Despite this summer’s disappointing weather, Richard Orton is feeling up beat as he reports on some unexpected successes in his garden at Lewis Cottage. He also recommends some Devon gardens that will be open to visitors during September under the National Gardens Scheme.

Is it just me or has this summer come and gone in a heartbeat? It seems just yesterday that I was sowing beans and peas in the greenhouse and now this week I’m collecting seed to dry and store over winter ready for sowing next spring.

Whatever the reason, this year has certainly been a peculiar one weatherwise; something I think we will all need to get used to. But rather than dwell on the vagaries of English weather, I’d rather concentrate on some of the unexpected successes it has caused.

Pineapple lilies

Each year for as long as I can recall we have had three large pots of pineapple lily (Eucomis bicolor) on display in the garden, each year performing well but not causing any particular comment.

This year, however, partly due to our lack of success in growing any cosmos at all and therefore short of annuals to fill gaps in the borders, we decided to plant the pineapple lilies direct into the ground once this year’s growth had begun.

The bulbs of these tropical oddities are large, each one of ours easily the size of a tennis ball and they are very hungry. They quickly outgrew their usual potted size and have made quite an impact; indeed, so much so that we shall do the same next year.

They will keep going until the first frosts take the top growth whereupon we’ll dig them up, pot them individually for the winter and wait till next spring.


Elsewhere in the garden there are plants that are only just coming into their own, some defying the seasonal changes from bright summer colours to the more mellow autumnal hues. Strobilanthes atropurpurea is a delicate looking plant that looks as if it belongs in the greenhouse but is invaluable, not only for its regal purple flowers but for its likeness to a late blooming salvia. Indeed, if you struggle to grow salvias give Strobilanthes a go, it thrives here in clay, collapses to the ground in winter and pops up with its arthritic looking stems year after year. No fuss, no complaining, it just gets on and does its thing each year.

Strobilanthes atropurpurea


Our Clerodendron is another plant that surprises each year. First seen at Marwood Hill in North Devon some years ago, growing like a weed among the paving cracks we decided we needed it at Lewis. For several seasons we had nursed three single stemmed plants that have shown no sign of spreading anywhere. Clearly our heavy clay was restraining it. Not so it would seem for this year it has broken free and a new very healthy stem has appeared from nowhere several yards from the original plant.

This augurs well for the future and I’m hoping that its brash lipstick pink flowers that bloom in September and October will be dotted about the top garden to brighten those more dismal autumn days.

Clerodendron bungeii


Just along from the Strobilanthes, indeed almost dead opposite and a great complimentary colour, is a patch of Persicaria amp. Taurus. Persicaria is a favourite of mine and what I love about them is that you put them in as a small plant hardly noticing their fluffy flowers atop the slender stems only to discover a year or three later that you have a huge patch of them swaying ever so slightly in the late summer breeze, the effect is quite startling and the choice of varieties is amazing.

Clematis rehderiana

Any article extolling the virtues of late summer showstoppers has to include the gently thuggish but ever so elegant Clematis rehderiana. I’ve mentioned it before, but it is SO delicate, SO loved by bees and butterflies and SO rarely seen that it should be given more exposure.

Not only does it cover unsightly structures, it does so gently, produces quietly nodding primrose yellow, bluebell type flowers followed by old man’s whiskers that carry seed pods which float away on the autumn wind and all of this done on the north side of a garden shed. Who could ask for more?

Clematis rehderiana


Meanwhile we are enjoying a bumper crop of mulberries. We have already begun using these delicious little orbs of fruitfulness to make mulberry gin and jelly. No doubt the medlars won’t be far behind, but maybe more of those next time.

Mulberry crop

Gardens open for the NGS in September

Saturday 2nd   Sunday 3rd  -  Moretonhampstead Gardens

Sunday 3rd  -  High Garden, Kenton

Saturday 9th   Sunday 10th - Brocton Cottage, Ashburton

Friday 15th   Saturday 16th  -  Pounds, Hemyock

Saturday 16th  Sunday 17th  -  South Wood Farm

Sunday 24th  - Upper Gorwell House, Barnstaple

Further information on the garden at Lewis Cottage can be found on the web site here.

Sep 13, 2023

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