September is a month that really divides opinion. If you’re of school age (or perhaps a teacher) its approach can be a mildly depressing one. You look forward to the summer for ages and then in a blink of an eye it’s gone and it’s back to school in an itchy new uniform. If summer is about freedom then September is all about buckling down.
If you’re a gardener however September has a very different quality. I often debate in my head which is my favourite month to be outside working. There’s attractions and drawbacks to all of them but what September generally has (in the UK) at least is a helpful lack of extremes.
There’s enough heat not to have to wrap up. More importantly there’s still heat in the soil meaning there’s still plenty going on. It’s a good time of year to oversow patches of lawn, scatter wildlower seeds and plant overwintering onion sets. More generally though it’s a good month to garden.
It feels like the foot has been taken off the pedal a bit. Weeds have begun to slow down. There’s less to do. In the high summer you can sometimes feel as if you’re running to stand still with lots of jobs demanding your attention. Add to that long dry spells and all the watering involved and it can feel like there’s little time to actually enjoy the garden.
September offers that window of time when there’s still warmth and colour but less pressure to keep on top of things. As well as dahlias, things like rudbeckia, eryngium and lavatera are all going strong. In my garden the cosmos patch keeps throwing up new flower buds, sedums are coming into their own and the geranium I gave a mid-summer tidy up are now offering a second flush of flowers. If you’re growing vegetables it’s a time of wondering what to do with all those squashes.
The light takes on a special quality in September too. If you’ve fruit trees the ground is scented with fermenting windfall, the insects seem to turn a little woozy as spiders spin dew scented webs everywhere I put my head.
It’s just a shame it’s all too fleeting. If the first half feels like summer’s final flourish, then the second half can be autumn’s entree.
It’s a good time to be outside and I always feel satisfied at having got through the demands of another horticultural summer.
It is in fact a Styphnolobium japonicum (sometimes known as a Saphora japonica) a tree that’s a native of China but naturalised in Japan where it was discovered by European plant collectors. It was brought to Britain by James Gordon in 1753 and you can still see one of the trees planted at Kew in 1760.
It’s packed full of medicinal properties and has a special place in Buddhist culture where it is known as the scholar or pagoda tree and was often planted outside temples. The young monks would have lessons beneath its canopy. In Jingshan Park in Beijing a large, old Styphnolobium japonicum is known as ‘The Guilty Scholar Tree’ . The last ruler of the Ming Dynasty , the Chongzhen Emperor allegedly hanged himself from the tree in 1644 after the imperial capital, Beijing, fell to rebel forces led by Li Zicheng. Today it’s probably more often seen used in bonsai than it is in gardens.
The reason no one has seen this particular one flower is that it doesn’t do so until it’s at least thirty years old, sometimes quite a bit older. This one is around 35 or so years old. The flowers are incredible and the whole canopy is alive with bees so I wasn’t surprised to discover that it’s recommended by The British Beekeepers Association as one of their ‘Trees For Bees’.
Planting a young Japanese Scholar Tree is probably for most of us something of a gift to the future one reason perhaps why it’s always been more of a tree for public parks than domestic gardens. The person who planted the Heworth tree is no longer with us but it’s likely people (and thousands of bees) wil be enjoying those flowers on a yearly basis from now on.
Habitat Aid sell a variety of ‘Trees For Bees’ including the Scholar Tree on their website and half of the profits go to UK conservation charities.