Turtles and toads in the garden

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Autumn has crept up on us. The few days of ‘Indian Summer’ were well appreciated as we started our new term, and we are often blessed with some lovely sunshine during late September and October.

But the mornings and evenings are getting closer as the days pull in – the temperatures are most definitely on their way down!

Chelone, or Turtle-head

Chelone, or Turtle-head

Autumn colours in the garden are more muted than those of the hot, summer months; they match the mellowness of the season. Asters, Anemones and Sedum are the main players. Nothing wrong with these – but how about adding something a little out of the ordinary?

Firstly, a neat, clump-forming perennial which grows to around 60cm (2ft). Dark green leaves – still looking good this late in the year – set off the unusual looking deep pink to purple, or even white, flowers.

The shape of the flower gives rise to its common name of Turtle-head, although I see on the RHS web-site it has been given a new ‘common name’ of twisted shell flower!

Anyway Turtle-head it has always been to me, and this is what it is known as in its native mid-west and south-east of the USA where it is a rare wild-flower. However, it is increasing in popularity as a garden flower and is very happy in shady areas and moisture retentive, (even damp, heavy clay soils.

Oh yes – proper name Chelone obliqua.

My second plant for this week has the equally descriptive name of Toad Lily. Now these exotic-looking plants are again most at home in a moisture retentive soil and a shady position.

They associate well with the Turtle-head, as well as Hostas and Ferns, to end the season with a pizzazz of colour. Dark green, glossy foliage, 60-90cm (2-3ft) high, topped with clusters of wonderfully marked flowers of white ‘splodged’ with deep purple.

Toad Lilies, or Tricyrtis, are tough herbaceous plants that naturally grow on the edge of forests in Asia, where the unusually marked flowers are said to resemble the skin of Japanese toads.

If you want to see an impressive drift of Toad Lilies, head off to Sandringham House Gardens this weekend.

Over 20 hectares of glorious gardens offer so much. Formal and informal areas, woodland walks, streams and lakes. As well as the Toad Lilies this is the time to see the hardy fuchsias and the hydrangeas at their best.

Added to that you will appreciate the magnificent trees with their first tints of autumn foliage colour and brilliant berries. Check out www.sandringhamestate.co.uk for more details.

- Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre). RHS Courses taught at all levels. Plant sales on Saturdays 10am -4pm.