These autumn treasures hold the secret to next year’s new plants. Val Bourne explores this exciting wonderland
As autumn mists roll in and fruit ripens on the branch, the garden’s colour palette shifts from the floral fantasia of high summer into something altogether more mellow. Shades of russet, warm-red and khaki fatigues come to the fore, giving the garden an earthy, rosy look.
Seedheads play an enormous role in the garden now and, as the sun sinks lower in the sky, they provide texture and form and add a decadent note to the border. Their presence also helps wildlife, because seed-eating birds, such as goldfinches, descend along with busy little wrens who frisk the plants for insects and grubs.
I adore the shiny brown seedheads of acanthus ‘Rue Ledan’. Each pod, reminiscent of a conker, has a jagged grey bract wrapped round like a scarf, and the complete spike turns almost black in winter. And I can’t resist dieramas, or angels’ fishing rods, once the papery seed capsules form and begin to scatter their perfectly round, mid-brown seeds. The extra weight from the seeds makes them tremble and quake in the slightest wind, like conductors of an orchestra.
In any case, it’s fashionable for a garden to fade as the year wanes and Piet Oudolf, the Dutch landscape architect, has perfected the technique in gardens such as Trentham Long Borders in Staffordshire and Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire. German landscape architects were the first to plant up public parks and roundabouts with naturalistic planting that made an impact right through the year until they were cut down in early spring.
Admittedly not everything endures. Persicarias, for instance, disintegrate to mush at the first sign of frost so it’s stiff-stemmed plants that shine now. If they’re tall, so much the better because winter sun can spotlight them as effectively as any theatre designer.
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