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True colours

Gardens should be bright and beautiful, so be bold -- even when autumn kicks in, says Marie Staunton

When I see a garden brimming with colour at this time of the year, a bit of the green-eyed monster comes out in me.

It's a very passionate and att-entive gardener who has borders filled with colour come October -- the rest of us do our best to disguise the gaps that appear, and content ourselves with other tasks around the garden to take our minds off the less-than-appealing end-of- summer borders.

Gardening is a constant learning curve, and using plants that give a longer flowering season will ensure that the old pride remains intact.

Agapanthus, commonly known as the African lily, can offer both colour and height in a garden right into early autumn.

If you have less space, go for Agapanthus 'Lilliput', which has beautiful blue flowers but is neat and compact and ideal for small patio gardens and pots.

The larger agapanthus looks particularly well teamed with Crocosmia 'African Glow', a beautiful yellow variety which isn't as invasive as the ordinary orange crocosmia.

Even when out of flower, the African lily has very stylish-looking seed heads to prolong the season even more. There is a white variety which you might like to try called Agapanthus 'White Heaven'.

As the leaves are cleared away and bare patches appear, wouldn't it be much nicer to see a bit of ground cover to cheer yourself up as the days get a bit shorter?

Autumn crocuses are delicate flowers that arrive just in time to bridge that gap before the cyclamen come into their own. They aren't as popular as the spring crocus, and that might be due to the price, but they will naturalise so they are really worth the initial investment.

There are a couple that we have here in the garden -- the Latin names are Colchicum autumnale and Colchicum 'Waterlily', if you are going in search of a few to buy.

We planted them under a lot of our trees and they appear like little jewels when we least expect them.

Cyclamen is such an invaluable plant that we are constantly sowing seeds around quiet little parts of the garden.

In time, there will be a very impressive display of this lovely little woodland perennial -- without too much effort on our part.

By investing a few bob in some interesting plants, you will keep the whole transition into autumn a lot less dramatic and your eye will be drawn to what is flowering, rather than what's dying off.

I mention salvia a lot in my articles and you probably think I have shares in the plant, but they are in-credibly versatile plants, provided you give them a bit of a hair cut in July to keep them flowering right into October.

I have tried many colours of salvia in border displays, but my favourite is still the red salvia called Huntsman Red, because its vibrant colour means it stands out from the crowd.

Leave salvia over winter without cutting it back, as the stems will protect the plant from being wiped out from a heavy frost.

Prune them back in spring when you see the new little leaves appearing almost at ground level and, then, take them back hard; 15cm is about right to keep them from going too woody.

If you want a plant that flowers and flowers from early summer and into autumn, which is hassle free and can fill a nice bare patch in a border, then consider Cistus x hybridus or Cistus x hybridus 'Little Miss Sunshine'.

It is a plant that makes hardly any demands on your time and it has the loveliest sunny-looking flowers to brighten up your garden or patio.

I have come to the conclusion that I am a magpie when it comes to plants and I'm definitely drawn to all things bright and beautiful.

A friend once said to me that once children come into your life, so too does colour.

I'm inclined to agree. Gardens should be happy places and if you can squeeze a bit more colour into them, all the better.

Weekend Magazine