The Stopwatch Gardener

A gardening blog from Sheila M. Averbuch

I need late autumn interest in the garden — dahlias need not apply

September14

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Novemberish gales are blowing the September garden sideways and making me think prematurely about mulching, clearing and cozying in. The open wire grille I put down to keep leaves out of the pond has stopped airborne bits of recycling from pummeling the tiny puddle of water and its newts. I’d never managed to cover the pond before this year. Maybe last winter’s swift, shocking start in November is what has me bracing for the end of the gardening year, and a bit too soon. The apples and pears are bearing, most leaves are stuck fast to branches and the late asters haven’t even shown yet.

Do you do dahlias? I’ve never grown one I liked — they are martyrs to earwigs, which means I’m not tempted even by the lighter, arier single types. The more traditional dahlias, great blobs of colour, are repellent to me. The autumn roses I grow are fat and colourful, too, but all are balanced with large areas of their own green foliage. The dahlias are unrestrained, unremitting splotches of red, pink and purple blowing a technicolor raspberry from the border — you can keep them.
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An autumn combination I prefer is growing now in the hall border, which I see foreshortened from my office window, so far-apart plants appear side-by-side. It includes:

  • heuchera palace purple
  • aster frikartii Monch
  • liatris spicata
  • schizostylis coccinea major
  • Lobelia fan blue
  • Rose de Rescht
  • Rose Zephyrine Drouhin
  • Rudbeckia Goldsturm
  • Lonicera (honeysuckle) berries
  • alchemilla conjuncta
  • persicaria

I’ve tried so hard to get autumn colour here, especially late autumn colour, for my daughter’s birthday at the end of October. That means I really need November colour, and that’s hard.
Click for larger imageMaybe this is the real reason I’m looking ahead to November: I’m keen to know if this year’s show will be any better, now that the persicaria and chrysanthemums will add to the later asters (Alma Potschke) and Schizostylis. Claire last year suggested some of the hardy fuchsias as good performers into November, and I’m propagating some from cuttings now.

Sorry if it’s tedious for you, but I keep coming back to this question of November interest (see here and here) because I can’t get it right. My two children are November and February birthdays, and a garden show at those times of year is Advanced Gardening. I have this vision of a blanket of snowdrops beneath black-ball Rudbeckia seed heads from the previous autumn. Do you think this will work? It would be some achievement to have a good autumn-into-winter show that celebrates both kids. But much of the garden gets too little sun for the Rudbeckias, and even those that thrive would need to withstand Scottish wind, snow and thaw.

I’m not sure if this black and white plan will work (I’m trying to propagate the Rudbeckia just in case), or if my kids will even know what I was trying to do for them.

Although plantings that are “for” others aren’t really what we gardeners do, is it? The planting is for us, to echo our feelings or memories of those who mean so much, we need them in the garden with us.

Who have you planted for? What did you plant?

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13 Comments to

“I need late autumn interest in the garden — dahlias need not apply”

  1. On September 14th, 2011 at 9:23 pm sandra barnes Says:

    I plant snowdrops which grow through black grasses. The black grass doesn’t do very well in pots and seems to grow better in a gravel bed. I’m sorry you don’t like dahlias – I love them, especially David Howard with its dark leaves and lovely orange waterlily flowers. They are growing alongside verbena bonariensis which has seeded itself in the paving.

  2. On September 14th, 2011 at 9:25 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Hi Sandra,

    If it weren’t for earwigs I could probably grow to like them – it’s funny, i was thinking of black lily turf but it feels a bit funereal to me. Am I fussy, or what? I’d love to see pictures of your David Howard alongside the Verbena b! I’m not really squeamish about much in the garden but the earwigs freak me out; they seem to hide inside but do not nibble my roses.

  3. On September 25th, 2011 at 5:31 pm Jane Harries Says:

    That’s interesting – I was thinking of putting some snowdrops into a little corner which has black grass, dark red hollyhocks and heuchera Palace Purple as well as penstemon Garnet, to brighten it up in the spring. it is a bit of a hotch-potch and has honeysuckle growing up the wall behind/over it. A wild purple and white penstemon went really well here before it died and I put the Garnet in, too. for Feb you could also put aconites though it takes ages before they bulk up.. or primroses (bit early?). And chionodoxa is lovely through gravel.
    Sorry no help re November.. miscanthus will look good if mine is to go by, and I see there are 2 Nov-flowering asters in my catalogue – monte cassino (lilac-blue) and umbellatus (white). My perennial sunflower is in full flow right now and may last till November. It goes well with lilac asters. Otherwise I would say shrubs like viburnum bodnantense, the odd rose, fuschia as you say, turning leaves, berries and winter jasmine…

  4. On September 26th, 2011 at 10:08 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Thanks Jane for those ideas. I am finding November more challenging than February; I have some seeds from a stipa gigantea and I’m going to try to grow those. I’m really really interested in those two asters you mention and will look them up. Ceratostigma has also been on my mind; but I think I also need to explore more berrying shrubs as you suggest.

  5. On October 12th, 2011 at 8:34 pm Brian Pettinger Says:

    Chrysanthemums are popular in the UK and Acer leaves last until November. Having said that I think the dark leaves Dahlias Bishops Children take some beating

  6. On October 12th, 2011 at 10:09 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    thanks Brian, i keep looking at a chrysanth catalogue and my daughter picked out one she liked, so we are ordering that one. I’ll probably also get a few others that are proven hardy. I saw and liked the bishops children on the beech grove garden but earwigs would demolish them and probably leave nothing but the nice leaves. I’m currently growing baby Acer rubrum seedlings but that’s a long them project!

  7. On November 10th, 2011 at 10:34 pm The Stopwatch Gardener | A gardening blog for time-poor plant fanatics » Blog Archive How to get more cut flowers by deadheading cosmos - gardening video Says:

    […] all my soul-searching about how to get more flowers in the garden in late autumn for my daughter’s birthday, it never occurred to me that half hardy annuals like the cosmos […]

  8. On November 21st, 2011 at 3:50 pm Sheila Sim Says:

    This is such a topical issue for me, as I’m also trying to extend my flowering season into November. Unlike you, I have come to love dahlias in recent years, though this year they failed miserably – I’ve no idea why. But I’m astonished at how long my roses have continued to flower. They are all from David Austin: Queen of Sweden, Jude the Obscure, Munstead Wood, Gertrude Jekyll…. they’ve performed spectacularly this year, right up until this week (third week of November). I will return to your blog to see what ideas you come up with 🙂

  9. On November 21st, 2011 at 8:44 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Sheila – You are a woman after my own heart with your fabulous selection from David Austin; you have some of the very very best there. Obviously you are a gardener who likes fragrance! If you like those, you might also adore Abraham Darby and the Crocus rose, both of which grow well for me and have a stunning fragrance. Another plant you may like for very late autumn is Strobilanthes atropurpureus, which is very late to get started in spring/summer but is always in flower for me here where I am outside Edinburgh in October and November.

  10. On November 22nd, 2011 at 2:18 pm Sheila Sim Says:

    Ah, lovely, thanks for those tips – though I fear that Mr Sim will grumble if I buy any more roses. Maybe I’ll seek out some Strobilanthes as you suggest (I had to google it to see what it looks like, as I’ve never come across it before!)

  11. On February 9th, 2012 at 9:25 pm SussexSarah Says:

    Your gardens sound lovely – I wonder if you would stretch your definitions a little and broaden out into berries – just because there are so many and such lovely ones. One of my favourites is Spindle where the seed case is pink and the berry itself is a bright red. I love the clash. I don’t have any yet in the garden but I have planted two cuttings and a couple of seeds this year from a local source – so here’s hoping. I also noticed that the Cotoneasters have been in berry basically all winter, which has got to be good and the Hollies are normally in berry by November.

    I too grow Persicaria (Amplexicaulis Atrosanguinea) – and am thinking of branching out to Persicaria Amplexcaulis Alba – just to lighten the colour a little. Mine gave up in late November this year and when I pulled it back I found that an early flowering Hellebore had already started, so you could see if you can find one that starts early enough for you. Good luck!

  12. On February 20th, 2012 at 10:29 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Thanks Sarah…I think in America they talk a lot about invasive nature of spindle so I’ve avoided it, but maybe I’ve my plants confused? Is it also known as burning bush? But yes you’re right, I should think about berries and those on my clipped cotoneaster are still not gone. I hope the weather is kind to your garden just now, we’ve been unbelievably unscathed this winter!

  13. On May 10th, 2012 at 9:58 pm Gareth Says:

    Sedums and penstemons are my all time favourite late summer flowers. You also get the sedums seed heads all through the winter also and both are great for wildlife.

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