Keep your garden flowering well into the autumn with colourful shrubs such as fuchsia and hebes
The art of achieving a well- planted garden is to choose a succession of plants which will provide interest throughout the year. And much of the splendour comes from flowers.
In spring and summer, this is easily achieved - but some knowledge is required to keep the show going.
Autumn is a wonderful time to be outdoors. It's a season of dramatic change. With a gentle cooling of temperatures and softening of the light, things look different. The cooling air and soil signals to our plants that they have reached another point in their annual cycle.
Walking through country lanes this week, I saw sorbus trees laden with red berries; shiny, plump blackberries ripening on the vine, and rose hips swelling. As the poet Keats wrote, it's "the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness".
But there are also plenty of flowers to admire as well. There are many beautiful herbaceous plants dancing in the borders - crocosmias, asters, rudbeckias, heleniums and sedums to name but a few - but this week I am going to celebrate the shrubs that shine in September.
Top of my list is the hardy fuchsia, F. magellanica (pictured left). It's such an easy plant to grow, with its wonderful purple and red exotic Chilean flowers. They thrive in sun or shade in any well-drained soil. 'Mrs Popple' is an excellent cultivar but I also like the graceful 'Alba', which has delicate white faintly tinged with pink. 'Tom Thumb' is a dwarf variety, perfect for a patio or balcony.
Then there's the blue spiraea, Caryopteris (right). This is a lovely front-of-border compact shrub with terminal clusters of blue flowers - the more intense blue varieties are 'First Choice' and 'Kew Blue'. This is a particularly good species for chalky soil. Grow in full sunshine to benefit from the scent of its aromatic leaves and for maximum flowers. It's easily propagated from cuttings and most attractive to wildlife. Other blue flowers at this time can be found on Ceanothus 'Autumnal Blue' - a hardy evergreen ceanothus packed with sky-blue flowers - and Ceratostigma willmottianum, the hardy plumbago, which produces azure flowers over a long period in autumn.
Hebes are a sometimes overlooked shrub but there are some beautiful varieties and Hebe 'Great Orme', which is currently in blossom, is one such. It's an evergreen with narrow dark leaves and lovely long spikes of pink flowers from July to October. Also known as shrubby veronica, hebes are often seen in coastal districts, as their leaves are well adapted to repelling salt-laden winds. Plant in moist well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
Plenty of pink blooms are also still being produced by the trusty mallow, Lavatera, and of course our old favourite, the hydrangea.
In my garden, I have a relatively young Clerodendrum trichotomum and this year it has started to flower - small white and maroon lily-scented flowers. These will be followed by bright blue fruits (right). If you crush the foliage, weirdly it smells of peanut butter! It is therefore sometimes referred to as the peanut butter tree but is also known, rather magnificently, as harlequin glorybower. It's a deciduous shrub, small at the moment, but should ultimately grow to be a petite tree.
Leycesteria formosa, also known as the pheasant berry (below), was popular during Victorian times, when it was widely planted as game cover for shoots. Its flowers at the moment are beautiful - white in drooping panicles of claret-red bracts. These are followed by dark berries, which pheasants seem to enjoy.
However, it can be a bit invasive so it may be one of those shrubs which are nice to admire in somebody else's garden!
Finally, a couple of small trees that are blooming well: Aralia elata is an excellent tree for the pocket-sized garden and is currently producing its annual display of sprays of tiny creamy- white flowers.
But the most eye- catching of all has to be Eucryphia (left), which you just don't see enough of. This shrub is smothered in big white showy flowers - the kind that you would normally associate with springtime. It does prefer acid soil, however, which may account for its rare but outstanding appearances.