My Top 10 Plants for Autumn Interest
It’s that time of year when suddenly, I notice the evenings getting darker and the mornings feeling much cooler. Autumn has arrived and although summer is coming to an end, there are still plenty of plants in your garden that can give colour and interest right through autumn and up to the beginning of winter.
There are many different species of anemones but the ones that offer beautiful colour through autumn are the ‘so-called’ Japanese types. With most standing at nearly a metre high, their flowers, which can vary from purest white through to deepest pink, provide elegance in the border from early September into October. You can find single or semi-double varieties and when it comes to growing them, they seem to do best in a good garden soil with a shaded or part-shaded position. Once they’ve made themselves at home they will readily spread.
Probably the most quintessential herbaceous perennial for autumn colour. So many different shapes, sizes, colours and now names, too. Recently the genus Aster has been reviewed and separated into several new genus groups. The varieties we grow can now be found on our nursery under the names of Aster, Doellingeria, Eurybia and Symphyotrichum. Beth has always stated that A. x frikartii ‘Monch’ is the finest of all the asters and a good tip to keep them compact and flower abundant is to give them the Chelsea chop in May.
The common name for this plant is the autumn crocus. Large, goblet-shaped flowers emerge in late August and will keep on going often into October. Perhaps the most beautiful attribute of this bulb is that the flowers are not obscured in any way by foliage. The large leaves do not show themselves until late spring, long after flowering has finished, allowing the flowers to steal the show through autumn. Easy to grow in sun or shade and in rich soil or poor. Here, we have them pushing up through lawn in our car park. Truly versatile and truly stunning.
One of my personal favourites. There is something about the pink and white cyclamen flowers carpeting a woodland floor that makes me smile. C. hederifolium is a hardy autumn flowering species that survives in the UK climate. The large corms will sit almost on the surface of the soil, lying dormant through summer until September when delicate flowerheads emerge from the centre of each one. Attractive, patterned, ivy-like foliage follows to give interest through much of winter. They do well in dry shade so planting them under established trees and shrubs helps brighten darker spots.
In particular, H. ‘Lemon Queen’. This perennial requires a retentive soil and what amazing colour it can give through late summer and into early autumn. Lemony-yellow flowers with slightly darker centres smother the bright green foliage and provide a rich source of nectar for bees late in the season. This plant does best in a sunny position at the back of a border as it can reach up to two metres in height.
Formally known as Schizostylis this is perhaps one of the most under-valued and under-used garden plants. As long as it is given the right conditions, that being a retentive soil with lots of sun, I have found it to be flowering right up to Christmas Day. Prolific in late autumn with bright, bold pinks and reds. It just keeps flowering until regular frosts, but its sword-like foliage is evergreen and will spread to form dense clumps.
7. Hylotelephium (Sedum)
Most people will still know this group of plants as sedums. Hylotelephium is now the name for the taller border forms, whilst the low, ground-cover types remain as Sedum. These perennials have large, succulent-like foliage that can vary in colour from pale, bright greens to deep purple. The blooms that top this interesting foliage are made up of hundreds of individual little flowers that are great for pollinators and the stiff stems will die back, turn brown and provide structural interest throughout winter.
Great in a shaded position, lilyturf, with its strappy dark green foliage will go largely unnoticed throughout most of the year, but in autumn they are a star performer. L. muscari has short spikes of bright purple flowers that resemble small berries, densely packed on an upright stem. Standing not much above 30cm, this evergreen perennial is well worth its place in anybody’s garden.
Autumn is a wonderful time of year for grasses and in particular Miscanthus sinensis cultivars. They form large, dense clumps and showcase bright, feathery, narrow plumes that look superb in low autumn light. Standing tall (up to two metres) and upright through the whole of winter is an added bonus. Making sure you can provide a good garden soil and enough space is the key to getting the best from these tough ornamental plants.
Known as the fountain grass, there are many different species of pennisetum, but all have the same distinctive bottle-brush flower. These clump-forming grasses do best in full sun but require varying soil types. Lovely throughout autumn, especially amongst herbaceous perennials flowering at the same time.