Nature Calendar: October in the British Garden
The quietness of September may be extended well into the month. But October, the wettest month of the year, often brings the first fogs of the winter.
There are fewerin the garden now, though aconitum and the graceful Kaffir lily, Schizostilis coccinea, are colourful. Helianthus sparsifolius still has striking yellow flowers, while Solum Autumn Sun fully justifies its name. Several veronicas are still flowering, and in the rock garden the bright blue flowers of ceratostigma predominate. Some garden flowers, such as honesty, now have papery seed pods that can be used as indoor decoration.
In woods and on rough pastures stand the dry stems of summer flowers with their empty seed-heads. Where road verges have been trimmed the regrowth of grass is lush and soft. Buttercup and clover, dog-daisy, dandelion, speedwell and thistle flower again with the autumn-flowering yarrow, knapweed, cat’s ear and hawkweed.
Behind the combines and balers, the stubble fields show the new growth of spilt corn and weeds.
SHRUBS AND TREES
Erica tetralix is still in bloom, and the flowers of Daboecia cantabrica also persist.
Many leaves are turning now, and if the weather is kind, the autumn tints will be at their best towards the end of October. The lilac-purple fruits of the callicarpa are accentuated by the soft pink leaves. The warm brown of beech leaves is most attractive, and there are other shades of brown on oaks and sycamores. The brilliant red of the cherry leaves is often missed, because they fall so soon after turning. Ash leaves fade to a paler green, and those of elm and elder turn yellow.
The leaves will begin to fall with the first frosts and autumn gales. A frost hard enough to cut the dahlias will bring down all the leaves of the walnut and affect even the hardy ash.
BERRIES AND NUTS
Berries are still plentiful, ranging from the red ones of the viburnum to the blue, grape-like clusters on Mahonia aquifolium.
Nuts of all kinds ripen at this time — cobnuts, filberts and walnuts can all be collected. The nuts of the hazel and the sweet chestnut are also ripe, and there are acorns on the oak. The conkers of the horse chestnut fall now, and the keys of the sycamore are often seen winging across the garden on the autumn wind.
A few solitary swallows and house martins may still be seen near the south coast. In their place, the winter migrants are arriving, some of them so well known that they are accepted as natives. Pewits and starlings may have come from as far east as Poland or even Russia. Continental tits and finches arrive too, with robins and blackbirds. Two members of the thrush family that are easily distinguished by their plumage and call are the fieldfare and the redwing.
In the fields, flocks of birds have increased, for there is plenty of food available as the land is ploughed for winter sowing. In the evening, only the pewits remain in the fields. Rooks and jackdaws return to roost in woods they have been using for centuries; starlings roost on buildings and in reed beds and shrubberies; woodpigeons also return to woods, and gulls to lakes and reservoirs.
Fields and hedges are covered with gossamer, the intricate webs of money spiders. Covered with dew, and seen in the slanting light of the setting or rising sun, gossamer imparts a silvery sheen to the landscape. Money spiders may number more than 2,000,000 to the acre at this season, and on still, warm days they can be seen floating to new sites on gossamer streamers.
Most hibernating insects retire to their winter quarters in October.
Several well-known animals are also beginning to disappear from the scene. The dormouse is seeking out the home in which it will spend the winter, and soon the hedgehog will hibernate, though it may still venture abroad occasionally in all but the coldest weather.