Natural companions in the autumn garden
In spring and summer, we’re spoilt for choice for flowers. But there are some plants that wait in the wings until autumn for their time to shine. For easy-care colour this season, try these star players.
rom drought-tolerant rudbeckias and echinaceas, to cosmos, coreopsis, zinnias and all types of dahlias, these prolific flowerers are must-haves for the autumn garden.
Dahlias are one of the most prolific of the perennials, blooming from spring through to the first frosts. They come in all shapes and sizes, from neat-as-a-pin pompoms to spidery cactus types and paeony and waterlily lookalikes. Tall dahlias need staking, or there may be tears if you find all your stems flattened after a night of rain and wind.
All annual cosmos flower for months on end, but the orange Cosmos sulphureus self-seeds generously; sow it once and it’ll give you years of pleasure.
Potted chrysanthemums are popular Mother’s Day gifts, but these exotic exhibitionists also deserve a place in any autumn garden. For the biggest, boldest blooms, they need to be staked, stopped and disbudded. Stopping means
Fpinching out the growing tip to force the plants to branch. For autumnflowering types, do this on or around Christmas Day. Disbud early-flowering varieties in January (mid-march for late types), using your fingers to nip off all but the big central bud on each stem. You don’t have to do this, but if you don’t you end up with large branches of heavy blooms that tend to flop over.
Anemone x hybrida and Anemone hupehensis flower from late summer/ early autumn through to winter. They make an unexpectedly fabulous cut flower. The flowers close at night, but they reopen each morning and last for a time in a vase. Flowers are white, pale or deep pink in single or semi-double forms. Grow it in sun or part shade.
IN THE PICKING GARDEN
Most autumn blooms make great cut flowers. Dahlias are terrific in the vase, but they're one of the few flowers that shouldn't be picked in bud. Harvest them when they're three-quarters to fully open. The blooms won't open further once picked, which is why you don't often see them at florists – they're too delicate to transport once fully open.
Gaillardias, which come in fiery yellows and oranges, are great cut flowers too. Even if you don't pick them, they still look attractive with drumstick seedheads when the petals fall.
Shasta daisies ( Leucanthemum x superbum) are old-time favourites that bloom for months on end. This herbaceous perennial is great in wild bouquets; mix it with rudbeckias and cosmos for a rustic look. Add Rudbeckia hirta 'Toto' and Helianthus 'Loddon Gold' to the mix – they rival sunflowers for golden impact.
Try zinnias and asters and, of course, chrysanthemums. The old breed mums are making a comeback, their sheer beauty and uniqueness a far cry from the modern day mums. Try some of these heirloom varieties. Early-flowering mums bloom from February onwards, while the late-flowering types flower from around April. In colder areas you're best to stick with the early types to ensure good blooms before the first frosts.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Echinacea are not only wonderful for late colour, they're incredibly drought-tolerant. Plant these hardy herbaceous perennials in drifts for easy-care. Here, they pair well with tall-growing Joe Pye weed ( Eupatorium purpureum), top right, which has clusters of pink-purple flowerheads from midsummer to mid autumn, the equally tall Verbena bonariensis (front left at the top), with slender, willowy stems and small purple flowers, and the rarely seen Veronicastrum virginicum 'Album' (front of border).
RACE TO THE TOP
Rhodochiton atrosanguineus 'Purple Bells' is a dainty climber with a distinctive look, thanks to its purpleblack flowers surrounded by duskypink, shirt-like calyces. This native of Mexico is grown both outside and inside (its trailing habit and non-stop flowering suit hanging baskets). Outdoors, it's mostly grown as a summer-to-autumn annual, but in frost-free gardens it will carry on flowering over winter. Give it a sunny place and rich soil for best results.