ALL THE LEAVES ARE BROWN...
Marie Staunton prepares to bid adieu to those lovely scented borders
Here we are at the end of our beautiful summer with herbaceous borders that can look a little worse for wear, if you haven't resorted to a bit of cheating with pots. Dahlia, along with begonia, adds that flash of strong colour now.
At this time of the year, canny gardeners will have made sure that their borders have lots of those late flowering perennials such as Coreopsis, Lobelia, Helianthus and Crocosmia. The Chelsea chop done the week of the Chelsea Flower Show means that the phlox is still flowering away, adding even more colour into the border.
There's no doubt that you will have to bring out the big guns like Banana, Rodgersia, Globe artichoke and Ricinus plants to provide the wow factor. Planning ahead so that you will have colour right into late autumn isn't as hard as you might think.
Coreopsis virticillata is one of those bright and cheery little compact plants that offer gorgeous yellow daisy-like flowers right through summer and into early autumn. This is a really good front-of-border plant as it won't get too big and it looks really well planted with cone flowers, Latin name Echinacea. By dead heading the spent flowers, you will encourage even more lovely flowers.
At this time of the year, the slow-release fertiliser that you may have used in spring will be almost out of nutrients, so use a foliar feed to keep plants looking their best for a few more weeks.
The flowers of Lobelia cardinalis are such a vivid red that it would be hard not to like them. I use the lobelia with the herbaceous Sambucus, Heuchera and Coleus blumei 'wizard mixed'. The effect is understated but when the sun hits the foliage of all three they glow irresistibly.
Sometimes it's the foliage that plays second fiddle to the more glamorous flowers in the borders, but never underestimate how afternoon and early evening light can change all that around. The beauty of using the bedding Coleus is that it does just fine in sun or partial shade. You can easily grow them from seed and after the last frosts of spring just plant them into borders or containers and they will see you right through until autumn.
Digitalis, or foxgloves as they are commonly known, are biennial flowering plants, which mean that plants establish and grow leaves in the first year, then flower and produce seeds in their second year. If you cut the flower stalk down before it goes to seed you will have a fair chance of getting a second flowering in August. Do the same with Lupins for a second smaller show of flowers later in the season.
All these little tricks keep the flower borders looking their best until the evenings get a bit cooler and the days a bit shorter and then it's all about planning for spring.
All herbaceous borders along with shrub borders benefit from a good mulch in late winter or early spring. I use leaf mould on the beds along with well-rotted manure; if bark mulch is available I will use it also. The idea of using a mulch is to protect tender plants from most of what winter will throw at them and it also provides nutrients and locks in moisture. It certainly won't suppress all the weed seedlings, but it helps.
If you have never used mulch on your flower beds, then try it this winter. It's like putting a nice comfy blanket on your plants to ensure they are well protected until they come back into flower next spring and summer. I just consider it pay back for all the effort that they put in the flowering department over the season.The leaves are starting to fall and if you haven't rigged up some sort of holding area for them, you will have wasted a fantastic opportunity to make leaf mould.
There are very few things in life that are free but leaves are most certainly free and in abundance, so collect them through the autumn/winter and your flower borders will reap the benefits for years to come. Four posts, with some chicken wire surrounding them, is the easiest way of storing the leaves while they break down. I just put a bit of old carpet on top to stop them from blowing away.
Photo: Ronan Lang