Cheltenham
The Cheltonian > Articles

Autumn fantasy

Gardening with Sue Tallents

There are two schools of thought as to how to plan your planting: either disperse the plants that perform at different seasons throughout the garden so there is some colour everywhere most of the time, or combine those that perform at the same time into one area to give maximum impact, even though it may look a little dull for the rest of the year.

The RHS is currently promoting the traditional practise of autumn planting, as the plants have time to establish before the winter and get a head start in the spring. So if you have a special event coming up in late summer or early autumn next year, now is the time to plan a great backdrop for taking outdoor photographs. If I had room in my garden I would make space for a sunny border peaking during August, September and October, crammed with my favourite plants in the blue/purple/crimson part of the spectrum. Later in the season yellows oranges and scarlets inevitably dominate as the autumn leaves colour up, so this is my last hurrah for summer colour.

My starting point, at the very back of the border, would have to be a Buddleia, for the butterflies as well as the colour: B. Lochinch has violet-blue flowers, grey-green leaves and almost white stems, B. Royal Red has purple-red flowers. As companion I would choose an unusual Hydrangea, H asperaMacrophylla, which has big flat heads of blue-mauve flowers surrounded with larger white florets. If there was enough room I would add a few Miscanthus sinensis Ferner Osten, a towering, elegant grass with dusky purple flowerheads, needing at least one metre square per plant.

The centre ground in my fantasy border would be taken up by Perovskia Blue Spire and Caryopteris Heavenly Blue, interspersed with the deep pink Japanese Anemone x hybrida Prinz Heinrich or Echinacea purpurea, plus big clumps of Persicaria amplexicaulis Firetail to add some fiery crimson spires. In front of this would be two Penstemons, Garnet and Raven, which would have been performing most of the summer and, given a good dead-heading should be having second wind. Along with these, a few Sedum Herbstfreude or S Matrona would be essential, although I would not add much compost for these as they tend to flop if overfed.

Finally, I would edge the front of the border with some cool silver and sultry purple foliage. Woolly leaved Stachys lanata, commonly known as Lamb’s Ears, or the feathery Artemisia Powis Castle would echo the silver white stems of Buddleia Lochinch, the Perovskia and Caryopteris. In contrast, the deep purple fleshy leaves of Sedum telephium Purple Emperor would chime with the Penstemon flowers and Buddleia Royal Red. Apart from looking great, this border would be a magnet for bees and butterflies: most of these plants are on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators plant list which can be downloaded from the website: www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/Sustainablegardening/pdfs/RHS_Pollinators_PlantList_v1

After this year’s disappointing summer I can think of few things better than sitting in the warm autumn sunshine with a glass of wine, watching the insects flocking to my new border like ticket holders to the Olympic stadiums.

Further inspiration can be had by visiting the following gardens and nurseries:
• Lady Farmsouth of Bristol, in the Mendips: http://www.ladyfarm.com/visit.html; If you miss the 2nd September opening, you can still arrange a group visit until the end of October.

• Special Plants Nursery and Garden near Bath: http://specialplants.net; The owner, DerryWatkins, is a tour de force – the nursery is open every day 10-5.

• RHSWisley in Surrey is well worth the trip; http://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley; Huge borders with no bare soil looking very impressive at this time of year – make a whole day of it.