As the Autumn Equinox approaches, it’s time to stock up on firewood and pull out the woolly blankets and snuggly cushions, as the evenings draw in and we get ready for cosy nights catching up on those Booker- nominated novels (or binging on Netflix – whatever’s your thing.... ) There’s still lots to enjoy outside though, and I’m still hoping we’ll get some of those golden autumn days when time seems to stand still. If you have a fire pit or chiminea and are lucky enough to have a sheltered garden, it’s not too late to enjoy some time outside, even as the autumn chill creeps in.
There are lots of plants you can include to keep a show of colour going right through this month and the next, so now is a good time to look around and see where your garden is lacking a bit of colour and how you could improve it. It’s a good time to pick up late flowering perennials in garden centres, as they tend to stock whatever is looking good just now, so the chances are you should be able to find what you’re looking for.
Michaelmas day, or the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, falls on September 29th each year, and sure enough this is when you can expect to see the Michaelmas Daisy (Aster novi-belgii ) coming into bloom. The daisy-like flowers are usually in shades of mauve and purple although you will occasionally find white or pink ones. They’re a lovely way to extend the season in thIe garden and it’s a nice surprise to see them showing up just as the summer perennials are going over. The best and most reliable garden variety, in my opinion, is Aster frikartii “Monch” – well worth looking out for.
If you’ve a reasonably sized garden, you could try adding drifts of Echinacea purpurea, or coneflower, another good late bloomer which looks great with Michaelmas daisies and ornamental grasses – usually in shades of pink, but there’s a lovely white variety, “White Swan” which is good too. You may have come across Echinacea in health food shops as a tincture of this plant is often used as a remedy against colds.
For a splash of brighter colour, Rudbeckia “Goldsturm”, which often starts flowering in July, is still looking great right now and should continue to do so for another month at least. You might notice that all of these flowers have open, daisy-like shapes, which make them ideal snack bars for bees and other beneficial insects, a cause dear to my heart, as regular readers of this column will know!
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If I could give you one piece of advice when planting your late summer / early autumn perennials, it’s put in as many as you can – grouping these plants in swathes and drifts adds visual impact, while dotting one or two here and there just won’t give you that glorious abundant look. You can always lift and divide them after a few seasons to increase your stock of plants, and as they’re perennials that appear year after year, they’re a great investment in that precious, personal, special outdoor place – your garden.