by Garden News |

Choose the right plants for autumn, and they’ll shine all year. Louise Curley recommends the best for good looks and stunning combinations

While it was once common practice to ‘put the garden to bed’ for winter, these days we expect our gardens to work hard all year round. Milder winters, a wider choice of plants and a greater appreciation of their fading beauty means it’s now possible to squeeze even more pleasure from our plots. We’ve also come to appreciate that time spent outdoors in fresh air surrounded by mood-boosting plants is good for mind and body, so it makes sense to make the most of a garden beyond summer into the darkest, coldest months – when we need them most.

The key to extending a garden’s seasonal interest is to fill borders with late-flowering beauties and grasses that grow old gracefully. These aren’t plants that turn into a soggy mess at the first hint of frost and autumn rain; instead, they defy the seasonal shift and sparkle in low autumn light, which gives their backlit silhouette a halo and highlights their intricate textures. And, as winter approaches, these fading blooms, papery seedheads and feathery grasses are bejewelled by the first frosts and morning dews.

Another reason to prolong the garden’s flower power is to help wildlife. On mild days bees seek out sources of pollen and nectar, so any lingering blooms are vital in helping these creatures build up their reserves to get them through winter.

To create the autumn wow factor, combine different flower shapes and vibrant colours that pop against a backdrop of sun-bleached blond, honey and rusty brown foliage and grasses. These dazzling plant comnations entice you outdoors into the glowing embers of the garden and raise spirits well into winter.


Rudbeckias with blue aconitum

Rudbeckias with blue aconitum

A true star of autumn, asters produce an abundance of slender-petalled daisy flowers from late summer onwards, creating a haze of vibrant colour in a wide range of pinks, blues and purples. Some are small, while others are giants reaching H2m (6½ft); the tall, upright New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and European asters such as lilac-flowered A. frikartii ‘Mönch’ are resistant to mildew and the easiest to grow. Combine them with grasses such as Panicum virgatum and Calamagrostis brachytricha for a soft and ethereal planting scheme.

For something altogether more punchy, you don’t have to look far. Rudbeckias are stalwarts of the autumn garden, producing a profusion of (usually) bright yellow daisies with a prominent black nose cone from July to the frosts. Compact annuals such as deep red R. hirta ‘Cherry Brandy’ and flame-coloured ‘Cappuccino’ are perfect for the front of borders, while two of the most popular perennial rudbeckias are ‘Goldsturm’ and R. deamii, both with radiant yellow blooms.

Rudbeckias can vary in height from knee-high to towering R. laciniata ‘Herbstonne’, which reaches 2m (6½ft) in a season. They partner well with Verbena bonariensis and the ever-so-upright grass, Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.

You can also team the daisies with perennial monkshood Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’, which

starts to flower from August onwards. It makes neat clumps about 40cm (16in) wide, with the tall flower stems reaching 1.5m (5ft), making this an excellent choice for bringing autumn colour to the back of a border.

Partner these moody, amethyst-coloured blooms with lustrous Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ flowers or mingle with the feathery fronds of Miscanthus sinensis. Plant it in a moisture-retentive soil in sun or part-shade for an unforgettable autumn show.

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