Embraces the wild ways of windflowers
Japanese windflowers actually originated in China but have been treasured in Japan for centuries
IN many ways, autumn is always a bit of a paradox in most ornamental gardens. After all, it’s a time of exhaustion as many perennial plants which over the past few months have flowered and flourished, are now looking miserable as they shrivel into winter dormancy.
On the other hand there are those that actually respond to lowering temperatures and fewer hours of daylight by coming into bloom. They include some of the most flamboyant and brightlycoloured of all flowering plants.
I’ve been gobsmacked recently by the startling vigour and beauty of some Japanese windflowers (Anemone hupehensis) growing in a half-ignored part of our garden. One or two were planted years ago, despite warnings that
they may get out of control. Well they have and we’re loving it.
They have craftily multiplied over the years and now occupy several square metres of part-shade in fairly hungry soil, previously a bit of weed-ridden eyesore. There must be several hundred, kneehigh, soft-pink, slightly-cupped daisies, each with a bright golden boss of stamens in centre of each flower.
Despite being never watered, these plants have now become so dense that all weeds — including twitch grass — have long since disappeared because they were unable to get enough light.
Japanese windflowers actually originated in China but have been treasured in Japan for centuries. They spread by sending up numerous suckers from thick fibrous roots. And to be honest, they are quite easily dragged from the soil should they become too invasive.
Other autumn flowers worth growing include perennial sunflowers. The daisies are far smaller than the big, traditional annuals, but are so numerous they make an amazing sight on a bleak autumn day. They love full sun and can be raised from seed or by divisions, usually in winter and spring.
Salvias are just forms of ornamental sage and there are now countless varieties, mostly shades of purple, mauve, rose-pink or even iridescent blue. The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens always has a magnificent display at this time of the year so it’s worth a visit — even into early winter. These plants — sometimes growing chest-high — are also wonderfully drought and wind resistant, so are marvellously-suitable for coastal gardens.
I’ve always been fascinated by the autumn-flowering ‘Obedient plants’ (Physostegia) mainly by the unusual clusters of mauve, bell-shaped flowers at the tops of half-metre long stems. It’s true they certainly do as they are told — or manipulated — because the bells can be swivelled to one side and obediently stay put. This is one reason why they are so popular in flower arrangements. They too grow in full sun or part shade and ours always appear from late summer to early winter, always taking us by surprise.
Perhaps the easiest of all autumn flowering perennials are the asters. We used to call them ‘Easter Daisies’ because this is when most of them are in full display. Someone gave us a small division of Barr’s Pink and they are so simple to propagate we now have great clumps of these waist-high masses of dazzling-pink daisies all over the garden.
In winter or spring the clumps can be cut a few centimetres above the ground and roots lifted so all soil can be hosed off. This allows individual, well-rooted divisions to be pulled clear for immediate planting out and they rarely fail.
Other autumn flowers include the nerines, which like their amaryllis relatives prefer a dry summer rest.
The fat bulbs eventually become overcrowded, but it’s no big deal to lift them for division any time from late spring to well into summer. The whiteflowering nerines bloom far later than the pink and red forms and are often seen in full display in midwinter, even in frostprone gardens.
The great advantage of all autumn flowering perennials is so many are in full bloom when most of our deciduous trees are also changing colour.
It can be a brilliant combination in Tasmania’s own wonderful ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’.