Autumn gardens
Thursday, 12 September 2013

Bathed in glowing colours

Late summer’s light intensifies fiery reds, strong oranges and dusky purples, says our columnist

Written by Sarah Langton-Lockton
Attentive readers will have noticed that I have a soft spot for white flowers, closely followed by sky blue. As summer fades, however, and the days shorten, the low sun casts a warm light on the garden and bathes it in glowing colour. And so, at this time of year, I have a craving for fiery reds and assertive oranges, acid-sharp yellows and the dusky purple of an English plum. These are the colours that are intensified by late summer’s golden light.

When I first started making gardens, yellow flowers were considered rather common. It has taken me some time to recover from this snobbery, and I confess I still confine most of my yellowflowering plants to the allotment. There, at the back of the cutting bed, are several strong-growing plants of the perennial sunflower, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. I admired this late last autumn at Loseley Park, where it was still flowering vigorously, surrounded by plants bleached and turned to paper by prolonged summer sun.


Rudbeckias make a useful, hardy clump in a summer border, their vivid yellow flowers with black central cones casting an Indian summer glow right through to winter. Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii grows to 1m, requiring only fertile soil and plenty of sun to thrive. On the allotment I grow the similar but shorter R. fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, which reaches only 45cm. ‘Goldsturm’ is quick to establish and the clumps tend to get congested, so lift and divide in autumn or spring. The plantswoman’s choice is R. maxima, which can grow to 1.5m. It has blue-grey leaves and tall, branching stems holding flowers with prominent black cones and long, drooping petals.

There are some lovely yellow crocosmias, such as Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora ‘George Davison’, but the one that never ceases to delight is the flaming red C. ‘Lucifer’. This plant is grown from corms and hails from the grasslands of South Africa. The swordlike leaves spring up early in the year, providing interest among the thickets of emerging foliage. The vibrant flower sprays light up the garden in August and September. Plant ‘Lucifer’ next to a path so that its tall, arching flower stems can be seen to full advantage.

Sedums are a staple of the glowing autumn border, but I confess to a poor record in managing their floppy habit. They are, however, attractive in bud as well as in flower, and are a magnet for bees and butterflies. As a bonus, they also have good seed heads in winter. I grow S. ‘Purple Emperor’, which has upright, purple-brown succulent stems and leaves and pale pink flowers in maroon bracts. One I covet is S. ‘Red Cauli’, which has dark red foliage and cauliflower-like florets of small, deep red flowers. More delicate in hue is S. ‘Matrona’, which bears wide heads of pale rose-pink flowers on upright stems with dark-green, maroon-tinged leaves.

Penstemons were much admired by Victorian gardeners. They flower abundantly from early autumn until the onset of the first frosts. A longstanding favourite is Penstemon ‘Garnet’ (usually listed now as P. ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’), one of the hardiest varieties of a plant that may not always survive the winter. They are more often killed by prolonged wet, rather than severe cold, so avoid planting in heavy clay soil.

I have to include just one white flower – the ubiquitous but beautiful Japanese anemone, Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’. It has dark, divided leaves and pure white, saucer-shaped, five-petalled flowers. The luminous white of the flowers has a jewel-like intensity even in deep shade. I wouldn’t be without it. u Visit the RHS Plant Finder at

Gardening wear


I confess to being the kind of gardener who likes to dress down for serious work in the garden or on the plot – jeans that are no longer wearable in other contexts, ancient jerseys and disintegrating walking boots. As a result I am often cold and muddy, with rather wet knees.

Help is at hand with a range of performance garden clothing from new company Genus. Influenced by sportswear technology, the clothes are relaxed and stylish, with lots of practical features.

The range has been launched with three pieces each for men and women – trousers, a gilet and a lightweight jersey. The trousers, for example, are in a lightweight stretch fabric that is stain resistant and shower proof, have knee and seat protection and lots of pockets including one for sharp tools. All items are machine washable and come in a range of sizes.

Prices start at £49. There’s an informative website at or call 01285-740004 for more details.

Plant of the week

Plant of the week

Knipho a ‘Ice Queen’ has greentipped buds opening to the palest creamy-yellow. An elegant modern form of the formerly despised redhot poker. Height: up to 1.2m; spread: 80cm. £7.95:

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