Awesome Autumn

PUBLISHED: 09:38 03 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013

Michaelmas daises bring a splash of colour

Michaelmas daises bring a splash of colour

November can bring its own delights in the garden. Diana Guy has some great ideas to keep colour and interest going right through to the very end of the seasonNovember 08

With the pressure of summer maintenance over, you can relax in the November garden. Shorter, cooler days limit the time available so hours in the garden become even more precious, to be savoured and treasured.

Colourful foliage and berries are the main late-autumn players but there are many hidden gems in the flower borders, too. You can plan for succession of interest right up until the bitter end of the season.

If this does not currently apply to your garden then you need to take stock, see where the gaps are and identify the missing elements. Visit gardens that are open through November and see how they achieve colour and interest. Look at what is available now in garden centres and small plant nurseries. When out on autumn walks, peep - surreptitiously! - over garden gates and fences and see what you are missing out on.

Grasses really come into their own this month, especially the Miscanthus sinsensis cultivars with their elegant plumes; so much more manageable than the old pampas grass that graced many a suburban autumn garden. (Apologies to any readers who have a cherished pampas!)

The pennisetums with arching stems and fluffy seed heads, such as P.alopecuroides 'Hamelin', look good for months and associate well with plants such as Vebena bonariensis that should still be clinging on.

Many late-summer perennials such as rudbeckias and asters (Michaelmas daisies) will go on and on through November, and if we only have light frosts even dahlias will hang on, allowing us to gather the last few bunches.

Chrysanthemums are due for a comeback, but not the dumpy, rounded types that flood the garden centres this month. These are unlikely to give a good performance in subsequent years as they are really florists' plants. I mean the dainty, tough old-fashioned spray types, easy to grow from seed. I sow the 'Korean Hybrids' in late winter for plants to flower that year. In subsequent years they will be fine, tall plants brimming with flower spays, ideal for cutting. You will raise dozens of plants in a variety of styles and colours, so give away the ones you are not so keen on!

There are many autumn bulbs to look out for. Autumn cyclamen, crocus and colchicums can sparkle under trees and shrubs. Cyclamen hederifolium flowers from September to November and C.coum picks up the spring baton and will flower as early as January. The tender but colourful cyclamen sold quite cheaply as winter bedding will only survive all winter in sheltered gardens, but are ideal for containers winter baskets.

Autumn crocus are planted in the summer and resemble their spring cousins. Colchicums look very similar. The hybrid 'Waterlily' is a lilac/pink double. Colchicum speciosum 'Album' is my favourite, it grows to perfection under trees in one of the famous meadows at Great Dixter. In spring colchicums produce chunky, ribbed leaves that do take up a bit of space so site these bulbs thoughtfully.

You can buy nerines already potted from a good nursery such as Cherry Tree Nursery at Northbourne, Bournemouth but generally they are planted as dry bulbs in spring or early summer. Their sugar-pink strap-like petals glisten in the autumn sunshine and really bring cheer to a dry, sunny spot, traditionally against a house or garden wall. They like to be grown in poor soil and confined spaces so do not be tempted to split up congested clumps. If you hunt around you can find them in various shades of pink, and also white.

November can be a dull dreary month - but not in the garden!

Diana Guy is a horticultural speaker and lecturer, and garden designer. Contact her on (01258 840894).

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