Wednesday 16 October 2019

Diarmuid Gavin: September blooms

It's not just foliage that gives the garden autumn colour


Diarmuid Gavin

Autumn gardening tends to be associated with the changing colours of leaves, where green turns to gold and russet. However, it also presents a moment for other plants to show off their best - and there is plenty of colour available from blossoms as well as foliage. This week, let's look at how you can revitalise summer pots and containers with some autumn glory.

Yesterday morning, I called round to a friend's house and saw trays of heather, fresh from the garden centre, ready for planting. He was getting ready to 'dot' them round his plot to cheer up the garden in its third season. After chatting we agreed he'd get more bang for his buck if he grouped them in one spot in areas which were seen every day (when the weather gets colder we don't tend to venture far into our plots). It's a handy tip for us all: whenever you're introducing seasonal plant colours use them at their most impactful.

We settled on placing them in pots outside the front door. That way they're closer to my friend's eye-line and their beauty is most appreciated.

There are trays of tempting cyclamen (pictured) in the garden shops at the moment and it's hard to resist their perfect blooms, in white, vivid pink and scarlet red, combined with the decorative foliage. Ask for hardy varieties - florist varieties will only survive indoors but Cyclamen hederifolium, for example, will not blink at frost. Bear in mind when planting autumnal bedding such as cyclamen that they won't be putting on much growth in winter, so arrange them closely together.

The Chrysanthemum comes into its prime this season and can provide you with flowers until November and December. Possibly not the trendiest of species, it's the right time for a fashionable reinvention in your plot. This plant is much revered in the East, where it is the symbol of the Emperor in Japan and oft depicted in Chinese art throughout the centuries as a symbol of autumn and nobility.

The Korean and rubellum varieties are hardy in our gardens - and are therefore known as 'hardy mums' - and there are plenty of colours to choose from. 'Emperor of China' is an old variety with lovely silvery pink flowers opening from dark mauve buds. Also pink are the single daisy-like flowers of 'Clara Curtis'.

Look out for 'Nantderry Sunshine' for a zingy yellow, or you may prefer the warmer tones of russets and oranges of 'Burnt Orange' and 'Paul Boissier'.

Heucheras are another good choice for your winter pots. Also known as 'Coral Bells', they send up wispy flowers in spring and summer, but the main attraction is the foliage. They have been bred in many different colours so you'll be able to pick according to your scheme.

Deep purples and maroons such as 'Blackberry Jam' and 'Forever Purple' contrast beautifully with the zingy greens of 'Lime Marmalade'. There are varieties in crimson, pink and apricot.

'Autumn Cascade' is a mix of seasonal russets and reds, and with a semi-trailing habit would be beautiful in your hanging baskets as well.

They don't like drying out so maintain watering to keep them looking good. Otherwise, they are pretty low maintenance and disease free - as a bonus slugs and snails aren't hugely interested in them.

Green foliage is the natural partner to any burst of colour and there are plenty of possibilities, from the classic topiary box balls and spheres to pyramid laurels. These make elegant focal points in a pot and can be garlanded below with some pretty violas, bellis perennis and polyanthus.

For a less structured appearance, you could plant some hardy herbs like sage and rosemary or use evergreen ferns and sedges.

If you're forgetful about watering, position your pots where they will catch some rain. If you position them under the eaves near the house, you will need to tend to them regularly.

Top Tip

This week is a good time for some housekeeping: refresh the planting medium from your pots, and throw the old summer stuff onto your compost heap, or out in your borders somewhere.

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