Late summer perennialsAlison Marsden
First things first, what exactly is a perennial? In the horticultural context it is any plant that lives for more than two years. In common gardening parlance we use the term for a non-woody plant where the above ground stems die off in autumn but the roots and crown survive the winter to produce new stems, leaves and flowers for several, and usually many years.
The joy of hardy, herbaceous perennials (to give them their full title) is that you plant once and enjoy for many years. The only effort is to cut down the dead stems in early spring – they offer great winter protection to insects – and dig up, split and replant every few years when the clump outgrows the space. Perennials also provide an excellent range of plants for late summer colour and many of the best are daisy-like in appearance. Possibly the most well known is the Michaelmas Daisy. In fact a number of species of Aster fall under this common name, itself an indicator of the late summer nature of the flowers. ‘Michaelmas’ refers to the Christian feast of St. Michael and All Angels celebrated on September 29th. Alongside come Rudbeckia which start flowering in August, Echinacea, Helenium, Japanese Anemones in pink and white to contrast to the yellows and reds of the daisies and, latest of all, Chrysanthemum. By mixing these into a border with early and mid summer flowering plants you can ensure that the colour, and pollen and nectar for insects, lasts well into October.
For another dimension in texture and to keep the whole border upright, until the spring, fill gaps with ornamental grasses. These provide colour in the strappy leaves – grey, bronze or red – as well as the airy froth of their flowers; think along the lines of oats, barley and hairy caterpillars. Despite their flimsy appearance most grasses will dry off in autumn and withstand the winter weather, holding the border together. A few of the most decorative varieties of Pennisetum grass are borderline hardy even in the South East of England so choose carefully or be prepared to protect the crown with n upturned pot or bucket if we have a hard winter.
Keep the summer garden party going right into the autumn with some fireworks. I visited Pashley Manor Gardens last week to see late summer colour on a grand scale with hardy perennials going strong including the Japanese Anemones in the photograph at the top, and of course plenty of standout Dahlias.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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