Fiery late bloomers
Extend a touch of high-summer glamour with plants that will flower into autumn
To my hypercritical eye the garden by this time of the year has become an overblown mess. My policy of fussing over the structure and then letting it all rip is all very well until the glamour of high summer descends abruptly into the rusty, dusty tattiness of autumn, and I wish I had been more ruthless.
And yet, there is still much to delight, including patches of bright foliage and colour from the lateflowering perennials that prolong interest deep into the autumn.
Among these, Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’ is making an appearance at the bottom of the garden. It has diamond-shaped leaves and tall stems the colour of the best dark chocolate; and then, in early autumn, it produces arching stems of off-white flowers, tinted purple in bud. This stunning plant prefers moist, fertile soil, but is happy in my garden in dry shade.
Nearby, is another dramatic lateflowering perennial, Boltonia asteroides, or false aster. This is a native North American wild flower that thrives in my London garden. It grows to 6ft tall and needs dividing every two or three years.
Its clouds of clear, white, goldeneyed daisies appear in autumn. It is charming as a cut flower, and its only shortcoming is that it needs some pretty determined staking unless it is held tightly upright by neighbouring plants.
Nearer to the house is a massive specimen of Gillenia trifoliata (my Plant of the week in the 13 July issue). This is a plant that delivers a lot – which is important in a tiny garden. It has a mass of starry white flowers on red stems in July, and then the rather delicate foliage turns a fiery red and burnished orange in autumn.
At the RHS London Autumn Harvest Show (to be held this year on 9-10 October in the Horticultural Halls, Westminster) I always love the vases of cut flowers and foliage – there are invariably some dazzling bunches of Gillenia trifoliata.
Its next-door neighbour in my garden, competing thuggishly for the same inadequate space, is a stout plant of Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Alba’. It has grown over the path and will need some discipline shortly, but for the moment it is a heavenly mass of tapering white flower spikes.
Dahlias have been banished to the allotment, where they are currently the high point of the cutting garden, and because their purpose is to provide flowers for the house, I have no compunction in stripping them of flowers when vases need replenishing. And, of course, the more flowers you pick, the more are produced, in massive quantities until the frosts turn these vigorous plants into rather alarming black skeletons.
Dahlia flowers come in many forms: single, peony, pompom, cactus and waterlily among them. I like the wilder type of flower, and one of my favourites is ‘Rip City’, a semi-cactus type, which is a ravishing dark garnet red. Other favourites include the dark red cactus ‘Chat Noir’ and the purple miniature ball ‘Downham Royal’.
In colder parts of the country, dahlia tubers should be lifted and overwintered in a frost-free environment such as a garage or basement. In warmer areas such as the south-east, tubers can be left to overwinter in the ground.
For the best results they need to be planted in free-draining soil, although they do survive in my typical London clay. To give them the best chance of survival, I plant them 8in deep and mulch heavily with homemade compost.
And last but not least in my floriferous autumn garden are the roses, in particular the scented white ‘Margaret Merril’. This gorgeous floribunda has the longest flowering season of any rose I know, and will often offer a tiny pink-tinged flower on Christmas Day. Its only shortcoming is a susceptibility to black spot.
On the pergola, the rambler ‘Open Arms’, which is very disease-resistant, has the palest of pink semi-double flowers produced in profusion long into the autumn. On reflection, maybe not such a mess after all.
Main picture courtesy of www.plantify.co.uk
It’s been a hit-and-miss year in the vegetable garden, so maybe it’s time to plant some perennial vegetables – less weather-dependent than annuals and, with luck, they’ll come up every year.
Sea kale (Crambe maritima) produces tender shoots in spring that can be blanched and harvested when 10-12cm long. Cook as for asparagus. Its white flowers are honey scented. 9cm pot, £3.
Zingiber mioga is a hardy woodland ginger, a leafy, deciduous plant native to Japan and Korea. The flower buds are used in miso soup, tempura, pickles and as a spice. Grows to 1.5-2m tall. 1.4ltr pot, £7.50.
Skirret (Sium sisarum) is of Chinese origin, cultivated here since the 1200s. It has clusters of fragrant flowers from late spring to autumn, and an aromatic root used like salsify or parsnip; remove woody core before cooking. One-year-old plant, £5.
Pennard Plants has these and others, such as the Egyptian tree onion, Babbington’s leek, an easyto- grow British native, and earth chestnuts. Order now for delivery later this month: 01749-860039, www.pennardplants.com
Plant of the week
Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ is a star of late summer – a sneezeweed that produces abundant coppery orange, daisy-like flowers and looks good with grasses. It likes full sun and well-drained soil; bees and butterflies love it. Widely available.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920