HIS year we seem to be having a more colourful autumn than usual. The bedding displays have lasted a lot longer and many perennials are later than usual and some of this is thanks to the long cold spring.
However as is usually the case in late summer and early autumn you'll hear many a gardener talking about ways to squeeze a little more 'summer' out of the garden. Yet achieving a decent level of autumn interest need not be a problem as there are so many wonderful plants with good autumn colour. Flowers, however, can be a little trickier.
There are several tall plants that do well in the autumn such as Asters or Rudbeckia or even the Eupatorium I have spoken about before. What can be slightly harder to find is plants for a small garden. Many of the late summer plants simply take up too much room to warrant a space. However a combination of small perennials and autumn bulbs will fill this gap really well.
The three bulbs we grow at Aberglasney are autumn flowering Crocus, Colchicum and Nerine, all of which require a sunny spot. They add a freshness and vibrancy at an otherwise tired looking time in the garden and all have their own handy attributes. Nerine are happy planted at the base of a wall and so require very little space. Both Colchicum and Crocus have died down in midsummer, so can be planted amongst other plants, saving yet more space.
There are also some excellent perennials that also do well at this time of the year such as Sedum. There are many different types, all of which have succulent leaves and heads of tiny flowers that are popular with bees and other pollinators. A particular garden favourite is Sedum 'Herbstfreude' which has dark leaves and dark pink flowers. Another that we enjoy growing is Sedum 'Matrona' which has greener leaves and more open heads of lighter flowers. There are many other types of Sedum that do well in the garden with interesting foliage and a very late flowering period. They are much hardier than they look, too, and seem to do well in sun or even half shade. What is also useful is that they mix and contrast really well with other short perennials. The black grass Ophiopogon 'Nigrescens' and Heuchera or Tiarrella go well with them.
An excellent plant for a shadier spot is the Liriope which is similar to a grape hyacinth but more of a perennial than a bulb. They are good in dry shade, half sun or deep shade. Today there are many different types available with interesting foliage as well as flowers. They make excellent border plants or ground cover as they are not invasive and almost completely evergreen. One that we particularly like is Liriope platyphylla which has green strap like leaves and spikes of blue flowers. They work well with many other shade plants and look really good in the autumn when many other plants are starting to look scrappy. In a good year you can get up to eight weeks of flowering from them. In fact their only fault is they can get sun burnt if too exposed but this is rarely a problem! All these plants provide excellent autumn interest in a small garden. There are usually good varieties available in nurseries and garden centres but if you want the choice rare forms then a specialist nursery is required.