Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

Autumn Colour

A low mist hung in the air this morning and leaves are scattered on the ground. The air is full of the smell of bonfires and a hint of damp and Wednesday will be the first day of October. Despite the summer-like warm weather of the past weekend, Autumn is here and now is the time to look for planting that will prolong the life and colour in the garden until the first frosts hit and carry the garden into the depths of winter. 

Grasses which catch the low light; berries which hang like jewels; late flowering perennials and long flowering annuals - these are the saviors of the Autumn garden. And when planted with a hard working evergreen structure, will ensure that there is interest and colour almost year 'round. 

30 September 09 at Bury Court, Hampshire

Now is a good time to get out and visit gardens and look hard at the planting combinations used. The planting in the above photo is from Bury Court in Hampshire, designed by Piet Oudolf. The upright grass Calamagrostis Karl Foerster will provide a vertical punctuation mark through the winter and contrasts with the softer, more rounded forms of the asters and echinacea. 

Grasses simply come into their own this time of year. With plants ranging from tall upright forms to softly rounded shapes, there is a grass for every part of the garden. In the Autumn, the seedheads catch the light and shine in the border. Below is Miscanthus sinenesis 'Silberspinne' backlit in the Winter Garden at Hilliers, near Romsey. 

Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberspinne' at Hilliers, Romsey

There a simply hundreds of varieties of grasses to choose from depending on your colour scheme. The Japanese bloodgrass, Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra', pictured below, would provide a brilliant toning planting partner the red flowered Helenium 'Ruby Tuesday'. Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'

Below is the Winter Garden at Hillier Gardens in Hampshire, planted to be at its best between November and March. The low light catches the seedheads of the grasses and picks out the contrasting clipped evergreen shrubs. 

Hilliers, Romsey - The Winter Border

I was lucky enough to spend last Tuesday learning from Chris Marchant of Orchard Dene Nursery, the last day of a three day course organised by the Society of Garden Designers which ran through the year. Tuesday was all about planting and Autumn and finished with a visit to the nursery. Her nursery, which is open for trade only, was a heavenly oasis on Tuesday afternoon. Orchard Dene Nurseries

For inspiration, I cannot think of a better place than here. The plants simply sung in the late afternoon light and, although I left empty handed,my head is absolutely full of ideas for different clients planting schemes. 

Imagine this Sedum 'Sunkissed' planted with rudbekia and backed by one of the taller upright grasses!

Sedum 'Sunkissed'Rudbekia

The two planted together will forever banish any thoughts of NOT using yellow in a planting scheme! Add this Pennisetum 'Cassian' and you will have a winning planting combination with a variety of leaf shapes and plant habit to add contrast. 

Pennisetum 'Cassian'



To contrast with the yellow and make it radiate in the golden autumn light, plant it with the colour from the opposite end of the spectrum: Purple. The displays of asters were fabulous and I cannot think of a better plant to have at the back of a border together with the more tender perennial Verbena bonarensis. Add Stipa gigantea to the mix and anemone japonica and you are away with another winning combination. asters and stipa gigantea

Verbena bonariensis

Japanese anemone

The trick now is to get out there and look, look, look at planting and see what makes a successful combination. It is easier in the Spring when plants are simply bursting forth in a frenzy. Now growth is slowing, the light is golden and the border needs to continue to work as hard as ever so it is important to choose wisely. 

Acer rubrum 'Schlesingeri'

In focus next time: trees, bark and berries for Autumn and Winter interest. 



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