Autumn gardens: late-flowering plants

The colder weather and darker nights of autumn are here but without much effort you can still keep your garden looking good through October and well beyond.
Create an Indian summer with flowering latecomers that keep blooming until October and beyond. Daisy flowers predominate, with rudbeckias, the golden-rayed, browncentred coneflowers, providing the sunniest splash of late colour. The RHS has justifiably given Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii Goldsturm, which has single, yolk-yellow flowers centred with chocolate-coloured cones, an Award of Garden Merit.

Create high jinks in the border by teaming it with another coneflower, the deep pink, rustcentred Echinacea purpurea. Asters provide a more familiar, smaller-headed daisy, but choose with care, as many varieties are susceptible to mildew. Aster frikartii Monch is the fail-safe variety that, grown en masse, creates a pool of lavender blue; Little Carlow, reaching a more modest 80cm, is ideal for containers.

Late-flowering plants
© Marianne Majerus
American beauty Echinacea purpurea is a welcome latecome

Clematis will put on a late-summer show that lasts through autumn, provided you buy the right variety. Clematis tangutica has striking lantern flowers in sharp acid yellow from late summer to October, and follows these — sometimes at the same time — with silvery, silken seed heads, the size of your fist, that ask to be stroked. Just cut the stems back to a pair of strong buds above ground level in early spring for a repeat performance.

Every garden should have an exotic or two to add a little spice: Salvia guaranitica Black'n'Blue bucks the trend of late-summer's fiery tones with dark purple spikes bearing sage flowers of a wonderful royal blue that will keep coming until late autumn. This is a stunning plant for either a container or a sheltered spot.

Grasses look magical in late summer and autumn light. If you've never tried them in your garden, buy a trio of Stipa tenuissima, plant them around any flowering perennial and you will be hooked on the teasing way they swish in the wind and catch the sunlight, flattering the flowers around them like a gauzy veil. All you need do to keep this golden, shimmering grass hitting its peak every year is cut off the old growth in spring to allow for the new fresh growth.

Viburnum opulus Compactum, the compact version of our native guelder rose, is a jewel of a shrub and, at this time of year, the bunches of translucent scarlet berries which hang from the stems resemble the most beautiful Venetian glass earrings. Coupled with shapely leaves that turn a dark purple in autumn, and clusters of pretty white lace-cap flowers in June, this is a real showcase shrub that will not grow larger than 1.5 metres yet will add a touch of the countryside to the town garden.

Sedums are late-summer stalwarts that just keep getting better as the weeks roll on, their flat flower heads gradually intensifying in colour. Autumn Joy is drought-tolerant, dependable and its flower heads start out a pale green and pink, intensifying through brick and finally to copper in October and November. Try, too, one of the sedums with dark stems and foliage such as Purple Emperor, that has deep ruby foliage, which complements the rich pink flowers. One sedum in the border looks good; several grouped together look sensational and will create a mini-sanctuary positively buzzing with bees and butterflies.

For maximum flower power, however, simply buy yourself a pot full of mini-mums. Garden centres and nurseries are currently offering the fullest, fattest plants that form a full, wide parasol of crowded button chrysanthemum heads, too numerous to count. Just a pair of these on the patio, at their finest in shades of rich gold or deep garnet, will keep the summer sun burning for weeks and remind you, in the nicest possible way, that autumn is not so very far away.

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