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Autumn’s opening act! Don’t miss out on a blaze of colour as the season changes

Autumn’s opening act! Don’t miss out on a blaze of colour as the season changes










Summer’s official end is 24 days away. But never let that depress you. Autumn gardens can be spectacularly beautiful, if planted for year-round interest.

Being a sort of clapped-out romantic, I love September almost as much as May. As nights grow cooler, lawns become silvered with morning dew. Trees and shrubs make a gentle transition from cool greens to warmer yellows. The best then turn russet or red before falling.

Among flowers, many of the year’s brightest and most varied colours appear in autumn. Summer stalwarts such as dahlias, penstemons and best New World salvias will continue to flower until the first hard frost.

Super-fresh new flowers will appear, too, from an abundance of ‘short-day’ plants. After holding their fire all summer, these will bring fresh, clean colours which contrast or harmonise sweetly with the turning leaves.

Summer’s official end is 24 days away. But never let that depress you. Autumn gardens can be spectacularly beautiful, if planted for year-round interest

Autumn-flowering plants are surprisingly durable. Gentle colours include soft pinks, mauves, purples or blues. There are also yellows, orange, rusty tan and scarlet.

The best late-flowering perennials include Michaelmas daisies, rudbeckias, tall sedums — now called Hylotelephium — and perennial sunflowers. Autumn bulbs include pink nerines, Hesperantha, and Eucomis or pineapple lilies.

TURN UP THE HEAT

Herbaceous perennials are the major providers of autumn flowers. Many come in yellows, orange or rusty red. Those harmonise with background leaf colours, but there are cooler blues and mauves, too.

For large spaces, perennial sunflowers, Helianthus, are tall with flowers ranging from golden yellow to pale lemon. Perennial rudbeckias are more compact, especially black-eyed, yellow petalled Rudbeckia fulgida.

In contrast, the mighty R. laciniata Herbstsonne can grow 2.5 m high, with whopping, buttercup-yellow flowers.

In softer colours, Michaelmas daisies flower from now till November. Symphyotrichum novae-angliae come in warm pinks or purples. I grow pink Alma Potschke and bright purple, yellow-centred Violetta.

Later daises are frost resistant and the last to flower, S. lateriflorum var. horizontale are still fresh in December.

The pastel mauves, blues or pinks of Michaelmas daises will contrast with stronger colours. New World salvias such as Royal Bumble carry scarlet flowers until the first frosts. The flowers of Kniphofia rooperi keep their heat well into October.

You can cool that with tall Salvia Black and Blue or purple S. Amista.

FIERY FRUITS

Autumn is a delightfully relaxed season. But planning results in a better, longer-lasting show. Selecting plants for autumn colour always guarantees good results. But varieties for other seasons can also have secondary autumn features.

Spring-flowering crab apples such as Golden Hornet carry attractive autumn fruits. Pyracantha hedges are burdened with yellow, orange or red berry clusters. Even roses such as Scarlet Fire or Rosa moyesii can carry handsome fruits.

Autumn bulbs, corms and tubers bring a breath of spring to the declining year. Colchicums are the best-known, pushing up naked flowers in mauve, pink or white.

My favourites are cyclamen. The flowers of C. hederifolium are already all over my garden.

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