Stars of the Autumn Border

By this time of year, so many of our flowering plants have done their thing and are in various stages of decay – some more decorous than others. In autumn we rely on the turning leaves to provide colour and interest in our gardens. But there are some flowering plants that are at their peak now. One of these is the plant we know as sedum.[1.]
A dark-leaved sedum, sold as an unnamed variety, but which is probably ‘Xenox’).

A closer view, showing the intense colours of leaf and flower.

Another Autumn favourite is the aster, or Michaelmas daisy. The one below was actually taken last month at Picton Garden, near Malvern, which holds the national collection of autumn flowering Michaelmas daisies.

The ones in my own garden aren’t quite so well established as this. I’ve found that they suffer a lot of damage, sometimes fatal, from slugs and snails. It doesn’t help that they’re a long time in the ground and not growing much before they finally put on a growth spurt and then burst into flower.
The wonderfully named Aster ‘Climax’, in my own garden, taken last week.

Asters tend to come in a colour range from white, through pale pink, and into blue. There are actually two main groups of aster, though they look almost identical. In the other group, Aster frikartii ‘Monch’ has been flowering for months and is still matching the autumn flowerers now. I’ve also found it to be less susceptible to slug damage, so all in all, probably a better choice. Just as for sedum, the botanists have been busy with reclassification (and the inevitable name changes) of asters [2.]. I suppose it keeps them in work.
Aster frikartii ‘Monch’ – still going strong.

Daisy flowers feature quite heavily at this time of year, and Rudbeckias, with their more fiery colour range, are particularly good, although mine seem to have nearly burnt themselves out now.
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Sullivantii’ – looking a little ragged.

And then there are others – plants that flower from mid-summer onwards, are still flowering now, and will most likely continue until the frost cuts them down.
Verbena bonariensis. In the mild Vale of Glamorgan climate it seeds around freely, flowers for ages, and is no trouble at all.

Penstemons can be slightly tender, but tend to overwinter successfully in our mild coastal climate, and they too flower over a long period. They take easily from cuttings too:

And while it hasn’t been a great year for them , Dahlias will usually flower until the first frosts. This one is Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’:

So while it can seem a rather damp, dreary and cold time of year, there are plenty of options to put some colourful flower power into your garden.

[1.] Botanists recently (and rather unhelpfully for us gardeners) reclassified some of the familiar garden varieties of sedum as Hylotelephium. However, looking on the RHS website, I see they are referring to the variety above as Sedum telephium ‘Xenox’, so there may have been another reclassification since. I should probably research this, but instead I’ll use the excuse that as a humble puller of weeds, I can’t be expected to be an expert in plant classification. Those botanists have got a lot to answer for!

[2.] The autumn flowering varieties have been reclassified as Symphyotrichum. Not such an easy name for us gardeners to remember, but why should botanists worry about that? Apparently, although plants from the two groups look very similar, there are sufficient biological differences to name them differently. Personally I would have thought that Aster Group 1 and Aster Group 2 would have done the job perfectly well, but then I’m not a botanist. I believe the Symphyotrichum asters are from North America, whereas the Aster Asters originate from elsewhere.

Text and images © Graham Wright 2018

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