Monday 21 October 2019

Hot and fiery colours for Autumn

Andrew Collyer

I'VE never been a great fan of hot fiery flower colours in the garden. Those brazen yellows, blazing oranges and smouldering brick reds have always grated on me.

But at this time of year when the light appears to be somehow softer they seem to find my favour, and a place in the garden, much more easily. I'm not sure if it is because they make me hanker for the hot summer days just gone or whether they conjure up anticipation of the evening fires at home that are to come but at this time of year they are a welcome guest in the garden.

The mere mention of the colour tangerine is enough to send a shudder through me but Potentilla fruticosa 'Tangerine' [Shrubby cinquefoil] has gone from an apparently lurid orange in summer to the warm afterglow of russet in my eyes now September is here. The shrubby Potentillas are wonderfully adaptable plants and flower continuously from May well into October. They make only a small shrub 90cms x 90cms or smaller, like P. 'Medicine Wheel Mountain' which is a stunning prostrate variety only 15cms high with bright golden yellow flowers.

Potentillas respond very well to hard pruning so can be easily managed. They can look completely dead in the winter however, so much so that I had a customer come to me in a garden centre in December some years ago looking for Potentilla 'Red Ace'. I showed her a perfectly healthy dormant plant but she totally refused to believe me when I explained it was alive and left post-haste. Potentillas also come in whites, creams and pinks as well.

Another plant that wouldn't get away with it in my garden at any other time of year is the appropriately named Red Hot Poker [Kniphofia uvaria 'Royal Standard' ]. Its tall spikes of flowers, 1.2m high, are red in bud, open orange and fade to yellow. From that description I wouldn't plant it but with companion plants like the lovely variegated grass Miscanthus 'Morning Light' and the colbalt blue flowers of a Ceratostigma mixed with the cooling white of Anemone 'Whirlwind' it really is quite something.

For the faint hearted there are more subtle cultivars available like K. 'Percy's Pride' which has yellow/ green flower spikes or the diminutive K. 'Little Maid' at 60cms high with yellow buds fading to cream as they open.

Crocosmia [Montbretia] has naturalised from gardens into hedgerows and ditches in Ireland where they provide a fiery blaze amongst the long grass on many a country road in August/September. Actually a native of grassland in South Africa it flowers more a Dutch orange than a fruit orange if you follow me and it is a colour I find hard to take either in the garden or countryside.

But I don't write off Crocosmia as there are some beautiful cultivars available even if the species does little for me. C. 'Ember Glow' , 90cms high, has had its flowers described as like staring into a fire with shades of red and orangey yellows on the same blooms. C. 'Lucifer' is a searing paprika red and as hot as you can get. The smaller , 60cms, yellow C. 'Solfaterre' is too soft a yellow to be considered a hot colour but, probably because of this, is my personal favourite. Plant crocosmia with some late flowering Asters like 'Harrington's Pink' or 'Violetta' and they work a treat.

Asters have daisy type flowers and this group of plants are high achievers in the fiery colours stakes at this time of year and top of the list has to be the Heleniums ['Sneezeweed']. They grow to between 80cms to 140cms, have large daisy type flower about 6cms across and come in every shade of orange, yellow and red.

Helenium 'Chipperfield Orange' starts out yellow on the tips of the petals , becoming more orange then orangey brown at the flower centre. H. Fiesta does something similar but goes from yellow to orange red to red. There is no subtlety here, these flowers shout not whisper. H. 'Septembergold' is just yellow and perhaps the most sophisticated is H. 'Moerheim Beauty' that opens a warm red and fades to an orche brown. Surprisingly Heleniums don't like it too dry and tolerate moist soil which refects their native environment of North American damp grasslands.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' [ Black Eyed Susan]is also a North American daisy and a tough one at that. Very easily grown it is smaller than the Heleniums at around 60cms. Its flower are brassy golden yellow 8cms across with a very dark almost black centre eye, hence the name I guess. R. lacinata 'Herbstonne' is a plant I have mentioned before, much taller than 'Goldsturm' at 180cms and a much more elegant plant in every way. It's also yellow but the shade and flower shape are far superior in my opinion.

No article on late flowering plants would be complete without a mention of Dahlias. A very short mention as they could be an article on their own. They are some of the most colour varied over bred flowers in existence and certainly give us some of the hottest colours to boot. Lurid pinks, gaudy yellows, violent reds and harsh oranges. They vary tremendously in flower shape classification as well, single, double, cactus,collerette, pompon and waterlily to name a few and they all flower and flower from mid summer to first frost. And at this time of year I love them all.

Some people like it hot in the summer I prefer it hot in early autumn.

Enniscorthy Guardian