Just a couple of years ago, our garden looked a bit tired by the time autumn arrived. We had plenty of colour from the first daffodils and Crocus in spring, right through summer with lots of perennials. Bedding plants in containers add spots of colour over a long season from late spring until the first frosts of the winter and of course the shrubs are always there, providing structure with their shape and leaves. But by the time late autumn arrived, Mrs McGregor was challenged to find flowers for church arrangementsand to brighten the house. We decided that rather than make a ‘cutting garden’ we would add some late flowering perennials to the borders, so that we could appreciate them along with bees and butterflies which are still busy on warm days.
One of the stalwarts of autumn borders are Michaelmas Daisies (Asters) which are available in a wide range of colours and heights. They do very well in sun or part shade and retentive soil, so I always give a good mulch of garden compost in spring and again when I cut them back for the winter after they have flowered. They are popular with late butterflies and bees as well as Mrs McGregor for her flower arranging!
Another of my favourites is Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ which is still in flower in our border now, wowing everyone with copious amounts of rich golden blooms. This plant begins to flower in August and continues until the end of October, brightening the dullest of days! Once the petals have dropped, the club like cones which were the centre of the flower come into their own for winter decoration in the border and a good source of seeds for birds as they ‘fuel up’ for the winter weather ahead. They look great on a frosty morning along with any ornamental grasses that still have flowers on them. The plant makes a large clump fairly quickly, so again, Mrs McGregor has plenty for her vases.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ lives up to its name with pink flowers opening from green, broccoli like buds. The flowers change from pink to deep red as they age over several weeks and are enjoyed by butterflies and bees. The seed heads can be dried to provide material for winter arrangements or left on the plants for more bird fuel! Sedums are happiest in very well drained soil and a sunny site. They are also excellent plants for coastal gardens.
My great friend Tricia Trelawny has Schizostylis (Kaffir Lily) in her garden in Cornwall, a county where they were once grown extensively as a cut flower in market gardens. Schizostylis are much prized for their late flowering season from autumn into winter, and their gladiolus like flowers that last for weeks in a vase.
So after a visit to my local garden centre, I came back with a couple of varieties to try – I will have to cover them with horticultural fleece if the weather gets cold as it did last winter, or grow them in a large pot that I can move inside!