Make an autumn statement

Ceratostigmata plumbaginoides

Ceratostigmata plumbaginoides

Fill your garden with late flowers and flamboyant foliage. Val Bourne sets the garden ablaze…

No one can pretend that November is the greatest gardening month of the year, but there are flowering plants that linger on. They’re poignant reminders of summer past, whether it’s a late rose, a heavy-headed dahlia, an aster with tiny flowers about to turn to thistledown, a jaunty salvia or fuchsia managing to defy the weather. Sometimes these fading beauties are rimed in frost and on misty mornings, dripping with dew.

There’s still plenty of colour, because deciduous trees and shrubby plants are about to shed their leaves. The fading foliage comes in warm shades of butter yellow, marmalade-orange and lipstick red and these colours really stand out as the days get shorter, cooler and greyer.

November is the month when specimen white-stemmed birches and Japanese maples take a giant leap forward, just when everything else is in retreat. The low light picks out every bump and ragged edge, making shiny upright dogwood stems glow. Give them a well-lit place to shine – don’t tuck them away in a gloomy corner.

Although it’s a month of gentle decay, on warm afternoons honey bees still forage before their winter sleep, so it’s important to include some late flowers. Hardy nerines, autumn crocuses and cyclamen are clinging on; later there could be a touch of fragrance when the lemon-yellow flowers of Mahonia media ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ appear. These two shine now and both tolerate some shade.

You’ll also get the strongest hyacinth scent from Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ in late autumn. The fragrance carries on damper days and drifts through the garden, even when planted on a boundary edge. 

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