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.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - The Autumn Garden -

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.

JA­PANESE ANEMONES

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.

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