Get creative with autumn colour

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Use nature’s warmest palette for dazzling seasonal effects. Val Bourne shares some good advice

There’s still plenty of life left in the garden in October because we get far warmer autumns than we used to. The days may be getting shorter and the night-time temperatures may feel a little chillier, but that encourages a host of high-altitude South American plants to come into their own and they keep going until the first frost bites as long as you deadhead them. Dahlias, salvias and penstemons all put on a fabulous show this month and their pigment-packed flowers glow in the misty light peculiar to late-autumn. As the sun sinks a little lower, day by day, it backlights the borders and picks up the flutter-by butterflies and bees, still on the wing looking for their late nectar fix.
There are fading flowers too and these can look even more seductive than the flowers, whether it’s sedum heads looking like mugs of hot chocolate, or those silky ‘spiders’ some clematis produce in shades of silver. There are also fresh flowers, ones that spring from bare earth as if a magician had popped by. Cyclamen hederifolium will send up short, magenta-nosed flowers in white or pink, before the ivy-like foliage appears. This can be completely silvered or beautifully veined. Colchicums, perfect on a sunny autumn border edge, send up swooning pink or white flowers and they capture the languid mood of October perfectly, especially when planted among pink Hesperantha coccinea ‘Pink Princess’.

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