In my garden some of the plants I grow for mid-summer colour are still going strong well into Autumn, like Verbena Bonariensis, Cornflowers and Russian Sage, and some flowers are having a second flowering like the Campanula and Aquilega, but it’s lovely to inject some vibrancy into the scheme with some fresh colours. Here are some suggestions on plants to consider for this.
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The Asteraceae family really dominates the flower bed in late summer and three of my top picks for easy late-colour perennials are from that family. They all have open daisy shaped flowers that are great for pollinating insects but on the downside they can be an irritant for hay fever sufferers.
Asters (see above) offer small white or purple starlike flowers on multi-stemmed herbaceous plants. They are a great way of introducing purple into the border at this time of year when most flowers are often ‘hotter’ in hue. The traditional aster, Michaelmas daisy, is prone to mildew if it gets too dry but mildew resistant varieties are now available. It grows on a range of soils and will last until the first frost.
Rudbekia is such an easy plant to grown and comes in a variety of species with different growing habits and flowering times. The most popular variety is called ‘Black-eyed Susan’ or ‘Golstrum’. It has an incredibly long flowering season so you get to enjoy those luminescent yellow flowers from August right up until the first frosts. It’s not invasive, will tolerate most soils and likes full and partial sun. It’s such a joy in the garden it’s a shame not to have it.
Another daisy shaped flower is that of Helenium. Most typically in tones of orange or copper this plant also comes in golden-yellow shades too. More commonly known as ‘sneezeweed’ some varieties can grow as tall as 1.5 metres although smaller varieties (up to 50cm) are available.
The shape of the flower on Echinacea looks very similar to Rudbekia but they tend to be white, pink or purple while Rudbekia come in tones of yellow and orange. Their growing habit is very similar to that of Rudbekia and need very little care, once they’re on the right type of free-draining soil.
Most people think of spring when you mention bulbs but there’s a whole host of Autumn flowering bulbs like Colchicum, commonly know as meadow saffron or naked ladies. They’re called naked ladies because the crocus shaped flowers come up by themselves and are followed by leaves in time.
Another Autumn flowering bulb is the Autumn Crocus, which in addition to their pale white or purple flowers has the added benefit of providing a harvest of saffron.
My favourite Autumn flowering bulb is the Nerine Lilly from South Africa. It is available in white but it’s bubblegum-pink cousin Nerine Bowdenii, commonly know as Bowden Lily, is a sight to behold in the late summer border. Like colchicum the flowers appear without leaves first and the leaves follow on as the flowers fade.
Japanese Anemones are ubiquitous in gardens in Dublin and are synonymous in my mind with returning to school. The flowers sit on long stems above the foliage and can be single or double and come in white, pale or dark pink. They can be prone to mildew if they get dry but it’s worth it for the lovely display of daisy like flowers at this time of year. The plant can be a bit of a thug and I suggest keeping a check on its size every year.
Sedum sits there doing very little for most of the year until they explode into colour in Autumn, offering some much-needed nectar to pollinating insects, that love it. I particularly like that their waxy ice-green leaves offer a different texture in the border. These plants are commonly known as stonecrop because of their preference for stony soils. If you grow them on richer soils, or clay, they tend to flop over and are a bugger to keep compact. This year I chopped mine right back in May (called the Chelsea chop) and I’m thrilled to report that it has resulted in a lovely compact plant that’s an absolute delight this September. The plant is sometimes labelled as ‘ice plant’ because of it’s slightly frosted looking leaves, which help make the plant drought resistant.
I adore Schizostylis coccinea, commonly know as crimson flag lily. It’s such an easy plant to grow and it’s gladioli-shaped pale pink or coral pink flowers are a joy at this time of the year. The plant doesn’t stand very erect and so I plant it to flop over other plants that flowered earlier in the year. Mine spreads very easily so it’s great for gifting to friends and family.
Cyclamen is something that we tend to associate with Winter colour and there are varieties that flower later in the year. Last year I bought a few Cyclamen Hederifolium, which I’m happy to report are now in full flower. The blooms are smaller than other cyclamen plants but as they’re supposed to self-seed I will hopefully have a nice colourful clump in a couple of years. My flowers are cerise pink but they come in white, pale pink and purple too. Another variety of hardy cyclamen that will come back year after year is Cyclamen Coum, which flowers during the winter.
Check out the other articles in this series
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Selecting Plants
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Planning for Summer
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Spring Colour
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Early Summer Colour
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Mid Summer Colour
- Wildlife Friendly Gardening
- Sustainable Gardening Hacks
- Guide to Composters and Composting