AUTUMN WON­DERS

By now, gar­dens are near the end of a long grow­ing sea­son and have en­dured weeks with­out rain but that doesn’t mean the spec­ta­cle is over, says PETER CUN­DALL

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - GARDENING - with Peter Cun­dall

TO be hon­est, many or­na­men­tal gar­dens are start­ing to look a bit ex­hausted and bedrag­gled at this time of the year, which is un­der­stand­able. Af­ter all, most have been grow­ing non­stop since spring and are on their way to a well-de­served win­ter rest.

I’m still as­ton­ished how­ever by the re­mark­ably high num­ber of plants that grow steadily, yet re­main al­most un­no­ticed over sum­mer, only to burst into mag­nif­i­cent bloom in the mid­dle of autumn.

Years ago I was given a small rooted di­vi­sion of an autumn-flow­er­ing peren­nial aster. In south­ern Aus­tralia where they thrive, they are com­monly known as Easter daisies be­cause that’s when they are in full bloom. I planted this tiny di­vi­sion and vir­tu­ally for­got about it un­til the fol­low­ing autumn, when it took ev­ery­one by sur­prise. A huge mass of bright pink daisies sud­denly ap­peared and dom­i­nated that part of the gar­den for sev­eral weeks — al­most into win­ter.

It turned out to be the fa­mous “Barr’s Pink”, a much sought af­ter peren­nial aster, and every year since it has pro­duced the same fan­tas­tic dis­play with vir­tu­ally no wa­ter­ing.

I wan­dered around our gar­den last week, mainly out of cu­rios­ity to try and dis­cover how many flow­er­ing plants were thriv­ing and bloom­ing, de­spite long pe­ri­ods with­out rain.

We have sev­eral peren­nial sun­flow­ers that come up every spring and pro­duce dozens of small, bright-yel­low daisy flow­ers every April. They die back each win­ter, when the fat roots can be lifted and di­vided to pro­duce lots of new plants for giv­ing away to friends.

“Autumn cro­cus” (Colchicum species and cul­ti­vars) bulbs are planted in late spring and re­main fully dor­mant over sum­mer.

Per­haps the most con­spic­u­ous peren­ni­als at this time of the year are the Ja­panese wind­flow­ers.

In late March the lilac, mauve, pur­ple, deep vi­o­let or white, gob­let-shaped blooms erupt and open on leaf­less stems to pro­duce a star­tlingly beau­ti­ful sight, es­pe­cially in dap­pled shade. Best of all, just a few bulbs soon mul­ti­ply to form great colonies of colour.

Per­haps the most con­spic­u­ous peren­ni­als at this time of the year are the Ja­panese wind­flow­ers (Anemone hu­pe­hen­sis), pic­tured above.

Ours grow al­most chest high, topped with bright pink or white flow­ers, each with a bright yel­low cen­tre.

To be hon­est, they grow like weeds, but in­vaders are so eas­ily dragged out they are al­lowed to run ram­pant in our gar­den. One has wended its way through the branches of a large camel­lia then burst into bloom so the en­tire bush ap­pears to be flow­er­ing out of sea­son.

Even del­phini­ums can be in­duced to bloom again if flower-heads are cut back be­fore seeds form.

I’ve long dis­cov­ered that the best fer­tiliser for these won­der­fully tall plants is mush­room com­post.

Each Au­gust, long af­ter they have fully died down, I dig up the old­est and largest crowns and blast off all soil with a hose jet.

This re­veals lots of new, pale green shoots form­ing on the out­side of clumps. They can be care­fully cut off — with­out roots — and in­serted into a moist, 50-50 mix­ture of sand and sifted mush­room com­post.

They form new, strong, dis­ease-free roots in about three weeks and can be planted di­rectly into en­riched soil, out in the open gar­den in early spring.

These plants never look back and many grow al­most two me­tres high, flow­er­ing pro­fusely in late sum­mer and autumn.

The great­est de­lights of all in any wellplaned autumn gar­den are when the leaves of de­cid­u­ous trees, es­pe­cially the liq­uidambar, maple, cot­i­nus, birch and golden ash, change colour in a spec­tac­u­lar dis­play be­fore they fall.

When also un­der-planted with hardy cy­cla­mens and autumn cro­cuses, the dis­plays of colour can only be de­scribed as stun­ning.

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