Last week’s talk in Otley, Yorkshire, was such a long way from home that the organiser, Sally, kindly put me up for the night. Sally and her husband Adrian have a very comfortable house and were welcoming hosts – it’s always a bit of a gamble accepting an offer of hospitality from strangers, but they made me feel at home immediately.
Both of them work lovingly on the garden that is wrapped like a quilt around their house, but Adrian is a man of many hobbies – surprising me most with his love of knitting and tapestry-stitching using wool he has spun and dyed himself with vegetable dyes. I should have taken a photo of his work but instead I can show you the view across their garden from the window of my bedroom.
The next morning was mild and glittery, and the delicious first highlights of autumn colour made me re-think my plan of hurtling straight home and doing something boringly sensible. When my hosts pointed out that RHS Harlow Carr was only 15 minutes away I knew I had to go there.
This was only my second visit to Harlow Carr. Coincidentally my last visit was also in October, exactly three years ago. On the 21st of October that year the autumn colour was a little further on. It was a very similar day, combining sunshine and that peculiarly wet rain which seems to be a speciality of Yorkshire.
This year it seemed to me that even though the recent rainy days had finished off most of the Aster/Symphyotrichon/whateveritscallednowadays the long double borders were looking extra magnificent, the plants in interleaved blocks, their rich colours muted by the cooling season but all the lovelier for that, like a venerable kilim.
There weren’t many visitors, so photography was easy – though I am partial to snatching a photo that includes a visitor who has dressed to complement the planting. I do like a bit of textile juxtaposition.
The high viz vests of visiting primary school children made them easy to avoid. I loved listening to their excited chirrups as they bustled about collecting colourful leaves to stick on some worksheet or other but I didn’t want them in my photographs. My heart sank slightly as a group of them approached the alpine house at the same time as me but when the teacher told them “Now we mustn’t touch the plants in here because they’re very small” and a solemn little boy added “…and very special too”, I thought, “Good lad! I don’t mind sharing a glasshouse with you lot!”
As always happens in alpine houses at first I was drawn to the bright colours and clean shapes of flowers such as gentian, cyclamen and autumn crocus, but then I started to tune in to texture and again textiles came to mind. Draba yunnanensis was definitely a beanie hat crocheted from alpaca wool, whereas Ozothamnus coralloides took me back to the time long ago when I worked for an interior designer and loved the sample books of handmade passementerie. I’m still fond of a nice fringe or a few metres of fancy piping cord.
Back outside the rain grew heavier and began to felt the colours together, I knew my time should be limited as the motorway was going to be slow and foul on a wet afternoon. I scooted about with little time to learn the names of unfamiliar plants, but I enjoyed the early autumn patchwork of trees, the crisp appliqué of acer leaves, the bright beads of Convallaria majalis and the tasselled grass heads.
I’ll leave you with a sampler – if you know your chainstitch from your french knots and your couching from your cut work you could surely embroider yourself a Harlow Carr autumn.