The plants that will keep your borders bright right through the autumn months
I took a road trip this week, from Wicklow through Enniskillen to Bundoran and on to Mullaghmore. All the way, I was amazed at the amount of gardens which were, in these early autumnal days, still full of late summer colour. In our gardens, seasons can melt into each other - there's no definite start or finish time for summer outdoors. So I'd encourage some seasonal planting of herbaceous perennials to cheer up dwindling hours of daylight.
And there's a host of potentials to brighten up your borders. My top herbaceous perennials for early autumnal colour are:
'Bishop of Llandaff' is a must-have bloom for discerning plant lovers. It gives so much deep red value at this time of the year - one not to be missed. 'Karma choc' bears delicious dark black-red flowers atop bronze foliage and is chocolate scented. Twynings 'after eight' is also a beauty, with single white flowers on black foliage. Choose a south-facing position and prepare the soil with plenty of manure as they are greedy feeders. They will need to be stored indoors as soon as frost blackens their foliage.
Echinacea x purpurea
A beautiful flower with vivid pink cones. Don't plant just one on its own, create a drift of three or five. As with most herbaceous perennials, a year or two down the line you can divide and replant, so your summer will seem never-ending. 'White swan' is very elegant and 'tomato soup' creates a vivid warm red splash.
Invaluable for providing flowers in September and October. Many are susceptible to mildew, so it's best to choose resistant varieties such as the New England (novi-angliae) asters. 'Little Carlow' is a popular variety at the moment. It forms mounds of gorgeous violet-blue flowers with no staking or spraying required. 'Monch' is a reliable variety with lavender-blue flowers.
Enormously popular, its tall, delicate, hazy purple flowers pair beautifully with grasses for an unstructured, informal look. They are great value as it flowers throughout the summer and well into the autumn.
Great plumes of vivid purple (pictured) that will keep going until early autumn. Astilbes are generally trouble-free plants with a long season, and very good for bringing colour and interest to shady corners. Plant in full sun or partial shade and don't let the soil dry out. They propagate well from division.
'Joe-pye weed' is a magnet for bees and butterflies, and will add height and bulk to the back of the border. It has good foliage, tinged purple, and makes a striking contrast to the greener plants in the border such as the hostas. An excellent late-summer-flowering perennial that enjoys sun or partial shade and a moisture-retentive soil.
When all things herbaceous have gone over, this is usually the last plant standing. It is succulent and very easy to propagate. 'Autumn Joy', has deep pink masses of flowers which provide late-autumn nectar for butterflies. Don't feed sedums as too much growth will make them flop over.
Best of the rest:
The Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) provides masses of flowers so long as you keep dead-heading them. Schizostylis have delicate sword-like foliage and star-like flowers, and make cheery clumps in the garden. Coreopsis are beautiful with cheery yellow, daisy-like flowers. Astrantia are fantastic: lace-like foliage and wonderful frothy papery flowers. For splashes of dark foliage try Heuchera 'palace purple'. Penstemons should be in everybody's garden - they flower for so long and are such a simple cottage garden delight.