Autumn in the garden can be absolutely spectacular. The fiery brilliance of the turning leaves, the vivid gloss of the fruits and berries and the late summer perennials. Dahlias, asters, Japanese anemones and sedums keep the flower colour going to the bitter end and as the weather becomes inevitably greyer, murky and miserable the garden gives a last intense burst of colour, brilliant on those few perfect clear blue sky days.
There are some plants which far from performing a final fanfare are actually just coming into their own. Nerines are amazing plants, their shocking pink spidery flowers so unexpectedly exotic.
We don’t often think of choosing grasses for their flowers but they can add so much. Theirs is a quiet charm, not just in terms of colour but also for their texture, elegant shapes and their ability to sparkle in the chilling air and attract seed eating birds right through into the depths of winter.
The many named varieties of Panicum virgatum or switch grass, like ‘Hanse Herms’ and ‘Squaw’, their tiny flowers dangling singly from sprays, like little glass beads in the wet, and reddening leaves which arch gracefully at the tips.
Miscanthus are generally taller and stay reliably erect even in strong wind. Their flowers are upright in fairly dense fingers, often in darkening shades of bronze or plum. My favourite is Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ with fine green and white striped leaves which as the weather turns colder fade to bleached blonde for the winter.
I have very mixed feeling about Cortaderia which we all know as pampas grass, probably because I have memories of so many seen planted in the middle of a lawn, incongruous and so out of place.
I’m embarrassed to admit now that I think it can actually look quite good in a mixed planting with other stars of the season, its flowers sprouting up and bursting into huge feather dusters. Bold and brassy it’s a definite statement plant for this time of year and then as early spring turns the sparrows’ thoughts to pairing up, they’re pulled to shreds to be recycled into lovely soft fluffy nesting material.
That’s the wonderful and optimistic thing about the garden, it’s always making us look forward. At the moment it’s through the less appealing days of winter and on towards spring and new growth. Autumn isn’t just the end of this year’s pleasure in the garden, it’s a time of year to take stock of what’s worked well and what hasn’t, celebrate the successes and learn from the failures.
Now is the best time to plan for the garden’s future. It might be just ordering a few new spring bulbs or planning an altogether more wildlife friendly garden, whatever it is you’d like to make the most of in the garden, the opportunities for renewal are endless.