Discovering summer plants in September

A stunning display of dahlias at Avebury Manor House.
A stunning display of dahlias at Avebury Manor House.

The second half of September is so often synonymous with fading blooms and bedding displays, early signs of autumn and decidedly cooler evenings, that you have to ask the question ‘What can I do about it?’

We did, and the short range weather forecast came up with an answer for us. Fourteen Celsius in the north and 24 in the south said take a leaf out of the swallows’ book and head in that general direction.

Dared we hope to find summer plants still in bloom and gardens worth visiting? Armed with the National Trust handbook, last-minute accommodation organised and a tank full of petrol, we set off for Cornwall full of hope. It’s a long haul getting there so two stages seemed appropriate; Lesbury to Lacock in the Cotswolds for overnight stay, then on to our base south of St Austell.

We’ve visited several Cotswold gardens in the past, two of which stand out; Hidcote Manor, an Arts-and-Crafts Movement garden with outdoor ‘rooms’, created by the American horticulturalist Major Lawrence Johnston.

It’s close to Stratford-on-Avon. Nearby is Kiftsgate Court, birthplace of arguably the most vigorous rambling rose on the planet. It was discovered growing there in the 1930s and named in 1951. Indeed, the original plant still thrives, a giant way in excess of 50 foot tall with huge spread. The single, white flowers are highly scented in midsummer.

Both gardens are worth seeing.

This time we took in Avebury Manor House which is surrounded by the famous standing stones.

It featured in a BBC television documentary which covered the restoration, and is now open to the public.

Unusually for a National Trust property, visitors are allowed to lie on beds, sit on sofas. But it was the garden that caught my attention. Flowers everywhere in full bloom. In particular a parterre set within its own walls absolutely full of dahlias and attendant butterflies.

Evidence of summer, it augured well for Cornwall.