Spring Fling. Sufficient in number to provide temptation to a gardener with a roving eye, however.

I was half hoping to track down my unicorn, a plant that I’ve been after all year since one of my clients saw it in the prairie gardens at Wisley. I’d seen a few diminutive pots of the Arkansas bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii, at Dixter last weekend but, having left my wallet at home, I was saved from having to buy the things – something of which I was quite glad, not having been entirely confident of my ability to see the tiddlers through the winter. Amsonia seems to be growing in popularity – a mainly North American relative of the periwinkle, although not sharing the vinca’s slovenly posture it bears its light blue, star-shaped flowers in early summer on upright stems. It hasn’t been hard to get hold of Amsonia tabernaemontana, and I spied A. ciliata on the stand of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants at Chelsea earlier in the year (Rob and Rosy stock several species, I’ve subsequently found).

But Hubricht’s bluestar has much thinner, needle-like leaves, and in autumn, it does this...

Amsonia hubrichtii in full autumn colour the impression of the original Old Testament burning bush. I’ve learned from badgering various people that it does take a good while to bulk up, and had resigned myself to having to wait till next year. So you can imagine my joy to find that Paul Barney of Edulis, had brought several decent sized specimens with him. Those were coming home with me.

Today’s offerings, as you might expect from a plant fair in October, were distinctly shrubby, with the odd climber or tree thrown in for good measure. You might think this would be boring but, in that opinion, you’d be wrong.

I’m always a bit of a sucker for an attractive ilex, and the prickly pineapple holly, Ilex aquifolium 'Myrtifolia' bears perfectly formed, glossy green leaves about an 3cm long by 1cm wide, bristling with spines. It’s a neat, compact specimen, with the young shoots exhibiting a slight purplish tinge.

Ilex aquifolium 'Myrtifolia'
This next plant might quicken the pulse of even the most hardened hater of the ubiquitous evergreen euonymus. Euonymus fortunei 'Wolong Ghost' can be used as a mat-forming ground cover, or trained as a climber. It has thin, deep green glossy leaaves, with a prominent white mid-rib and veins, together with the usual pink spindleberry winged fruit.

Euonymus fortunei 'Wolong Ghost'
Now, writing about what I saw at the weekend, I wish I’d bought them all! But one plant that did come home with me is a variety of something very familiar, in the guise of something completely alien. If I hadn’t read the label, I’d never for a moment have believed this to be a cultivar of the wonderfully scented Confederate jasmine. This is Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Water Wheel', its deep blue-green leaves now having taken on the autumnal purple tint, although the silvery midrib still evident. The flowers are present in summer, although small.

Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Waterwheel'
Continuing the oddly narrow leaved theme of the day, this version of the alder buckthorn was new to me. Frangula alnus 'Fine Line', a deciduous shrub of columnar habit, not quite yet in its autumn shades.

Frangula alnus 'Fine Line'
And who can resist the wonderful autumn colour and rounded lobes of the rootbeer tree, Sassafras albidum? Not I.

Sassafras albidum. Used to flavour rootbeer
As I made my way towards the exit, clutching my small haul of plants, I became aware of a delicious smell, some baked fruit pudding, covered with caramelised sugar and just beginning to catch and burn at the edges. I spend t a few moments scouting the area for the culprit, and soon joined a group of people shuffling about in the fallen leaves beneath a katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum.

What’s that smell? Probably Cercidiphyllum japonicum