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
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.