Vital vines of autumn

As the autumn weather arrives, it brings dramatic colour changes and contrasts to Harlow Carr

Aconitum carmichaelii (Arendsii Group) 'Arendsii' at RHS Garden Harlow CarrI had last week off on holiday, and what a difference there is in the temperature this week. I know the temperature of Harlow Carr is something I talk a lot about but it was exceptionally cold and wet this week and the garden team were constantly taking shelter in odd corners of the garden.

The colour changes however, go on unabated and continue to be dramatic - the Main Borders continue to radiate colour in a wonderful way. I was particularly struck by the intense blue of the Aconitum carmichaelii (Arendsii Group) ‘Arendsii’ against the Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ with the frothy Selinum wallichianum (left) in front of it all. The seedheads look nearly as attractive as the flowers and provide much-needed energy for the birds over the winter months.

The aconitum’s common name is monk's hood and when I studied it closely I could see why, as it did look very much like the cowl a monk might wear. Although common names can be confusing, they do often describe a plant's appearance and/or use. This 'plant folklore' is a fascinating subject on its own, and reading about it on a cold, wet Sunday afternoon by the fire is a great way to spend time in winter.

Vitis coignetiae at RHS Garden Harlow CarrElsewhere in the garden, our Vitis coignetiae (right), living up to its common name of crimson glory vine, has turned the most glorious crimson red - and has spread itself over and through a large oak tree near the bathhouse building.

It is at least 27m (90ft) high and people ring up to see if it has changed colour so they can come and photograph it. Its beauty is short lived if the frosts come however, as the leaves drop quickly, only to be scooped up by children who wonder at the size of the leaves.

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