Keep your borders looking alive and vibrant with these must-have seasonal plants. Val Bourne highlights those to go for
The weather may be at its bleakest in November, with short dreary days, but the garden can still deliver a surprise or two just when we need it most. Late-flowering blooms linger on until winter really bites, providing a nostalgic reminder of summer past. It could be a rose, weighed down by heavy dew and framed by the symmetry of garden spider’s web, or a dahlia waiting for the first cold snap. A little limp of stem, but still vibrant.
There might be a shaft of sunlight picking up bright-red berries held on bare branches, or a lingering leaf that’s turned a warm shade of orange, or a rose hip in lipstick-red. Red is the touch-paper colour that brings the garden to life and when frost descends to weave its special magic, the remnants of stiff-stemmed autumn plants catch the frost and sparkle.
The first of the fresh flowers arrive now and, on still days when there’s afternoon warmth, the hyacinth scent of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is at its strongest. If November stays clement, some flowering shrubs respond as well and many are sweetly scented to attract any late-flying pollinators. Winter flowers tend to be small and weather-resistant, but their subtle charms warm the gardener’s soul.
Savour the fading beauties
The last flower standing is often Gaura lindheimeri, with their willowy stems of white, butterfly-shaped flowers softened by rhubarb-pink stamens and pink buds. This North American plant is an evening primrose relative, found naturally in Louisiana and Texas, and tends to be a short-lived perennial. However, it’s easily raised from seeds sown in March and will flower in its first year. There are pink forms including ‘Freefolk Rosy’ and ‘Rosyjane’, but it’s the ephemeral quality of the soft-white version that shines best as winter approaches.
Use gaura in a sheltered sunny position close to hardy salvias, such as the bright-pink S. microphylla ‘Wild Watermelon’. Or you might try a hardy valerian from Morocco, Centranthus lecoqi, which bears lavender heads of butterfly- and moth-pleasing flowers. They’ll all go on late until winter intervenes.
Certain repeat-flowering roses linger on too. One of the best is ‘Bonica’, a short pink rose bearing clusters of semi-double flowers from early July onwards. White roses often have a flourish now and the noisette climber, ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, will still be putting out its soft-white flowers tinted with apple-blossom pink. This rose, named in 1879, was the first rose Vita Sackville-West planted in her Sissinghurst garden. The foliage is healthy, the stems are thornless, so it’s easy to train and bend, and it will tolerate a north wall. The even older ‘Stanwell Perpetual’, named in 1838, has fragrant, pale-pink double flowers right up until Christmas.
Stiff silhouettes from taller late-flowering monardas, asters and phlomis stand up well over winter and favourites include monarda ‘Garden View Scarlet’, the aster symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’ and Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’.
READ MORE Subscribe to our digital edition